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Vanity Fair was a turning point in Thackeray's life and career. A gentleman by birth and education, Thackeray was forced to earn his living by writing because most of his money had been lost in a financial crash. The articles, reviews, essays, and sketches he produced for magazines and newspapers did not provide sufficient income either to support a gentleman's status or to provide for the futures of his two daughters. In addition, writing for a living made his status as a gentleman somewhat tenuous. The serialization of Vanity Fair, which was a financial success, quickly established Thackeray's literary reputation. Thackeray was jubilant, "There is no use denying the matter or blinking it now. I am become a sort of great man in my way--all but at the top of the tree: indeed there if the truth were known and having a great fight up there with Dickens." Though Thackeray's novels never sold at the rate of Dickens's novels (in the tens of thousands), he became financially secure with Vanity Fair. Also his social status as a gentleman was assured because of his acknowledged genius; he was no longer an amusing, talented hack writer, just one of a crowd of London journalists.


Contemporary reviewers and novelists appreciated the brilliance of the novel. John Forster wrote, "Vanity Fair is the work of a mind, at once accomplished and subtle, which has enjoyed opportunities of observing many and varied circles of society. . . his genteel characters... have a reality about them... They are drawn from actual life, not from books and fancy; and they are presented by means of brief, decisive yet always most discriminative touches" (1848). Charlotte Bronte, whose admiration for his genius was boundless, called him "the legitimate high priest of Truth": The more I read Thackeray's works, the most certain I am that he stands alone--alone in his sagacity, alone in his truth, alone in his feeling (his feeling, though he makes no noise about it, is about the most genuine that ever lived on a printed page), alone in his power, alone in his simplicity, alone in his self-control. Thackeray is a Titan, so strong that he can afford to perform with calm the most herculean feats; there is the charm and majesty of repose in his greatest efforts; he borrows nothing from fever, his is never the energy of delirium--his energy is sane energy, deliberate energy, thoughtful energy. (1848) George Eliot's praise was more restrained, "I am not conscious of being in any way a disciple of his, unless it constitute discipleship to think him, as I suppose the majority of people with any intellect do, on the whole, the most powerful of living novelists" (1857). Not all reviewers and readers agreed. Some were repelled by his realism and his

focus on society's moral corruption. Robert Bell complained: The people who fill up the motley scenes of Vanity Fair, with two or three exceptions, are as vicious and odious as a clever condensation of the vilest qualities can make them. The women are especially detestable. Cunning, low pride, selfishness, envy, malice, and all uncharitableness are scattered amongst them with impartial liberality. It does not enter into the design of Vanity Fair to qualify these bitter ingredients with a little sweetness now and then; to show the close neighbourhood of the vices and the virtues as it lies on the map of the human heart, that mixture of good and evil, of weakness and strength, which in infinitely varied proportions, constitutes the compound individual. (1848) An anonymous reviewer wondered, "is it advisable to raise so ruthlessly the veil which hides the rottenness pervading modern society?" (1848). Harriet Martineau could not finish the novel "from the moral disgust it occasions" (1848). From Thackeray's day to the present, Vanity Fair has generally been regarded as a masterpiece and as his best novel. What has changed is the flaw Thackeray, as well as Vanity Fair, is most commonly charged with. Critical readers of his day called him cynical and even depraved; comparable readers today call him sentimental and even cloying.


Until the publication of Vanity Fair, Thackeray was known as a humorous writer; he wrote regularly for Punch. Thackeray regarded humor as doing more than making readers laugh, "the best humour is that which contains most humanity, that which is flavoured throughout with tenderness and kindness." He was compelled to write the truth about what he saw and how he understood what he saw: To describe it otherwise than it seems to me would be falsehood in that calling in which it has pleased heaven to place me; treason to that conscience which says that men are weak; that truth must be told; that faults must be owned; that pardon must be prayed for; and that love reigns supreme over all. There may be wishful thinking in his statement that as the writer "finds, and speaks, and feels the truth best, we regard him, esteem himsometimes love him." In order to tell the truth, the novelist must "convey as strongly as possible the sentiment of reality." Language should identify exactly, not elevate or exaggerate; for instance, a poker was just that--a poker, not a great red-hot instrument and a coat was only a coat, not an embroidered tunic. He disliked Dickens's highly emotional outbursts and vivid personification of objects; Thackeray protested that the very trees in Dickens's novels "squint, shiver, leer, grin and smoke pipes." A realist, Thackeray consistently deflated the heroic and the sentimental in life and in literature. Thackeray saw the writer as serving a necessary functionto raise the consciousness of his readers. Concerned, he asked his mother in a letter, "Who is conscious?" He came to see himself as a Satirical-Moralist, with a responsibility both to amuse and to

teach, "A few years ago I should have sneered at the idea of setting up as a teacher at all... but I have got to believe in the business, and in my other things since then. And our profession seems to me as serious as the Parson's own." He aimed not only to expose the false values and practices of society and its institutions and to portray the selfish, callous behavior of individuals, but also to affirm the value of truth, justice, and kindness. This double aim is reflected in his description of himself as satiric and kind: "under the mask satirical there walks about a sentimental gentleman who means not unkindly to any mortal person." Though Thackeray set his novel a generation earlier, Thackeray was really writing about his own society (he even used contemporary clothing in his illustrations for the novel). Thackeray saw how capitalism and imperialism with their emphasis on wealth, material goods, and ostentation had corrupted society and how the inherited social order and institutions, including the aristocracy, the church, the military, and the foreign service, regarded only family, rank, power, and appearance. These values morally crippled and emotionally bankrupted every social class from servants through the middle classes to the aristocracy. High and low, individuals were selfish and incapable of loving. Well aware of himself as flawed, he identified with the self-centred and foolish characters he portrayed in Vanity Fair; his object in writing the novel was to indicate, in cheerful terms, that we are for the most part an abominably foolish and selfish people "desperately wicked" and all eager after vanities....I want to leave everybody dissatisfied and unhappy at the end of the storywe ought all to be with our own and all other stories. Good God don't I see (in that maybe cracked and warped looking glass in which I am always looking) my own weaknesses wickednesses lusts follies shortcomings?.... We must lift up our voices about these and howl to a congregation of fools: so much as least has been my endeavour. His identification with the fools and the sinners of Vanity Fair could not be stated more clearly. The image of the cracked-mirror provided the basis of the drawing for the frontispiece when the serialized novel came out in book form in 1848.

What were some of his flaws? By temperament, he inclined to be self-indulgent, liked to eat and drink well, and until he lost his money gambled enthusiastically; today, we would probably say he had a gambling problem. The Bohemian lifestyle and Bohemians had a strong attraction for Thackeray, as he acknowledged: I like Becky in that book. Sometimes I think I have myself some of her tastes. I like what are called Bohemians and fellows of that sort. I have seen all sorts of society-dukes, duchesses, lords, and ladies, authors and actors and painters--and taken altogether I think I like painters the best, and Bohemians generally. As you read the novel, think about whether Thackeray's identification with the characters and perhaps the life of Vanity Fair affects the novel. Does he show a compassion for the follies he describes and for the characters who commit those follies? Is there a sense of connection with them, or does Thackeray adopt a superior stance and look down on them, judging them harshly? Or is Thackeray ambivalent? Is Vanity Fair, as A.E. Dyson says, "one of the world's most devious novels, devious in its characterization, its irony, its explicit moralising, its exuberance, its tone. Few novels demand more continuing alertness from the reader, or offer more intellectual and moral stimulation in return"?

Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray Online text of the entire novel, search engine. Biographical note. Criticisms and interpretations of the novel by eight critics. A list of characters. William Makepeace Thackeray This entry in the Victorian Web contains biography, works, political history, social history (discusses social class and the gentleman), religion, economic contexts, literary relations, themes, etc. as these are relevant to Thackeray. Well worth exploring. William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63) List of Thackeray Websites and chronological list of events in Thackeray's life WIlliam Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) Note on Thackeray. Links to nine of Thackeray's online works.


Thackeray's contemporaries equated Thackeray with the narrator, whom they saw as omniscient; as a result, they often missed the irony, read Thackeray's satire as his actual beliefs, and attacked him for cynicism and worse. A more careful reading of the novel indicates that the narrator is not consistently or even mainly omniscient. His character constantly shifts to fallibility, to ignorance, and even to incomprehension. His identity changes too. He is the stage manager, introduced in "Before the Curtain"; even in this guise, his role shifts from directing the performance, to controlling the actions of the characters or puppets, as he calls them, to helplessly watching them do as they wish. (So, even when Thackeray adopts the guise of the stage manager, questions arise; is he the creator of the story, the teller, or a hapless observer?) He metamorphoses into critic, clown, satirist, commentator, preacher, reporter, and participant. His situation changes, for example, from being married to being single, from having no children to having children. His relationship to the characters shifts from being a friend to being a hostile judge. His attitude too undergoes breathtaking transformations, being by turns wise, sentimental, worldly, cynical, amused, sad, inane, smug, and pleased at showing the characters up. This shifting in the narrator has led some readers to accuse Thackeray of being inconsistent. This is a serious charge and would be a major flaw in any novel. The charge implies that Thackeray lacked the skill to create a consistent narrator, that he was too careless to create a consistent narrator, or that he was too intellectually lacking to be aware of the narrator's inconsistency (Thomas Carlyle, for instance, questioned Thackeray's capacity for serious thought). The charge of inconsistency is particularly

serious because of the pervasive presence of the narrator; he is everywhere with his comments and his reactions and even appears as a character who has met Amelia and Dobbin. We see the characters through his eyes and know them through his words, though Thackeray also presents myriad other voices and views. For these reasons, the narrator is a major source of the ambiguity--or difficulty in determining Thackeray's intention and meaningthroughout the novel. When are the narrator's comments and attitudes ironic? when are they to be taken literally? and when or how often do they express Thackeray's attitudes and values? Not everyone concedes that Thackeray is unintentionally inconsistent. If the narrator is seen as a fictional persona, then he does not necessarily speak for or as Thackeray. He becomes one more character, different in kind and in function from the other characters, certainly, but a character nonetheless. Therefore, Thackeray is free to manipulate him to achieve particular effects at different points in the novel. Viewing the narrator as a persona raises another set of considerations and assessments. Are the narrator's shifts justified by achieving special effects, or are they confusing? Do they, in other words, add to or detract from the novel? The views of critics differ significantly on these issues, as the following sampling of opinions suggests: 1. Are the shifts in the narrator a flaw in the novel?

