It took me forever to finish Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray. It was extremely difficult for me because of Thackeray’s tangents, opinions, and similar names for characters. I was lost reading the book. I liked the essential, basic storyline but because it was a serial, Victorian novel, the plot was padded with so much junk that the actual plot was hardly visible. Small details are just that – small. Meaningless. Laugh and move on. It makes it easier to comprehend when I’m not trying to keep details straight. As I typically read either romance or crime dramas, details are important.
For those who like complicated stories with tangents and author’s opinions on his characters, I recommend this book. If you’re like me and do not enjoy it, don’t read it.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray is a rather unique book, in which the author (Thackeray) not only seems to play an omniscient role with his “puppets”, but he criticizes them immensely. Using some of his own opinion as if he had seen the scene before or had lived in Vanity Fair, he tells the readers what to think and feel about each character. Most importantly, he judges each character from all angles, including their relative positions in Vanity Fair, their temptations, and their degree of vanity in their basic character, as well as in their financial and social conditions. Amelia and Becky in particular are subjected to Thackeray’s criticisms as he dislikes both characters.
The girls do not come from the same background, yet they formed an unlikely friendship that unhealthily withstands time and Vanity Fair. Despite different starts in life, they both attend the socially acceptable Miss Pinkerton’s Academy in which they are educated in proper etiquette for young ladies. Thackeray judges the social status of the two friends with the issuing of the Johnson’s Dixtionaries upon their departure. Amelia is of higher social rank in Vanity Fair and is given her dictionary as a parting gift. Becky, however, was an articled pupil whose social status does not warrant the gift a dictionary; however Miss Jemima tries to give her one anyway. Becky knows it is a pity gift and refuses the offer by throwing the dictionary out the window of the carriage as they drive off. Thackeray uses this scene to illustrate Becky’s wickedness and low social rank which will become the focus of the novel.
Both Amelia and Becky rise and fall in their positions in Vanity Fair and Thackeray comments often to the reader regarding the integrity of each girl. Amelia is a well off girl with a prearranged marriage whose status in Vanity Fair disintegrates with the loss of her father’s fortune. Becky begins as an orphan and she rises from an articled pupil to the wife of Captain Rawdon Crawley. Thackeray’s opinions attack the formation of the reader’s opinion of the girls, which forces readers to be more comfortable with accepting Thackeray’s opinions rather than forming their own opinions about Amelia’s and Becky’s character and degree of vanity.
Thackeray judges the positions of both Amelia and Becky harshly with sarcastic nicknames or patronizing statements such as “our poor Amelia” or Becky’s pale face. These remarks give readers the impression Thackeray has been a member of Vanity Fair and places himself above both Amelia and Becky. This novel is mockery of Thackeray’s experiences in Victorian era high society. This gives him the perspective and authority required for validation of his criticisms in the novel.
In his criticisms of his characters, Thackeray acknowledges Becky’s and Amelia’s relative positions and temptations, but criticizes them without too much regard for their positions. Since they are main characters they are mocked more often than minor characters, but all characters are criticized with equal distain. He uses the knowledge of Amelia’s financial demise and unwavering devotion to George Osborne as a platform from which his criticisms stem. Thackeray uses adjectives that describe Amelia’s depression and lengthy mourning over George but also mock her sadness.
Becky’s rise and fall center on greed. She cares for no one but herself and the amount of perceived money. Borrowing from creditors to barely pay other creditors and lavish herself, brings hatred from the reader for Becky. However, up against Amelia, readers dislike her methods of obtaining status, but do not really despise the motives. She is trying to make a better life for herself, by any means necessary. Thackeray exposes Becky’s true personality through Becky’s charade of Clytemnestra.
For Thackeray, vanity focuses heavily on financial and social positions and only lightly on basic character. Amelia and Becky both have flaws in all three categories which Thackeray uses to illustrate vanity. The Sedley’s fortune vanishes and so does Thackeray’s kind words about Amelia, for example, the use of adjectives and sentences surrounding Amelia’s actions and feeling become more sarcastic, mocking, and snobbish. Thackeray’s use of positive descriptors surrounding Becky’s rise in social position has an over-enthused tone that suggests a bit of jealousy with her “brilliance” and “charms”. Thackeray uses the same methods to judge both Amelia and Becky’s basic character which feeds into his criticisms of their financial and social positions. Amelia and Becky are complete opposites, each of whom has a fatal flaw in Thackeray’s mind, but ask Amelia is a flatter, weaker character than Becky, he believes Becky to be the vainest character in Vanity Fair.