Author William Makepeace Thackeray
Title Vanity Fair
Publisher Black Cat
1. Features of the text
Wealth and poverty, ambition, social life and classes, money, family, marriage, love, death, parenting, deception, loyalty.
The style is descriptive, realistic and satirical.
External and omniscient.
Characters and their interaction
-Rebecca Sharp could be the protagonist of the novel. She’s clever, unscrupulous, ruthless, selfish and greedy. Even when she seems to have some compassion, she reveals to be who she really is. She may be considered the “anti-heroine”.
-Amelia Sedley is Becky’s friend. She’s kind, naive, religious, a lovely wife and friend, very sensitive and innocent. She may be considered as the “heroine”.
-Rawdon Crawley is Becky’s future husband. He’s interested in living a good life, he likes gambling and dueling.
-Miss Crawley is Rawdon’s aunt. She’s wealthy and know that everybody wants her to die in order to receive her money. She’s intelligent and a little wicked.
-Sir Pitt Crawley is a baronet who behaves in a bad way (dresses badly, drinks too much, is mean about money…)
-Pitt Crawley is Sir Pitt’s elder son who is serious and religious.
-George Osborne is Amelia’s future husband. He’s vain, interested in high levels of society and he has no respect for Amelia (he likes entertaining other women and drinking).
-William Dobbin is George Osborne’s friend and he is good-natured during the whole novel. He loves Amelia but puts her happiness first by encouraging the marriage with Osborne. He’s loyal, sensitive and generous.
-Other important characters are Bute Crawley and his wife, Miss Briggs, Lady Jane, Countess Southdown, Georgy and Rawdy, Lord Steyne.
Setting (time and place)
The novel is set in 19th-century Britain (London, Brighton…) and also Brussels.
High levels of society including stockbrokers, tradesmen, baronets, military officers, in which money and power are very important for reputation.
While the story is developing, in 1815 the Battle of Waterloo takes place. Somehow, the defeats and the victories of the English are linked to the actions of the characters. Thackeray underlines one of the most hidden aspects of the war, which are the feelings of the ones who wait for their husbands, sons, fathers to come home after the war. Their anxiety while the war is developing and, above all, their pain after knowing about the death of a dear. For example, we see how loyal is Amelia to the memory of George Osborne.
Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley are leaving Miss Pinkerton’s Academy and Amelia, knowing Becky doesn’t have a family, invites her to stay at her house for a week, before going to work for the Crawley family as a governess. While here, Becky tries to marry Jos, Amelia’s brother, in order to avoid her job, but she fails because Jos embarrasses himself. When she starts her job, she manages to please every member of the Crawley family, in order to obtain some graces. She especially impresses Miss Crawley, the old and rich aunt, and manages to marry her favorite nephew, Rawdon, to obtain the money once she will be gone. She begins approaching to many wealthy men and women in order to live in the highest levels of society, but soon she’s considered for what she really is, a selfish and ruthless woman, and she’s humiliated by the rumors. Even Miss Crawley hates her for having married Rawdon. Amelia, whose family got financially ruined, marries George Osborne against the will of his father, Mr. Osborne. The marriage is encouraged by Dobbin, George’s friend who is in love with Amelia but loves her happiness even more. Both Becky and Amelia give birth to a boy. George Osborne dies in war and Rawdon Crawley leaves Becky after discovering a relationship with Lord Steyne, dying soon after. Amelia and Mr. Osborne make peace thanks to Dobbin. Becky’s character gets worse and worse, but there’s one good thing she does: she shows Amelia a note that George had given to her, asking her to run away with him. Amelia, who had been loyal to George’s memory, is now free to love Dobbin and they get married. Meanwhile, Becky marries Jos and then she’s believed to have killed him in order to obtain his life insurance. At the end of the novel, Becky who is called now Lady Crawley is said to be living a great life, but Amelia, Dobbin and their children run quickly away from her when they see her, because they also think she slowly killed Jos, so they’re afraid of her.
2. Personal Response
Consistency of the title
The title perfectly embodies the message of the novel, which underlines the worst aspects of high society life, morally talking.
Suggested alternative title
a. Find an effective paragraph
pages 130-131 (Amelia is free to love Dobbin)
b. Quote a remarkable thought, image or other in it
«I’ve loved you […] back. »
Extract (identify and give a suitable title to a meaningful, self-contained extract): Page 53 title Dobbin’s sacrifice
«Captain Dobbin now found himself in a very painful and difficult position. He could see that George was less and less keen to marry Amelia, and he realised that he himself was falling in love with her. “She will die if George does not marry her,” he thought. He determined to make sure that the wedding went ahead. »
3. Assessment: How do you consider the text?
I consider the text very interesting and sometimes sad.
Substantiate your opinion on the text
It’s interesting to see how deep a woman can go in order to ensure herself a future and in the meantime learn the basic aspects of high society life. However it made me sad in many parts, such as the crying of Becky’s son.
Did the text induce you to change your mind on the main theme?
No. High society is based on a sick precept that involves being rich, famous and, sometimes, unscrupulous. I’d rather live a middle-class life than commit such deeds in order to succeed.
Evaluate the text awarding marks on a scale between 1 and 10
I give it a 7, because the story wasn’t so involving, but it was complex, very nicely written and full of messages.
4. The author
A sketched biography
William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta, India, on 18th July 1811. After his father’s death in 1815, his mother sent him in England, where he received his education. He left the Cambridge University in 1830, without obtaining a degree. He travelled a lot through Europe and then returned to London to be a barrister. Instead, he became a journalist, buying the National Standard magazine in 1833. The magazine failed soon after, leaving Thackeray in serious financial difficulty. He went to France until 1837, working as a correspondent for The Constitutional and marrying Isabella Shawe. They came back to London and gave birth to a child. Isabella had a permanent mental breakdown in 1840 and was sent to a private home. Then Thackeray began writing novels and Vanity Fair was published in 1847-48. He died on 24th December 1863.
Catherine, A Shabby Genteel Story, The Book of Snobs, Men’s Wives, The Newcomes, The Adventures of Philip, The Rose and the Ring, Ballads and many others.
Historical and/or social background to be considered for a better understanding of the text
He wrote a contemporary story of his time. He was born and grew up in the same historical period of the novel, so it was extremely simple for him to write about that period. He certainly knew the main aspects of the war afterwards, because he was only three/four years old while the Battle of Waterloo was fought. But he could watch the behavior of high society members from a really close position.