E.D.H. Johnson attributes the shifts in the narrator to Thackeray's ambiguous relationship to his world. Johnson believes that Thackeray had difficulty in combining his satiric bent and his moral purpose, a difficulty which resulted in confused aims: The curious alternations of attraction and repulsion manifest in Thackeray's handling of Becky and Amelia characterize his attitude towards the entire world of the novel. As a satirist, he castigates the manners and morals of that world; as a moralist, he is more taken in by its standards than he is presumably aware. Unlike Fielding, he was never able artistically to harmonize his twin purposes, because again unlike Fielding he lacked any compelling vision of forces making for unity and poise within the social organism. Johnson explains that the eighteenth-century Henry Fielding lived in a stable society with intact institutions underpinned by a robust religious faith. But in Thackeray's society, religion was losing its authority. In Johnson's view, one result of this loss was that love as a generalized form of brotherhood and charity no longer held society together but existed only as a bond between individuals.

Arnold Kettle, on the other hand, attributes the difficulty in determining Thackeray's intention and views to his cowardice, "from a desire to expose illusions and yet keep them." 2. Are there positive ways to view the narrator's shifts? o Harold Bloom calls Thackeray's narrator "that supreme fiction" and sees the point of view as one of the strengths of the novel. Many readers see the narrative shifts as part of Thackeray's subtlety, a device whereby he indicates the difficulty, if not the impossibility of arriving at the whole truth. If determining the truth is problematic, then making judgments becomes an issue; in this view, the narrator's shifts challenge our right to judge since we are all corrupted, in some way and to some degree. o Kathleen Tillotson believes that the narrator's commentary serves other purposes. It bridges past and present. Furthermore,

Without Thackeray's own voice, the melancholy and the compassion of his attitude to Vanity Fair might escape us. It is needed merely as relief, from a spectacle that might otherwise be unbearably painful. And not only morally painful, but mentally impoverished. The characters, the best as well as the worst, are almost without ideas; the intellectual atmosphere of the novel is provided by the commentary. By presenting the narrator's comments and reactions as well as the characters' feelings and reactions, Thackeray gives the novel a richer, more complex, and subtle texture.

Juliet McMaster believes that the narrator's commentary, which she calls alternately inane, snug, cloying, or cynical, forces the reader to react, thereby giving the characters a kind of life and making them feel like autonomous beings.

You will have to decide these issues for yourself based on your reading and understanding of the novel.

THE NARRATOR AND THE READER IN VANITY FAIR Just as the narrator's identity shifts, so does the reader's identity. The narrator addresses a succession of different readerse.g., a supercilious clubman, a lady, women in general, "you"to whom he attributes specific attitudes and whom he characterizes as behaving in certain ways. Behind these fictional readers there are the actual readers of the novel. What do you see as the functions of the fictional readers addressed by the narrator? And what is the relationship between the fictional readers and the actual readers, that is, between them and you? For example, do they create a bond between you, the actual reader, and the narrator? or a bond between you, the actual

reader, and the characters? Are your feelings and your judgment about the characters, their actions, and their world affected by Thackeray's use of fictional readers? When Thackeray addresses "you," is he addressing the actual reader, or is the "you" a fictional persona? or is the identity of "you" sometimes the actual reader and sometimes a fictional persona?


Thackeray, Vanity Fair. pp. ix-170 Overview of Thackeray and Vanity Fair The Narrator, the Reader, and Ambiguity The Structure Themes Characterization Thackeray's Illustrations: A Discussion Vanity Fair. pp. 171-326 Amelia Attitude Toward Women Vanity Fair. pp. 326-488 Waterloo Vanity Fair. pp. 489-662 Becky's Innocence Society Vanity Fair. pp. 663-822 The Ending Amelia: The Ending Becky: The Ending Dobbin: The Ending The Gentleman and the Lady Album of All the Vanity Fair Drawings

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Day 2 Day 3 Day 4

Day 5


Thackeray's original title, Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society, indicates his intention to describe a succession of social situations. As he was writing his novel, the idea of society as a Vanity Fair came to him, and he changed both his plan for the novel and the title. Though the name Vanity Fair comes from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Thackeray uses the concept in a very different way from Bunyan. For Bunyan, Vanity Fair comprises all the worldly activities which distract the Christian from

salvation and lead to damnation; they are vanities for this reason. At risk is the Christian's immortal soul. The phrase "vanity fair" came to mean "a place where all is frivolity and empty show; the world or a section of it as a scene of idle amusement and unsubstantial display" (the Oxford English Dictionary or OED ). For Thackeray, everyone lives in Vanity Fair or society; vanity has become the desire for society's approval and rewards; the individual seeks, not spiritual salvation, but the rewards of this worldsuccess, status, and wealth. The change from sketches about society to society as a vanity fair raises a major critical question; is the novel rambling and formless? To paraphrase the subtitle, is it a novel without a structure? This issue was raised by contemporary reviewers. Robert Rintoul, who praised Thackeray's realism, saw the novel as episodic: "if putting Vanity Fair aside as a fiction of high art, we look at it as a series of bits from life, it is entitled to the first ranks as a set of sketches lifelike and natural" (1848). Supporting this view is the time difference in the first half and the second half of the novel; the first half covers two years before Waterloo and is compact while the second half sprawls over the next twenty-five years. Even if the novel lacks form, is that necessarily a serious flaw? The Victorians did not perceive structure and unity in a novel the same way as modern readers, who have been raised on James and Conrad and critical theories focusing on structure. But is the perception that the novel lacks unity accurate?

Do major themes, like selfishness, give it form? Do the parallel lives of Becky and Amelia structure the novel? They leave school together, to enter the world; their subsequent careers, which include marriage, motherhood, and financial struggles, intersect several times; the tender, loving, and passive Amelia contrasts with the ruthless, ambitious, and active Becky. Is his portrayal of society, with its crippling, perverted values and its lovelessness, the center which holds the novel together? Does the narrator hold the novel together and structure it? Is Vanity Fair a panoramic novel, i.e., a novel which presents a broad view of a society? Percy Lubbock uses Vanity Fair as an illustration of the panoramic novel; he says that Thackeray creates the impression of a world, a society, a timecertain manners of life within a few square miles of London, a hundred years ago. Thackeray flings together a crowd of the people he knows so well, and it matters not at all if the tie that holds them to each other is of the slightest... The light link is enough for the unity of his tale, for that unity does not depend on an intricately woven intrigue. It depends in truth upon one fact only, the fact that all his throng of men and women are strongly, picturesquely typical of the world from which they are takenthat in all their different ways can add to the force of its effect. The book is not the story of any of them, it is a story which they unite to tell, a chapter in the notorious career of well-to-do London. Exactly how the various "plots" evolve is not the main matter;

behind them is the presence and the pressure of a greater interest, the mass of life which Thackeray packs into his novel.


This list of themes is intended as a guide in your reading, not as a definitive or complete list. Vanity. Vanity, which takes a variety of forms, is a major motivation of individuals and characterizes society. Consider the following definitions of vanity from the OED: "Vain and unprofitable conduct or employment of time"; "The quality of being foolish or of holding erroneous opinions"; "The quality of being personally vain; high opinion of oneself; self-conceit and desire for admiration." Another meaning of vanity could possibly be the vanity mirror; this meaning relates to the use of mirrors in the text and the drawings. Society's values. Individuals and society are driven by the worship of wealth, rank, power, and class and are corrupted by them. Consequences of this worship are (1) the perversion of love, friendship, and hospitality and (2) the inability to love. Selfishness. Everyone is selfish in varying degrees. As little Georgy ironically writes in an essay. "An undue love of Self leads to the most monstrous crime and occasions the greatest misfortunes both in States and Families" (page 698). The selfishness of characters like Becky, Jos Sedley, and Lord Steyne is obvious; however, even apparently selfless characters like Amelia, Dobbin, and Lady Jane are selfish. Illusion and reality. Is it possible to distinguish between illusion and reality? Motivated by self-interest, the characters practice hypocrisy, they misrepresent themselves both to others and to themselves, and they lie. Some characters deliberately choose their illusions or fantasies over the truth. Thus, every character deludes others and/or is self-deluded (does this pattern include the narrator?). Heroism. Men and women are not heroic; the heroic poses and pretences of characters, literature, and society are consistently deflated. Fiction versus reality. The false portrayal of human nature and activities in novels, romance, and literary conventions is distinguished from real life. The subtitle, A Novel Without a Hero; Thackeray's identifying various characters as the hero or heroine; the marriages of Amelia and Becky early in the novel--all violate novelistic conventions. George Osborne parodies the conventional hero. Is Thackeray's shifting narrator a satire of the literary convention that "novelists know the truth about everything" (p. 37)? Married and parental relationships. In a novel of domestic life, there are no happy marriages because of the egotism, selfishness, folly, and false values of individuals and of society. Similarly, selfishness, vanity, snobbery, and/or materialism affect every child-parent relationship. The gentleman. Thackeray rejects the older concept of a gentleman as a man of rank and leisure, i.e., a member of the gentry or aristocracy. The true gentleman, as well as the true lady, is recognized by moral character, being considerate,

benevolent, and diligent. Amelia, Lady Jane, and Dobbin are among the few real ladies and gentlemen in this novel. Time. Thackeray's concern with time has caused him to be called the novelist of memory. The action is set in the past, and the narrator compares and contrasts the past with the present as he moves between them; occasionally he tells us a future event or outcome. The characters' memories of the past help to characterize them in the present. Thackeray shows the effect which the passage of time has on the characters. The concern with time is reflected in the structure; the narrator occasionally interrupts the chronology, jumps back in time, and returns to the point where he stopped the chronology.

Like Austen in Emma, Thackeray identifies the place or status characters have in society and the nature of their relationship to society in Vanity Fair. Unlike Austen, who portrays the limited world of Highbury, Thackeray fills his novel with people, places, and travel. Almost all his characters are individualized, no matter how briefly they appear. We know their attitudes, their values, their hypocrisies and pettiness, their class, their desires and feelings. Taken together they make up the society that Thackeray calls Vanity Fair. His characters also satirize the institutions they serve or represent: Lord Steyne and Sir Pitt Crawley (both the father and the son) show up Parliament, the rotten election system, and the aristocracy; religion is satirized with the Rev. Bute Crawley (the Church of England) and Mr. Pitt Crawley and Lady Southdown (Dissent); the army leadership is satirized with General Tufto; the Colonial and foreign service, with Joseph Sedley, Rawdon Crawley, Mr. Pitt Crawley, and Tapeworm; the financial system, with Osborne senior. One class, however, is excluded, the poor. In view of his characters' vitality and their representing major institutions, is it tenable to suggest that society is the real protagonist of Vanity Fair?

