Vanity Fair by William Makepeace ThackerayHere I am, 54 years old, and for the very first time reading William Makepeace Thackerays Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero. I disagree with Thackeray. The Hero of Vanity Fair is the steadfast and stalwart William Dobbin; of that there is no doubt. This novel is not the coming of age, or bildungsroman, of Becky Sharp. No, Miss Rebecca Sharp sprang from the womb enlivened with her desire to claw her way to the top. She cant help it, and nor should she; is she really any different than any of us? No, shes not. It is her methods that vary from what you and I might use; or do they?
To me, the narrators voice in the novel was most amazing. It seemed that at every opportune moment, the narrator took a step back and informed us, the reader, of some nugget, some little moral, that placed the actions of the participants in the Fair in context. Vanity Fair is with us, all around us; and many times we never fully understand the roles that the players play. This voice of reason grounds us; makes us understand the joy, the pain, the happiness, and the sorrow that accompanies each of us in our journey through life. If we care to, we can learn to become better parents, better husbands, better wives, and better friends.
I also learned through the course of the novel that I cant outright condemn Becky Sharp. Becky is perhaps not a woman easily liked, but she is an admirable woman, a tough woman, and a woman I can respect. Strong-minded and willed, a terrible mother, but a battle-axe to those who take her head-on. Miss Becky Sharp -- Mrs. Rawdon Crawley -- is committed to living life at its fullest, and not one jot less. She is a woman of purpose, and that is a rare quality in many people.
The novel drips with satire from page to page; it is full of wit and sardonic humor. It is through the use of satire that we realize that the characters at the Fair are us -- have been us, and always will be us -- generation after generation, and nothing will change; only the time will change. There will always be Lord Steynes, Jos Sedleys, Old Osbornes, Mother Sedleys, Sir Pitt Crawleys, Miss Crawleys, the George Osbornes, William Dobbins, and Amelias. Our task, according to Thackeray, is to figure out how best to treat them, how best to interact and understand them, how to live with them. The real challenge, however, is how best to love, appreciate, and care for the Miss Becky Sharps in our lives. We do deserve to know her, to care for her, to appreciate her for whom she is, and she deserves to be brought in from the rambunctiousness and vagaries of the Fair.
In the end, it is Miss Sharp that gains at least some measure of redemption. It is she, and she alone, that removes the mote from Amelias eyes regarding her feelings for William Dobbin. For Becky Sharp does understand honor, virtue, and integrity (or, does she?). Thackeray finishes appropriately -- For truly it can be said, Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? -- Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.
A magnificent novel from start to finish.
Vanity Fair Reader’s Guide
The novel opens at Miss Pinkerton's Academy for young women, where readers are introduced to Amelia and Becky, the novel's female protagonists. Amelia and Becky are friends, but they are nothing alike. Amelia is kind and innocent and comes from a family with money. Becky Sharp, on the other hand, is sharp and scheming and emerges from an impoverished situation. Miss Pinkerton, utterly disgusted with Becky's behavior, sets her up in a governess position at the Crawley estate. Before she takes her position, Becky spends a little over a week at Amelia's home. She spends her time ingratiating herself with the Sedleys and wooing Amelia's brother Jos, an overweight, shy and vain tax collector on break from his job in India.
Amelia considers George’s death the greatest tragedy that could befall her. Had he lived,
William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair
Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? A bewitching beauty who bends men to her will using charm, sex, and guile. A mother who cannot get over the loss of her husband and devotes her life to her child. Yet its characters—from dissolute playboys and self-important heirs to judgmental aunts and finicky gourmands—are instantly recognizable. Lacking money and family, she uses the only tools at her disposal, sex and cunning, to seek advancement in the world.
Two girls graduate from a finishing school. One, Becky Sharp, is the daughter of an alcoholic, broke art teacher. The other, Amelia Sedley, is the daughter of a very well-to-do middle class investor. Because of their very different childhoods, they have already learned different lessons about the world. Becky has learned that she needs to be totally self-reliant to get anywhere in life, while Amelia has learned that she will always be protected and so can remain a totally passive person. Becky is destined for being a governess, but Amelia takes her home to spend a few days with the Sedleys before Becky's job starts. When Becky finds out that Amelia has an older brother who has an excellent post in India, she decides to try to charm him into marrying her.
Amelia Sedley, of good family, and Rebecca Sharp, an orphan, leave Miss Pinkerton's academy on Chiswick Mall to live out their lives in Vanity Fair — the world of social climbing and search for wealth. Amelia does not esteem the values of Vanity Fair; Rebecca cares for nothing else. Rebecca first attempts to enter the sacred domain of Vanity Fair by inducing Joseph Sedley, Amelia's brother, to marry her. George Osborne, however, foils this plan; he intends to marry Amelia and does not want a governess for a sister-in-law. Because of his marriage, Rawdon's rich aunt disinherits him. First introduced as a friend of George Osborne, William Dobbin becomes the instrument for getting George to marry Amelia, after George's father has forbidden the marriage on account of the Sedley's loss of fortune.