The Hero
Even though Thackeray subtitles his novel A Novel Without a Hero, readers in Thackeray's day and in ours want a hero, and many assign the role to Dobbin. Does Thackeray in fact regard him as the hero of the novel or even as a hero? If you see Dobbin as the hero, then the subtitle and the narrator's references to the novel's having no hero are part of Thackeray's satire of novelistic conventions and manipulation of the unthinking or careless reader. Is there any doubt that George Osborne is used to satirize the conventional hero?


The question of whether the novel has a heroine is more complex. Amelia seems to be the conventional heroine sweet, passive, self-sacrificing, gentle, tender, and loving. And Thackeray calls her a heroineat times, but he contradicts himself at other times and says she is not a heroine (he also refers to Becky as a heroine and not a heroine). In addition, he repeatedly calls Amelia "weak" and "selfish." Of Dobbin's faithful love and decades-long submission to her, Thackeray wrote to a friend that finally "he will find her not worth having." Thackeray wrote his mother that My object is not to make a perfect character or anything like it. Don't you see how odious all the people are in the book (with the exception of Dobbin)behind whom all there lies a dark moral I hope. What I want is to make a set of people living without God in the world (only that is a cant phrase) greedy pompous mean perfectly self-satisfied for the most part and at ease about their superior virtue. Does this judgment apply to Amelia? Does Thackeray admire her wholeheartedly or admire some of her traits and behavior but not others? If she is not the heroine, is Thackeray using her to expose the selfishness of the conventional heroine?

Becky has much more appeal than Amelia for most readers, as Thackeray acknowledged: The famous little Becky Puppet has been pronounced to be uncommonly flexible in the joints, and lively on the wire; the Amelia Doll, though it has had a smaller circle of admirers, has yet been carved and dressed with the greatest care by the artist... (x). Born with no advantages, in a society that values rank and wealth, Becky makes her way to the highest levels of society through her own resources, with determination, intelligence, hard work, and talent. She is resourceful and bounces back from every reversal. At the same time, her behaviour and character are morally indefensible; she constantly manipulates others, she lies, she cheats, she steals, she betrays Amelia, and perhaps she even commits a murder. As the novel progresses, some readers feel that she becomes more dangerous and villainous. If so, was Thackeray upset that so many readers found her attractive? Does the change in her portrayal reflect ambivalence toward Becky? was he both attracted to her energy and courage and repelled by some of her actions, for instance? Or is the perception that her characterization changes false? Dyson explains Becky's appeal in terms of the corrupt nature of society and her role in that society: ..surely we do admire Becky, and legitimately, however glad we are to be outside the range of her wiles? The fact is that she belongs to Vanity Fair, both as its true reflection,

and as its victim; for both of which reasons, she very resoundingly serves it right. Like Jonson's Volpone, she is a fitting scourge for the world which created herfitting aesthetically, in the way of poetic justice, and fittingly moral, in that much of her evil is effective only against those who share her taint. Dobbins is largely immune to her, since he is neither a trifler, a hypocrite nor a snob. The other characters are all vulnerable in one or other of these ways, and we notice that those who judge her most harshly are frequently the ones who have least earned such a right. A question arises about Becky's innocence in the last portion of the novel. Specifically, is she innocent of adultery? and/or of murder? Thackeray offers a variety of opinions from self-interested and self-righteous observers, who range from the servants to the highest levels of fashionable society; the narrator's opinion remains ambiguous. It is important to keep in mind that though what characters say about one another is significant, their judgments may reveal more about the speaker or society's values than about the person being discussed; the opinion offered may not be trustworthy. The question of Becky's personal innocence raises a larger question; how important or meaningful is the question of her innocence, in view of how universally corrupt society is and how selfish the people judging her are? Who in this society is innocent?

Character Development
Do the characters change or develop in any significant way? or do we merely come to know them better as Thackeray reveals more details about them? Edwin Muir describes Thackeray's presentation of his characters as a gradual "unfolding in a continuously widening present"; the characters have the same weaknesses, vanities and foibles throughout, the only change being "our knowledge of them." The character who seems to change most is Rawdon Crawley, but how great is his change actually? If he does change significantly, are his love for Becky and his love for his son a sufficient, convincing reason for his change?


Thackeray, who intended his illustrations to be an integral part of the novel, filled it with drawings. The first letter of every chapter is incorporated into a drawing; almost every chapter includes a full-page drawing with an inscription at the bottom and one or more drawings of various sizes.The drawings supplement or complement the text in various ways. He was not entirely pleased with the final result in print. Firstly, he regarded them as "tenth or twentieth rate performances having a meaning perhaps but a ludicrous bad news of execution." Secondly, the methods of reproducing graphics in the nineteenth century tended to produce less accurate renderings than modern methods. I have included several drawings to illustrate some of the ways that they contribute to the meaning of the novel.

Example 1
Thackeray's drawing of himself holding a mask and a fool's scepter is relevant to the discussion of the narrator: is Thackeray to be equated with the narrator and the narrator's views, or is Thackeray the deliberate creator of a persona whom we call the narrator? Does the mask suggest the possibility of changing guises or identities? (A poor copy of this drawing appears on the title page of your text.)

Example 2
The meaning of the initial drawing for Chapter 4 is obvious; Becky is angling for a fat fish, Jos. There is irony in the fact that Jos, who distinguishes himself by how much he eats and drinks, is himself in danger of being caught and eaten by Becky. Continuing the fish metaphor, Mr. Sedley tells his wife, "But mark my words, the first woman who fishes for him, hooks him" (43). Besides flattering Jos with references to his knowledge of foods, Becky lures Jos by knitting a green purse, the purse symbolizing money and the green perhaps suggesting Becky's envy of the Sedley's affluence; she shyly implies that she is making it for him. Though Becky is in a natural setting in the drawing, Thackeray's emphasis on society is maintained by the buildings in the background.

Example 3
The initial drawing for Chapter 5 deflates the "epic" fight between Cuff and Dobbin. The boys carry wooden swords, wear paper hats, and Cuff rides a rocking horse. Interestingly, in a novel which deals with the Battle of Waterloo, a watershed in European history, their fight is one of the most violent actions presented.

Example 4
Some drawings are less flattering to Becky than the text is. The drawing which most affects our view of Becky represents Becky as Clytemnestra at the end of the book. I will discuss it after you have finished the novel. The point I am making can readily be seen in the drawing of Becky using the dolls as puppets to mimic Miss Pinkerton and her sister. Note Becky's malicious expression. The posture and dress of the men is somewhat disreputable. Does the picture also suggest why, as an adult, she gets along so well with men? why the Bohemian life appeals to her? and why she enjoys being with people?

Example 5
Thackeray uses a drawing to support the reason he offers for using contemporary dress for his characters, even though the novel is set a generation earlier, when styles were quite different: It was the author's intention, faithful to history, to depict all the characters of this tale in their proper costume, as they wore them at the commencement of this century. But when I remember the appearance of people in those days, and that an officer and lady were actually habited like this

I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous; and have, on the contrary, engaged a model of rank dressed according to the present fashion.


Like Becky, Amelia marries a man who is inferior to her, though unlike Becky she refuses to admit this fact to herself. Becky manipulates her husband to try to mold her own destiny; Amelia submits to whatever situation arises and accepts whatever George wants or does. Interestingly, Thackeray repeatedly refers to Amelia as "little," even though she is taller than Becky, as the illustration of their entering the Sedley drawing room indicates.

AMELIA'S UNEVENTFUL LIFE (Chapter XII, pages 128-137)

Portraying Becky's active full life and Amelia's passive empty life presents a technical problem. If Thackeray presents their lives as parallel and moves between them in real time, he will have a wealth of detail for Becky and almost nothing to write of Amelia. Amelia, with her "Poor little tender heart... goes on hoping and beating, and longing and trusting" in her misplaced love for George (page 132). Because she thinks only of him, her life offers little to write about. But her obsession with George is not the only reason her life is dull; Amelia leads an ordinary, repetitious life and is protected by her parents from active participation in the world, as girls from upper class homes usually are. ...the life of a good young girl who is in the paternal nest as yet, can't have many of those thrilling incidents to which the heroine of romance commonly lays claim. Snares or shot may take off the old birds foraging withouthawks may be abroad, from which they escape or by whom they suffer; but the young ones in the nest have a pretty comfortable unromantic sort of existence... Amelia lay snug in her home of Russell Square; if she went into the world, it was under the guidance of the elders; nor did it seem that any evil could befall her or that opulent cheery comfortable home in which she was affectionately sheltered (page 133). Thackeray is now free to write at great detail about Becky without having to deal with Amelia at the same time. This passage does more than just solve a technical problem. It is ironic, as are similar passages (see the connection of her life to Napoleon, Chapter XVIII, pages 200-1). Amelia, like everyone else, is affected by and vulnerable to events outside her narrow world. Her security and protection are illusory. Her father's wealth and her prospect of marrying George are destroyed by political and military events in Europe. With characteristic self-centeredness, Amelia is unaware of battles in which 200,000 men are reported killed, nor does she notice how grave her father looks once or twice. In her selfishness, all that matters to her is George. This passage also contrasts her typical life

with the unrealistic portrayal of young ladies' lives in popular romantic and sensation novels. The fact that the passive, oblivious Amelia is vulnerable and powerless is emphasized by the references to the clock portraying the sacrifice of Iphigenia, which ticks away in the Osborne living room (pages 144, 258-9). She is being sacrificed because her father is a bankrupt, an unforgivable transgression to Mr. Osborne. Ironically, the Iphigenia clock is connected with Mr. Osborne's sacrifice of his older daughter to tend his needs and run the house (page 506).


Little Amelia is typically described as tender, loving, weak, and selfish. This mixture of positive and negative traits has confused readers since the beginning. Readers who have a stereotypical view of love as a near-magical, ultimately-happy experience reject the possibility that a loving woman could be selfish or weak. Similarly, those who see her as a heroine ask how the heroine could be weak, let alone selfish. Clearly, such readers reason, Thackeray must have made a mistake, due to some personal confusion or ambiguity. But has he? Is he perhaps presenting unpalatable truths, a psychological reality that less subtle observers cannot or will not see? Amelia's obsessive love for George, which is presented as admirable and natural in popular romantic fiction, does not bother conventional readers. It is the cause (e.g., vanity, weakness, and self-delusion) and the results of her love which upset them. Such a love isolates the lover, even when there is no external reason to be cut off from others, "In the midst of friends, home, and kind parents, she was alone" (page 202). Her loyalty to George regardless of circumstances does not spring from love, as sentimentalists expect. Intelligent, if naive, Amelia is early aware of George's selfishness, his shallowness, and his superficial feelings for her. And she had misgivings and fears which she dared not acknowledge to herself, though she was always secretly brooding over them. Her heart tried to persist in asserting that George Osborne was worthy and faithful to her, though she knew otherwise. How many a thing had she said, and got no echo from him. How many suspicions of selfishness and indifference had she to encounter and obstinately overcome. To whom could the poor little martyr tell these daily struggles and tortures. Her hero himself only half understood her. She did not dare to own that the man she loved was her inferior; or to feel that she had given her heart away too soon. Given once, the pure bashful maiden was too modest, too tender, too trustful, too weak, too much woman to recall it (page 203). Her loyalty is based not only on the virtues of tenderness and trust but on her weakness; in other words, she lacks the strength and courage to face the truth. The fourth source of

her loyalty is being "too much woman." Are we to interpret her womanliness as a positive or a negative trait? is it virtue or vanity? The Victorians assigned men and women to separate spheres because of their different physical, emotional, moral, and intellectual qualities. Men had the freedom of the public sphere and returned to the haven of their homes and their wives, idealized as the angel in the house; women were confined to the private sphere or the home. Thackeray's attitude toward the Victorian construct of gender roles and the male-female relationship is not simple; consider the rest of the paragraph on Amelia's wilfully deluding herself about George. We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too. We let their bodies go abroad liberally enough, with smiles and ringlets and pink bonnets to disguise them instead of veils and yakmaks. But their souls must be seen by only one man, and they obey not unwillingly, and consent to remain at home as our slavesministering to us and doing drudgery for us (page 203). As the pronouns "we," "us," and "our" indicate, the narrator (Thackeray?) is speaking to men and identifies himself with their views and treatment of women. The Turks were synonymous with brutality and tyranny for Thackeray's age. Does his comparison of men to Turks and women to slaves indicate that Thackeray disapproves of the treatment of women, or does he intellectually see the repressiveness but emotionally accept the system? Does he admire the voluntary martyrdom of women? Answering these questions may require looking at other passages revealing Thackeray's attitude toward women's role and natures. Is Thackeray's final judgment on Amelia's self-delusion expressed in the phrase, "of the crime she had long ago been guiltythe crime of loving wrongly, too violently, against reason" (page 206)? Even if her deluded love is a crime, are the general lovelessness of her society and its emphasis on wealth and status as a basis for marriage worse crimes? Is there admiration, warmth, or compassion in Thackeray's view of Amelia's loving? Is she misguided? or capable of learning and maturity?

AMELIA AS BRIDE AND WIFE (Chapter XXVI, pages 300- 308)

When Amelia returns home after her marriage, she looks at her "little white bed," an action suggesting her innocence, childishness, and virginity; she thinks "with terror of the great funereal damask pavilion in the vast and dingy state bedroom" she shares with George at the Cavendish Hotel (page 304). What is Thackeray suggesting about her response to and experience of marriage? Is she mature enough for marriage? Is she comfortable with the extravagance and ostentation of life with George? Is there a hint about sexual inadequacy and/or disappointment? Only nine days after her marriage, Amelia is looking yearningly at her unhappy waiting and brooding in her virginial bedroom, "Dear little white bed! how many a long night had she wept on its pillow!" (page 304). Does the repetition of "little" suggest anything about Amelia?

"Wounded and timorous," Amelia kneels by her bed looking for consolation, which she does not find. Her self-centeredness has isolated her from God, to whom she seldom turned: "Love had been her faith hitherto; and the sad, bleeding disappointed heart began to feel the want of another consoler" (page 305). Thus, spiritual alienation is another consequence of selfishness, of her having focused solely on her adoration of and sacrifice for George. When she goes downstairs to her parents, she uncharacteristically tries to please them and in so doing has a pleasant visit: "And in her determining to make everybody else happy, she found herself so" (page 305). She does not generalize from this experience and stop selfishly thinking of herself and selfishly indulging the suffering of selflessness. She grieves and suffers, alone and silent, while George neglects her during their honeymoon in London and in Brussels. It is a mistake to attribute her neglect to Becky rather than his selfish nature; his neglect begins immediately after the honeymoon, before they socialize with Becky and Rawdon. As she sits by her bed in her virgin bedroom, she remembers fondly that image of George to which she had knelt before marriage. Did she own to herself how different the real man was from that superb young hero whom she had worshipped? It requires many, many yearsand a man must be very bad indeedbefore a woman's pride and vanity will let her own to such a confession (page 304).

Thackeray again stresses Amelia's emotional dishonesty and moral cowardice; she sees George's moral, intellectual, and emotional inferiorityand, out of vanity and weakness, deliberately chooses to ignore the truth about him and to cling tenaciously to her false view of him as hero and prince. In this passage, is there approval in Thackeray's tone with his reference to women in general? or, if not approval, then sympathy? or is he pointing out the vanity of Amelia's loyal devotion to her husband as well as the vanity of the loyal devotion which wives showedand were expected to show toward their husbands? THACKERAY'S ATTITUDE TOWARD WOMEN
I have listed a number of passages about the role of women in Vanity Fair, for you to consider in deciding what Thackeray's attitude is, toward women in general and toward Amelia in particular, who fits the stereotypical image of woman and of the Angel in the House.

Passage 1
The narrator is discussing the jealousy and condescending attitude of women toward Amelia, who is greatly admired by men. He also discusses the intimidating treatment she receives from the Miss Osbournes and their governess Miss Wirt, who wonder what George sees in her.

How is this? some carping reader exclaims. How is it that Amelia, who had such a number of friends at school, and was so beloved there, comes out into the world and is spurned by her discriminating sex. My dear sir, there were no men at Miss Pinkerton's establishment except the old dancing-master; and you would not have had the girls fall out about him? When George, their handsome brother, ran off directly after breakfast, and drifted from home half-a-dozen times a week, no wonder the neglected sisters felt a little vexation. When young Bullock (of the firm Hulker, Bullock & Co., Bankers, Lombard Street), who had been making up to Miss Maria the last two season, actually asked Amelia to dance the cotillion, could you expect that the former young lady should be pleased? (Chapter XII, page 130).

Passage 2
The narrator is describing the early days of Becky's marriage and her successful efforts in pleasing Rawdon and hiding her opinion of his abilities. What is Thackeray's attitude toward the women's hypocrisy? How does this passage apply to Becky and to Amelia as wives? The best of women (I have heard my grandmother say) are hypocrites. We don't know how much they hide from us: how watchful they are when they seem most artless and confidential: how often those frank smiles which they wear so easily, are traps to cajole or elude or disarmI don't mean in your mere coquettes, but your domestic models, and paragons of female virtue. Who has not seen a woman hide the dullness of a stupid husband, or coax the fury of a savage one? We accept this amiable slavishness, and praise a woman for it: we call this pretty treachery truth. A good housewife is of necessity a humbug; and Cornelia's husband was hoodwinked, as Potiphar wasonly in a different way (Chapter XVII, page 197).

Passage 3
The narrator is referring to Miss Briggs and Miss Crawley's abusive treatment of her, all which attacks the poor companion bore with meekness, with cowardice, with a resignation that was half generous and half hypocriticalwith the slaving submission, in a word, that women of her disposition and station are compelled to show. Who has not seen how women bully women? What tortures have men to endure, comparable to those daily repeated shafts of scorn and cruelty with which poor women are riddled by the tyrants of their sex? Poor victims! (ChapterXXXIII, page 354-5).

Passage 4
Amelia has been blaming herself for selfishness in not giving up Georgy to his grandfather and thereby denying him an education, pleasures, and luxuries. The narrator comments:

I know few things more affecting than that timorous debasement and selfhumiliation of a woman. How she owns that it is she and not the man who is guilty; how she takes all the faults on her side; how she courts in a manner punishment for the wrongs which she has not committed and persists in shielding the real culprit. It is those who injure women who get the most kindness from themthey are born timid and tyrants and maltreat those who are humblest before them (Chapter L, pages 590-1)

Passage 5
Amelia's grief is submerged or lessened by her nursing her dying mother. The illness of that old lady had been the occupation and perhaps the safeguard of Amelia. What do men know about women's martyrdoms? We should go mad had we to endure the hundredth part of those daily pains which are meekly borne by many women. Ceaseless slavery meeting with no reward; constant gentleness and kindness met by cruelty as constant; love, labour, patience, watchfulness, without even so much as the acknowledgment of a good word; all this, how many of them have to bear in quiet, and appear abroad with cheerful faces as if they felt nothing. Tender slaves that they are, they must needs be hypocrites and weak (Chapter LVI, page 674).

Passage 6
Amelia accepts money from Osbourne, after giving up Georgy to his wealth. The narrator comments on her lack of pride, which stems from her being naturally simple and needing protection, her suffering, poverty, humility and privations since her marriage. Many women similarly sacrifice themselves. O you poor secret martyrs and victims, whose life is a torture, who are stretched on racks in your bedrooms, and who lay your heads down on the block daily at the drawing-room table; every man who watches your pains, or peers into those dark places where the torture is administered to you, must pity youandand thank God that he has a beard.... if you properly tyrannize over a woman, you will find a h'p'orth of kindness act upon her and bring tears into her eyes, as though you were an angel benefiting her (Chapter LVII, pages 678-9).

Passage 7
The narrator describes Amelia's routine of watching for Georgy and tending the sickbed, to suffer the harassment and tyranny of querulous disappointed old age. How many thousands of people are there, women for the most part, who are doomed to endure this long slavery?who are hospital nurses without wagessisters of Charity, if you like, without the romance and the sentiment of sacrificewho strive, fast, watch, and suffer, unpitied, and fade away ignobly and unknown. The hidden and awful Wisdom which apportions the destinies of mankind is pleased so to humiliate and cast down the gender, good, and wise, and to set up the

selfish, the foolish, or the wicked. Oh, be humble, my brother, in your prosperity! Be gentle with those who are less lucky, if not more deserving. Think, what right have you to be scornful, whose virtue is a deficiency of temptation, whose success may be a mere change, whose rank may be an ancestor's accident, whose prosperity is very likely a satire (Chapter LVII, pages 679-80).

Passage 8
The narrator describes Amelia's kindness to her father, her taking care of him, and her listening to the same stories over and over as "affectionate hypocrisy" (680).

At Brussels, Becky is a social success and moves in the highest military circles, though there is a suggestion of impropriety in the Crawleys' sharing a suite with General Tufto, which are "very close indeed to those of the General" (333). Ever the social climbing snob and egotist, George pursues her and imagines he has made a conquest. At the Opera, he does not see the "queerest, knowingest look" Becky gives him, communicating that she is making a fool of the General, because George is "lost in pompous admiration of his own irresistible powers of pleasing" (chapter XXIX, page 331). Honest Dobbin, neither a snob nor an egotist, sees the truth about Becky, who dislikes and fears him because of his clear vision and her inability to manipulate him. He sees her as a humbug who "writhes and twists about like a snake. All the time she was here, didn't you see, George, how she was acting at the General over the way?" (chapter XXIX, page 332). Thackeray uses the snake image to describe the note "coiled like a snake" in the bouquet George hands Becky (chapter XXIX, page 338) and to describe Becky as a siren (chapter LXIV, pages 759-60). The snake image is also associated with Becky in two initial drawings: Becky as siren in Chapter LXIV and Becky as snake in Chapter XIV (she is snaking her way into Miss Crawley's favour). The call to battle comes during the ball. Thackeray chooses to describe, not the heroics and gallantry of a battle which determined the fate of Europe and England, but the varied reactions of civilians, soldiers setting off for battle and soldiers returned from battle. His anti-heroic attitude is also reflected in the initial drawing for Chapter XXX. A blind man (the military and the politicians) is about to fall into a stream (a pun on Waterloo). Might the drawing also apply to Thackeray, who professes an inability to describe battle, as well as apply to civilians, who have no idea what is happening on the battlefield? Is it ironic that a church stands in the background?

By and large, the civilians and soldiers in Brussels are selfish, venal, cowardly, hypocritical, and/or snobbish:

George writes his father a farewell letter in which love is mixed with pride, snobbery (the pretentious seal which the Osbornes had appropriated), and selfishness. He temporarily feels regret at having squandered his money because Amelia will be left in poverty if he dies and at his plan to run away with Becky: "Good God! how pure she was; how gentle, how tender, and how friendless! and he, how selfish, brutal, and black with crime! Heart-stained, and shame-stricken, he stood at the bed's foot, and looked at the sleeping girl. How dared hewho was he, to pray for one so spotless! God bless her! God bless her!" (chapter XXIX, page 340). This is all well and good, but very soon he is relieved at parting from her and eager for the battle: "Thank Heaven that is over,' George thought, bounding down the stair... his pulse was throbbing and his cheeks flushed: the great game of war was going to be played, and he one of the players. What a fierce excitement of doubt, hope, and pleasure! What tremendous hazards of loss or gain! What were all the games of chance he had ever played compared to this one?" (chapter XXX, page 350). Becky pretends distress at Rawdon's going off to war; but once he is gone, she promptly falls asleep (does the expression on her face in the drawing hint that she is at all distressed?). Later she reviews her financial position with satisfaction, light-heartedly visits Amelia, and extorts a small fortune from Jos for her horses. Representing the middle classes and the aristocracy respectively, the cowardly Jos and equally cowardly Bareacres, like large numbers of their compatriots, decide to flee. The image of Lady Bareacres and company sitting in their stately coach without horses and in all her pride of rank is unforgettable. Amelia, in her selfish and abject devotion to George, is utterly useless as he prepares to leave for battle. She wallows in misery, so that she becomes a burden to others, who must look after her. How are we to read Thackeray's description of her suffering, "No man writhing in pain on the hard-fought field fifteen miles off, where lay, after their struggles, so many of the braveno man suffered more keenly than this poor harmless victim of the war" (chapter XXXII, page 375)? Though helping to nurse the wounded Stubble keeps her from brooding over her fears, she listens to him only when George is mentioned and when George isn't, she thinks about him. Jos's servant, Isidor, looks forward to appropriating all of Jos's clothes after the British are defeated. The cowardly Belgian soldiers, represented by Pauline's admirer, flee, lie about their bravery under impossible conditions, and spread rumors of a Brtish defeat. Anticipating Napoleon's victory, a vast number of Belgians reveal their hypocrisy and their true sympathy for Napoleon.

Not all the characters lack kindness and concern for others. The goodhearted, if comic, Peggy O'Dowd prepares her husband's clothes and coffee, thinks of the "bad dinner those poor boys will get" (chapter XXXII, page 364), and tends to the self-incapacitated Amelia. Rawdon takes what actions he can to provide for Becky's financial situation should he not return and rides off to battle quietly, thinking of her. It is Dobbin, not George, who extracts a promise from Jos to take care of Amelia if the British lose. Thackeray's handling of Waterloo develops his central theme and title; the most momentous events are a continuation of Vanity Fair. All is vanity, down to the ostentatious monuments that are mass produced for the war dead. Carved on George's monument are the "pompous Osborne arms" and the Latin motto, "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country" (chapter XXXV, page 417). The motto is especially ironic because George's death is stripped of any military glory or heroism; it is relegated to a subordinate clause after a series of ordinary, subdued detailsBrussels is quiet, night falls, Amelia is praying, and George lies dead. Although Mr. Osborne loved his son and grieves for him, his vanity and selfishness do not allow him to forgive George for not apologizing: "Old Osborne did not speculate much upon the mingled nature of his feelings, and how his instinct and selfishness were combating together. He firmly believed that everything he did was right, that he ought on all occasions to have his own way" (chapter XXXV, page 420). Not even death releases the hold which Vanity Fair has on us.

WATERLOO TEETH: A HISTORICAL VANITY A true-life detail that Thackeray could well have used about the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo is the Waterloo teeth. One way false teeth were made at the time was to use real teeth, taken from corpses. Water- loo provided not only a wealth of corpses, but corpses of young men who had sound teeth. So many false teeth were made from the teeth pulled at Waterloo that false teeth came to be called Waterloo teeth. BECKY'S INNOCENCE
Intelligent and outrageous, self-reliant and alone, resourceful and courageous, meeting the world on its own terms and succeeding time and again, refusing to be defeatedBecky engages us with her vitality and aliveness and arouses our admiration for her resilience. An unscrupulous trickster, a liar and a cheat, a schemer and manipulator, a swindler, a hypocrite, a betraying wife and friend, a callous mother, a gambler, and possibly a murdererBecky has her dark side which we (and Thackeray?) have to come to terms with. Who is Becky Sharp? How finally are we to feel about her and to think about her? If our feelings and our reason produce contradictory responses, how do we reconcile them?


Becky's innocence becomes a major issue in the novel when Rawdon discovers her alone with Lord Steyne. A great deal of planning goes into making Steyne's tete-a-tete with Becky possible; her son is placed in a boarding school, Miss Briggs is sent to Steyne's country house, and Rawdon is arrested for debt. Her indifference to his welfare becomes clear to Rawdon when he receives her letterbeautiful in appearance (pink paper, light green seal, highly scented), heartless and superficial in content. Rawdon's suspicions of Becky are reawakened and he is desperate to be released. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds Steyne and Becky alone. Becky, frightened, cries, "I am innocent, Rawdon" (page 632). Is it significant that the snake image appears at this point, her hands being covered with "serpents, and rings, and baubles"? Rawdon strikes Steyne twice, throwing him to the ground. Becky sees her husband in a new light: "She admired her husband, strong, brave, and victorious" (page 633). Thackeray was enormously proud of this detail: "When I wrote the sentence, I slapped my fist on the table, and said, that is a touch of genius!'" Why does she have this response when all her plans and her success are destroyed at the moment of achievement? Does she perhaps get some satisfaction in seeing the powerful, wealthy Steyne humiliated, in seeing the man who repeatedly sneered at her and held the power to fulfil her social ambitions powerless? Or is Thackeray being ironic? Steyne vehemently denies her innocence; he has spent thousands of pounds on her. Does this necessarily mean they have slept together? Would Steyne have waited years and spent thousands of pounds without some sexual return from Becky? Did he enjoy her company enough, did she interest him enough and was she clever enough so that he waited? If they have been lovers, why go to all the bother of setting up this evening for them to be alone and to get her son and Miss Briggs out of the house? Is Steyne's word about her guilt necessarily accurate? He erroneously accuses Rawdon of being part of a scheme to shake him down. And does Steyne live in a world and have a view of life in which innocence is possible? Even if she has not physically betrayed Rawdon, are there other kinds of betrayal that she might be guilty of?

Did she intend to sleep with Steyne? Would an unfulfilled intention make her guilty? Christ taught that a man who lusts in his heart after a woman is guilty of adultery. Does this moral principle apply to Becky? A similar question arises in her flirtation with George at Brussels. When Amelia accuses Becky of trying to take George away from her and of being a false friend, Becky protests, "I have done my husband no wrong" (page 361). So

far as physical infidelity goes, Becky is accurate; that she intends to run off with George, who is poor and whom she holds in contempt, is unlikely. Is she stringing him along so that Rawdon can fleece him gambling? Amelia raises a different offense, betrayal of friendship, "Have you done me no wrong, Rebecca? You did not succeed, but you tried. Ask your heart if you did not" (page 361). Is Rebecca guilty of this offense? If so, is it serious moral and/or emotional offense? Has she betrayed Rawdon's trust and love? When he discovers the money she has squirreled away in the desk Amelia gave her in friendship (an irony?), he says, "You might have spared me a hundred pounds, Becky, out of all thisI have always shared with you" (page 634). Rawdon refuses a reconciliation, "If she's not guilty, Pitt, she's as bad as guilty, and I'll never see her againnever" (page 661). How can Becky be not guilty but "as good as guilty"? Is Rawdon judging morally or emotionally? Is Rawdon qualified to cast moral stones at Becky, in view of his accepting the governorship which Steyne got him because of Becky?

Thackeray leaves the question the question of her innocence open: What had happened? Was she guilty or not? She said not, but who could tell what was truth which came from those lips, or if that corrupt heart was in this case pure? All her lies and her schemes, all her selfishness and her wiles, all her wit and genius had come to this bankruptcy (page 635). Society's judgment of her guilt is unreliable, because it is not based on the facts or concern for the truth but on rumour, a priori assumptions, and corrupt values: "Was she guilty or not? We all know how charitable the world is, and how the verdict for Vanity Fair goes when there is a doubt" (pages 661-2).

Should much meaning be attached to a comment Thackeray dryly makes when Becky sees Steyne and other people she remembered from "happier days, when she was not innocent but not found out" (page 772). SOCIETY
Thackeray again and again points out that the folly, social climbing, hypocrisy, cruelty, avarice, lovelessness, and selfishness exhibited by individual characters have their origin and counterpart in society as a whole. These values are learned early, as the anecdote of the three children happily playing, until told that the sister of one of them had a penny. All three ran to ingratiate

themselves with the penny-holder and followed her, "marching with great dignity," toward a lollipop stall (page 263). To show the connection between the individual's values and behaviour and society's, Thackeray often generalizes from a particular situation or individual's action to the behaviour and value of societies. He universalizes the greedy fawning of the Crawleys over Miss Crawley's 70,000 into a common behaviour in society: "What a dignity it gives an old lady, that balance at the banker's! How tenderly we look at her faults if she is a relative" (page 104).

Using this technique of generalizing from the individual, he exposes the mercenary and impersonal basis of marriage in an acquisitive, money-oriented, status-conscious society. Becky's desperate attempt to lure Jos into marriage gives Thackeray the opportunity to discuss society's institutionalization of husband hunting, which "is generally, and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their mammas" (page 32). He then lists the approved and conventional activities by which young ladies find husbands. Amelia's idolatry of George is contrasted with Miss Maria Osborne's feelings for her fianc or, to be more accurate, for his financial and social standing, which leads to a discussion of mercenary marriages in fashionable society (pages 134-5). Maria, the narrator notes, would be as willing to marry the father as the son. Her fianc, Frederick Bullock, Esq., is equally mercenary and refuses to marry unless Maria's dowry is increased; he changes his mind only after Mr. Osborne threatens to horsewhip him, Mr. Osborne removes his money from the Bullock firm, and Frederick's father and the senior partners of Bullock, Hulker, and Bullock urge him to go through with the marriage. The horrors of marriages arranged for financial and family considerations are revealed by the Steyne family's alliances (pages 555-60).

The dominant class in this novel, as in Thackeray's society, is the middle class, and the middle class is the mercantile, capitalist society. The predominant middle class value is money, as exemplified by Mr. Osborne. The consequences of this focus are spiritual and intellectual emptiness, a twisted morality, and corrupted emotions, particularly the inability to love and an incapacity for friendship. When Mr. Sedley commits the offense of losing his money, Osborne, a long-time friend, bitterly turns against him. The Osborne home, with its display of wealth and lack of love, is dreary and soulless. Things, material objects dominate this house, and Mr. Osborne uses his children as objects to fulfil his own needs; George, his favourite child, is to fulfil his social ambitions by marrying wealth. The volatility of the economic system and the unpredictability of financial markets is illustrated by Mr. Sedley's bankruptcy; he is ruined because Napoleon escaped from Elba. The pervasiveness of gambling in this novel reflects life in the Regency period; it serves

as more than a historically accurate detailit is another expression of the economic unpredictability and instability of capitalism.

Those who do not have fortunes but want to live a fashionable life resort to credit. Credit is such an important feature of society that Thackeray devotes two chapters on "How to Live Well on Nothing a Year" (Chapters XXXVI and XXXVII). While giving close attention to Becky and Rawdon's sharp practices, these chapters constantly describe other individuals who also live on credit and who typify the middle and upper classes. Many tradesmen who trustingly extend credit are cheated and sometimes ruined. After Waterloo, the English are greatly respected throughout Europe for their wealth and trusted as honourable. Becky and Rawdon are "among the first of that brood of hardy English adventurers who have subsequently invaded the Continent and swindled in all the capitals of Europe" (page 433). This abuse of credit and trust not only continues to Thackeray's day but extends to other abuses and crimes: there is now hardly a town of France or Italy in which you shall not see some noble countryman of our own, with that happy swagger and insolence of demeanour which we carry everywhere, swindling inn-landlords, passing fictitious cheques upon credulous bankers, robbing coach-makers of their carriages, goldsmiths of their trinkets, easy travellers of their money at cards, even public libraries of their books (page 433). Spending other people's money, which is really what credit is in Vanity Fair, brings no stigma no matter how much misery defaulting causes. People willingly attend Becky's little parties, even as they gossip about how she pays for them. When a "noble nobleman" fails because of a debt of 6 or 7 million pounds, the public perceives his ruin as "glorious even, and we respect the victim in the vastness of his ruin" (page 439). But his ruin has implications for many others; Thackeray asks, But who pities a poor barber who can't get his money for powdering the footmen's heads; or a poor carpenter who has ruined himself by fixing up ornaments and pavilions for my lady's dejeuner; or the poor devil of a tailor whom the steward patronizes, and who pledged all he is worth, and more to get the liveries ready, which my lord has done him the honour to bespeak? When the great house tumbles down, these miserable wretches fall under it unnoticed... (page 439). Thackeray does not present everyone who extends credit and in consequently ruined as a complete victim. Mr. Raggles and the servants in the Crawley househouse become victims becasue of their own corrupt values: And I shame to say, she would not have got credit had they not believed her to be guilty. It was the sight of the Marquis of Steyne's carriage-lamps at her door, contemplated by Raggles, burning in the blackness of midnight, "that kep him up," as he afterward said; that even more than Rebecca's arts and coaxings (pages 528-9). Thus, his ruin--and the non-payment of the servants' salaries--is caused mostly by a belief in Becky's adultery, not by a guileless trust. Even if Raffles and others like him extend credit willingly or even half-heartedly, is their punishment disproportionate to their

extending credit? Financially ruined, Raffles is jailed, all his assets are seized, and his family becomes homeless. The moral corruption and callousness resulting from the premium placed on wealth, ostentation, and status have spread throughout society, from the aristocrat to the servants. Thackeray uses the narrator to speak for society to express society's values: "I' is here introduced to personify the world in general" (page 42). The narrator asserts that society is filled with people who cannot pay their debts; they are so numerous that, if they were banished, "why, what a howling wilderness and intolerable dwelling Vanity Fair would be!" (page 603). Society is built upon an economy of squandering other people's money for one's own enjoyment and finally ruining oneself and others: "Thus trade flourishes-civilization advances; peace is kept; new dresses are wanted for new assemblies every week; and the last year's vintage of Lafitte will remunerate the honest proprietor who reared it" (page 603).

Regarding others as commodities or objects to be used for one's own ends is widespread, almost universal, in this society. Miss Crawley uses Miss Briggs, Becky, and her relatives to amuse herself and drops them without a pang when they no longer suit her needs. In turn, she and her fortune are a commodity which her relatives want to secure for themselves. After a stroke incapacitates Sir Pitt and his son takes control of the estate, Sir Pitt becomes a worthless object and is kept out of sight. Things, possessions are more important than people. Ironically, people's possessions outlast them or their wealth, as shown by the numerous auctions resulting from bankruptcy or death. Things express what passes for love in Vanity Fair; Becky receives scores of gifts ranging from flowers to gloves and watches. The narrator dryly comments on the amount of jewellery which men purchase for women they are pursuing while their wives do without. As a mother Becky, who expresses neither love nor interest in her son, becomes an object for him. He admires her appearance and her possessions: "She came like a vivified figure out of the Magasin des Modesblandly smiling in the most beautiful new clothes and little gloves and boots. Wonderful scarves, laces, and jewels glittered about her.... She was an unearthly being in his eyes, superior to his fatherto all the world: to be worshipped and admired at a distance" (449). There follows a list of things in her room which define her for little Rawdon.


The narrator at times presents spending money in a favourable light. The narrator (or is it Thackeray?) seems pleased that Amelia is not above enjoying her shopping spree; he asks, "Would any man, the most philosophic, give twopence for a woman who was?" (page 306). Shopping makes her mother happy for the first time since the bankruptcy. Is he being ironic? is this an expression of his view of women? Buying things seems to be

connected to love when the narrator says that he would purchase all Mr. Lee's conservatories for one kiss from Amelia.

One of Becky's weaknesses is the desire to be respectable and accepted into "the best" or fashionable society. As a token gesture toward the rules governing a lady's behavior, she hires, but does not pay, Miss Briggs to be her companion. She achieves her goal of respectability after she is presented to King George IV at court. This presentation vouches for her social status and, of course, her character, so that some of "the best" foreigners and "the best English people too" visited her. The emptiness of her achievement soon manifests itself; "Her success excited, exalted, and then bored her" (page 597). Listening to the best people talk "about each others' houses, and characters, and familiesjust as the Joneses do about the Smiths, she wishes she were doing anything else, "oh, how much gayer it would be to wear spangles and trousers and dance before a booth at a fair" (page 598). "The best society" is no better, is not more interesting, nor is it different from lesser people, except in social status and wealth. Becky's tendency to Bohemianism or even disreputableness is implied in her reference to being a dancer. Fashionable society is snobbish and hypocritical in addition to being uninteresting. Its members accept Becky after her presentation, with no more concern about her character. Lord Steyne, whose immorality is generally known, is courted by fashionable society; the most respectable, such as the Right Reverend Doctor Trail and the self-righteous Sir Pitt Crawley, flock to his parties. The narrator comments, "In a word everybody went to wait upon this great man" (page 560). In what sense is Steyne a "great" man?

The respectable world and the fashionable world have a shadow or opposing world, that of the demimonde [demimonde: a class of women who are not respectable because of sexual promiscuity or indiscreet behaviour]. It is this class of women that Rawdon pursued as a young buck; Lady Crackenbury and Mrs. Washington White, friends whom Becky cut after her presentation at court and her acceptance into respectable society, are demimondaines; it is into this class that Becky is perceived as belonging to before her presentation at court and that she falls into during her wanderings in Europe. It is to entertain the demimondeand their aristocratic and even royal male companionsthat Lord Steyne maintains his private apartment with the gold and silver kitchen utensils. It is in the company of the demimondaine Madame de Belladonna that he dies in Naples. Because of the prudishness of much of his audience, Thackeray could not be explicit about the world of these women. He resorted to hints and indirection. He refers to the demimondaines as "ladies, who may be called men's women, being welcomed entirely by all the gentlemen and cut or slighted by all their wives" (page 441). The use of Lord Steyne's discreet, luxurious apartment is hinted at in the useless gold and silver cooking utensils, the approach by a back door, and the visits of the Prince and Perdita (Perdita means the lost one). Writing at the same time in a less hypocritical society, Alexander

Dumas fils, in The Lady of the Camellias, explicitly details the world of the demimonde in his tale of the doomed love of the courtesan Marguerite Gautier.


Previous to Rawdon's confrontation with Steyne, the servants had judged her guilty, "the awful kitchen inquisition which sits in judgment in every house and knows everything" (page 527). Later in this passage, Thackeray explains that Lord Steyne's visits reassured the servants and Raffles into giving Becky credit. Are servants in a position to know what is happening in a household? are they likely to know their employer's secrets? The reliability of their knowledge is called into question. The narrator warns employers, "If you are not guilty, have a care of appearances, which are as ruinous as guilt" (page 528). Of Becky specifically, he comments that she was "guiltless very likely" (page 529).


Several pages before the novel actually ends, Thackeray writes a fake ending, to satirize conventional happy endings. He deliberately throws in a repetitious series of clichs often used for endingsthe vessel is in port, the hero gets what he yearned for all his life, and the bird comes home and sits on his shoulder billing and cooing. Then Thackeray's prose swells into a crescendo of sentimentality and more repetition: "This is what he has asked for every day and hour for eighteen years. This is what he pined after. Here it isthe summit, the endthe last page of the third volume" (page 817). Then he bids goodbye to Dobbin and Amelia, and of course slips in the reference to her as a parasite. The repetition points up the lack of real meaning and the indulgence of emotion for its own sake. Unwary readers, in his day and ours, accept his statement and emotion at face value, ignore the parasite reference, and so miss the satire. Not even the fact that the novel was published in two volumes, not three, alerted some of his contemporaries. The style and sentimentality of Thackeray's false ending are similar to passages that Dickens wrote. The actual ending bears no resemblance to conventional happy endings. Dobbin no longer loves Amelia, and she knows it. There is no poetic justice, i.e., the virtuous are rewarded and the wicked are punished. The resilient Becky has wormed her way back into respectable English society, presumably on the money she may have murdered Jos for. The novel at last concludes with a pessimistic statement which may be applied to almost all, if not all the characters: "Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum!" which of us is happy in the world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?" (page 822). Consider....

Dobbin gets his desired Amelia after acknowledging that she is not worth his devotion and that he wasted his life. Amelia's desire to marry Dobbin is fulfilled, but her desire arises far too late, for she has worn out his love for her. In little more than a week after Amelia's marriage to George, the narrator can ask about her, "Was the prize gainedthe heaven of lifeand the winner still doubtful and unsatisfied?" (page 303). Becky may have regained her respectability again, but will her Bohemian nature, with its need for excitement and risk, be satisfied for long with a staid conventional life?

With the last sentence of the novel, Thackeray reduces his characters to puppets, artefacts which are controlled by the puppet master or the narrator as stage manager . Ordinarily such a puppet image would undercut our sense of the characters' reality, but does it in this case? Is Thackeray deliberately juxtaposing different levels or kinds of reality? The literal reality is that the characters, like puppets, are created, but at the level of truth to human nature and fidelity to society's functioning are the characters real? Or have the characters taken over their own lives and become "real"? There is evidence that Thackeray had a sense of their physical existence; he wrote, in a letter to a friend, I am going today to the Hotel de la Terass (at Brussels) where Becky used to live, and shall pass by Captain Osbornes lodgings where I recollect meeting him and his little wife who has married again somebody told me: but it is always the way with these grades passions. Mrs. Dobbins or some such name she is now: always an overrated woman I thought Ohow ludicrous it is! I believe perfectly in all these people & feel quite an interest in the Inn in wh. they lived.


Ironically, Vanity Fair does end conventionally with the marriage of two major figures, Amelia and Dobbin, and certainly the course of true love does not run smooth in this novel. But do Amelia and Dobbin feel true love for each other? Doesn't Dobbin feel true love for his daughter and next, perhaps, for his book? If Amelia has finally come to experience true love, has it brought her happiness? It is not in marriage that Dobbin and Amelia achieve the acme of happiness in their lives; that may have happened much earlier in the novel, during their stay in Pumpernickel. Thackeray suggests, "Perhaps it was the happiest time of both their lives, indeed, if they did but know itand who does? Which of us can point out and say that was the culminationthat was the summit of human joy?" (page 740). Of course, novelists have no hesitation in presenting marriage at the end of their novels as the culmination of human happiness, and they have been doing it since the mid-eighteenth century. Furthermore, Thackeray violates the marriage-as-happy-ending by having his four major characters marry early in the book. He contrasts the experience of real life with the falseness of literary conventions:

As his hero and heroine pass the matrimonial barrier, the novelist generally drops the curtain, as if the drama were over then: the doubts and struggles of life ended: as if, once landed in the marriage country, all were green and pleasant there: and wife and husband had nothing to do but to link each other's arms together, and wander gently downwards towards old age in happy and perfect fruition. But our little Amelia was just on the bank of her new country, and was already looking anxiously back towards the sad friendly figures waving farewell to her across the stream, from the other distant shore (page 303). AMELIA: THE ENDING ACCEPTING DOBBIN'S LOVE
Amelia's relationships with George and with Dobbin illustrate the French axiom that in love relationships there are "the one who loves and the other who condescends to be so treated" (page 142). Though those relationships differ in that she loves George and allows Dobbin to love her, she is the same in bothselfish, passive, dependent, and self-deluded in her image of George. Amelia is fully aware that Dobbin loves her and deliberately lets him love her, dance attendance on her, and exert himself to please her. Such an attachment from so true and loyal a gentleman could make no woman angry... Not that she would encourage him in the leastthe poor uncouth monsterof course not. No more would Emmy by any means encourage her admirer, the Major. She would give him that friendly regard, which so much excellence and fidelity merited; she would treat him with perfect cordiality and frankness until he made his proposals, and then it would be time enough for her to speak and to put an end to hopes which never could be realized (page 704-5). In other words, she will take, take, take until he asks for something in return from her; then she will reject him. She gives no consideration to the pain he might be feeling or the possibility that she is preventing him from marrying and having children. The situation satisfies her; after deciding when to reject him, "She slept, therefore, very soundly that evening... and was more than ordinarily happy" (page 705). Is it fair to draw a parallel with Becky's sleeping soundly after Rawdon provides for her financially and marches off to battle? Is Dobbin similarly providing for Amelia emotionally and is she too being callous? Self-deluded, Amelia delights in the piano she assumes George sent her (when did he ever show thoughtful consideration for her?). When she discovers Dobbin sent it, she loses all interest in it, with no thought for Dobbin's feelings. When Dobbin's response to her apology displeases her, she attacks him as cruel and defends the saintliness of George; not for a moment does she reconsider her view of George. She blames Dobbin for her giving up Georgy, not her own incapacity to earn money nor her father's foolish speculations:

Had you come a few months sooner perhaps you might have spared me thatthat dreadful parting. Oh, it nearly killed me, Williambut you didn't come, though I wished and prayed for you to come, and they took him too away from me" (pages 710-11). No one, of course, "took him" away from her; she agreed to give him up to the Osborne wealth. And why should Dobbin be expected to take care of her financial crisis? Dobbin's desperate protest at his devotion being unrequited is quelled; he promises not to change and asks only to see her often. Amelia narcissistically encourages him, "Yes, often"; the narrator comments, "And so William was at liberty to look and longas the poor boy at school who has no money may sigh after the contents of the tart-woman's tray" (page 711).

Thackeray repeatedly describes Amelia as "loving" and "tender." Her love for Georgy causes her to study to help him with his education; it enables him to develop the kindness, generosity, and sensitivity to recognize Dobbin's virtues and to be influenced by him. Unfortunately, because of her weakness and false view of George, she over-indulges him and is subservient to him, thereby fostering his egotism. She lovingly cares for her mother in her last illness and sits by her death bed, even though her mother is egotistic, difficult, and resentful and they are never reconciled. She dutifully, humbly, and considerately cares for her father in his decline, listens to his stories with a pretense of interest, and sits by his deathbed tooall without a complaint or a hesitation. Her father comes to appreciate her love and is redeemed by it from the selfishness which poverty engendered and fostered in him. Love, for Thackeray, has a redemptive power. In a letter to his mother, he wrote of Amelia, "But she has at present a quality above most people whizz; LOVEby wh she shall be saved. Save me save me too O my God and Father, cleanse my heart and teach me my duty." How does Amelia's ability to love affect our assessment of her? Why does Thackeray also give her negative traits, e.g., her selfishness and weakness? Does her love make her the heroine, or do her negative traits disqualify her from being a heroine? Or is Thackeray making a statement about the simplistic presentation of the conventional heroine and the complexity or mixed nature of women in real life?

Does the ability to appreciate and admire the gentle, loving, simple Amelia serve as a yardstick with which to measure men? In Brussels, Amelia wins the admiration and "unsophisticated hearts" of all the "honest, young fellows of the th" (page 310), and the simple, unworldly, inept Reverend Binny falls in love with her. "Honest" is used so often to characterize Dobbin that it almost becomes part of his name. Becky, on the other hand, consistently appeals to the sophisticated, the socially ambitious, the self-seeking, and the morally corrupt. Honest Dobbin does not like her and is impervious to her charms. To extend the idea of Amelia as a yardstick by which to measure men: The narrator suggests that Amelia's main appeal is her weakness, "I think it was her weakness which was her principal charma kind of sweet submission and softness, which seems to appeal to each man she met for her sympathy and protection" (page 459).

Is Thackeray, via the narrator, making a comment on the conventional malefemale relationship? The comparison of men to tyrants or Turks and women to slaves or martyrs runs through the novel. Also Amelia is "so utterly gentle and humble as to be made by nature for a victim" (page 708). Or, does Thackeray himself hold a conventional view of the male-female relationship and find feminine weakness attractive? Thackeray feared that his daughter Anny might turn out to be "a man of genius; I would far sooner have had her an amiable & affectionate womanBut little Minny will be that, please God!"


On their European tour, Dobbin devotes himself to Amelia and her son, who loves and admires Dobbin. She feels Dobbin's claims upon her growing and is unwilling to acknowledge them, let alone reward his devotion. She uses Becky to assert her independence. Initially, her warmth with Becky seems to arise from sympathy for being separated from a son. This motive does not explain why, when she embraces Becky, she also flings at Dobbin "the most unjust and scornful glance." Thackeray hints at an unacknowledged motive: "But she had private reasons of her own, and was bent on being angry with him" (page 794). She is used to trampling on and using Dobbin for her own gratification and wants to assert her independence from him, hence the glance: "But when an act of injustice is to be done, especially by weak people, it is best that it should be done quickly, and Emmy thought she was displaying a great deal of firmness and proper feeling and veneration for the late Captain Osborne in her present behaviour" (pages 794-5). Amelia here exemplifies Thackeray's generalization about the women's nature and their treatment of men: "It is those [men] who injure women who get the most kindness from themthey are born timid and tyrants and maltreat those who are humblest before them" (page 591). That night, a sleepless Amelia is torn between her devotion to the handsome George, whose worthlessness she refuses to see, and the temptation to accept the generous, loyal Dobbin. The narrator makes clear that her decision to reject Dobbin is based partly on his appearance:

What are benefits, what is constancy, or merit? One curl of a girl's ringlet, one hair of a whisker, will turn the scale against them all in a minute. They did not weigh with Emmy more than with other women. She had tried them; wanted to make them pass; could not; and the pitiless little woman had found a pretext, and determined to be free (page 797). The truth is, Amelia finds Dobbin physically unattractiveand Thackeray makes clear, in the text and in the drawings, that Dobbin is clumsy and unattractive; she does not want to marry him, though she respects him and is grateful for his kindness. The next day Amelia denies that Dobbin has any authority in her home and declares she will never forgive him for hinting at George's interest in Becky. Dobbin knows that this offense is merely a pretext and that she is not worthy of his love and leaves, presumably permanently. Amelia is frightened and startled by Dobbin's breaking the chains of love; "the poor little woman" expects him to bow to her tyranny, as he always did in the past. Her motives are both common and appallingly selfish: "She didn't wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him. She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not unfrequently levied in love" (page 800). Do her egotism and her wanting to take but not to give resemble George and his relationship with her? Ironically, Becky, who is eavesdropping, calls Amelia's treatment of Dobbin shameless; if she had a husband with Dobbin's heart and brains, she thinks, she would not have cared that he had large feet.


Amelia is unhappy after Dobbin leaves. The change in her attitude toward and feelings about Dobbin affect her perception of George's portrait; "it no longer reproached her perhaps she reproached it, now William was gone" (page 805), and a few pages later she does reproach herself for driving Dobbin away. She makes a decision and "wrote off a letter to a friend whom she had on the other side of the water" (page 813). Not until she confesses to Becky do we know that the "friend" is Dobbin. After Becky shows her George's note, she cries, though she is not as upset as Becky expects. Thackeray presents several explanations of her tears, leaving the reader to decide. "Who shall analyse those tears and say whether they were sweet or bitter? Was she most grieved because the idol of her life was tumbled down and shivered at her feet, or indignant that her love had been so despised, or glad because the barrier was removed which modesty had placed between her and a new, a real affection?" (page 814). Does the phrase "most grieved" suggest that all the reasons are true, though not equal in importance? Is it significant that in the very next sentence Amelia admits to herself that she loves Dobbin, "There is nothing to forbid me now,' she thought. 'I may love him with all my heart now. Oh, I will, I will, if he will but let me and forgive me'?" (pages 814-5). Was there any reality-based reason why she could not have loved him sooner?

He returns; they marrybut they do not fade into a conventional happy ending. Amelia, the woman whom he thought of constantly and whose needs and desires concerned him for nearly twenty years, is no longer his beloved princess. If she asked him in the past to check on Jos's well-being, would Dobbin have hesitated in setting out for Brussels? Now he would rather stay home and write his history of the Punjaub. Amelia knows his feelings toward her have changed and sighs that he loves their daughter Janey more than her, a situation for which she bears full responsibility. In what proves to be a false ending, Thackeray seems to be bidding farewell to his characters. To Amelia he exclaims, "Farewell, dear AmeliaGrow green again, tender little parasite, round the rugged old oak to which you cling!" (page 817). Does the passive, dependent Amelia live off others, off of their strength and protection? Is she a parasite or has Thackeray made a mistake? Does Thackeray prepare for this view of her or does he just spring it on the reader? Consider her emotional collapse, which lasted months, after George's death or her inability to face the future, which is compared to the ocean; Emmy being "unfit to navigate it without a guide and protector" (page 284). Is Thackeray implying that women like her, who fit the conventional ideal, are parasites? Or is he suggesting that the conventional heroine is really a parasite? Is Thackeray soft on and sentimental about Amelia, as many readers believe, or is he realistic and honest about her virtues and her flaws? To phrase the idea about Amelia a little differently: is Thackeray holding Amelia up as the ideal woman for us to admire, or is he satirizing the ideal that Emma represents as parasitic, selfish, and cruel in her weakness?


After the confrontation scene with Rawdon and Lord Steyne, Becky undergoes a social and financial degradation on the Continent. At first, she tries valiantly to re-establish herself in respectable English society, even though she is snubbed by English ladies. Each time she finds a niche for herself, she is rejected because of her past, her reputation, and the persecution of Steyne's hirelings. In this regard, she is a victim. Her need for excitement and attention also contribute to her failure; taken under the wing of the eminently respectable Mrs. Eagles, she grows bored, and "the life of humdrum virtue grew utterly tedious to her before long" (page 767). For stimulation, she practices her wiles on young Mr. Eagles on holiday from Cambridge, and Mrs. Eagles asks to her leave. Becky's sharing an apartment with a female friend was unsuccessful, but she enjoyed living in a boarding house, because "Becky loved society and, indeed, could no more exist without it than an opium-eater without his dram" (page 767). As she is forced to move from one place to another, one style of life to another, one set of companions to another, she deteriorates into "a perfect Bohemian ere long, herding with people whom it would make your hair stand on end to meet" (page 769). Becky sinks back into the demimonde. When men are forward with her, she reflects that they would not have dared to treat her so if Rawdon were present and misses his protection Reading between the lines, we see that Becky travels with swindlers, disgraced gentlemen, and pseudogentlemen and may have sold her sexual favours. Thackeray repeats shocking rumours

about her but confirms none of them. When she turns up in Pumpernickel, she is somewhat slatternly in dress, gambles, and drinks, behaviour that would have shocked respectable society and Thackeray's readers. Her "wild and roving nature" (page 777) suits her for this life. Ever the opportunist, Becky seeks to ingratiate herself with Jos and Amelia. Nevertheless, Amelia's frankness and kindness seen to touch her: "She returned Emmy's caresses and kind speeches with something like gratitude, and an emotion which, if it was not lasting, for a moment was almost genuine" (page 786). Do the words "something like gratitude" and an "almost genuine" emotion suggest anything about Becky's nature and her capacity for friendship? It is jarring to Becky to have to lie immediately to Amelia, though she unhesitatingly lies about her son. She appreciates and enjoys the comfort and simplicity of the Sedley household, for "wanderer as she was by force and inclination, there were moments when rest was pleasant to her" (page 803). When Dobbin urges Amelia not to admit Becky into her household, Becky feels no animosity toward him, because he is acting openly in a fair fight. She is even able to appreciate his virtues and deprecate Amelia's treatment of him. When Dobbin leaves, she acts to keep him for Amelia; she writes a note asking him to stay and later shows Amelia George's note. Her action does not cause Amelia to call back Dobbin, because she has already summoned him; however, it is important in forcing or perhaps allowing Amelia to face the truth of George. This part of her history and behavior is consistent with Becky's characterization from her first appearance at Miss Pinkerton's school until the disastrous confrontation. Does Thackeray change her characterization and/or his attitude toward her in the last section of the novel, as many readers believe?

In the last part of the novel, does Thackeray unexpectedly present a darker or evil Becky? If so, why the sudden change? Was he perhaps distressed at how many readers were attracted to Becky? or disconcerted at how much he himself was drawn to her bohemianism? or nervous about possible outcries from his squeamish public? If her characterization does not change suddenly, then Becky's destructiveness and viciousness must have been present all along. What might account for a change in Becky (assuming she does change)? Circumstances, such as her youth, her early opportunities, her drive for respectability and social success, might have inhibited the expression of her darker side. After her social fall, she leads an increasingly degraded life. Marginalized socially, she consorts with social outcasts, is driven by economic need, and perhaps finds life more difficult with age. Under the pressures of a bohemian, demimonde life, her malevolence might well emerge. Other explanations are possible; I offer this one as a stimulus for your thinking, not to limit you to it.

Those who see a change point to the the comparison of Becky to the Siren, which they claim presents her in a harsher light than before. Certainly Becky appears as repulsively malevolent and horrifyingly dangerous in this passage: In describing this Siren, singing and smiling, coaxing and cajoling, the author, with modest pride, asks his readers all round, has he once forgotten the laws of politeness and showed the monster's hideous tail above water? No! Those who like may peep down under waves that are pretty transparent and see it writhing and twirling, diabolically hideous and slimy, flapping amongst bones, or curling round corpses; but above the waterline, I ask, has not everything been proper, agreeable, and decorous, and has any the most squeamish immoralist in Vanity Fair a right to cry fie? When, however, the Siren disappears and dives below, down among the dead men, the water of course grows turbid over her, and it is labour lost to look into it ever so curiously. They look pretty enough when they sit upon a rock, twanging their harps and combing their hair, and sing, and beckon to you to come and hold the looking-glass; but when they sink into their native element, depend on it, those mermaids are about no good, and we had best not examine the fiendish marine cannibals, revelling and feasting on their wretched pickled victims. And so, when Becky is out of the way, be sure that she is not particularly well employed, and that the less that is said about her doings is in fact the better (pages 759-60). Whether the characterization of Becky as Siren is consistent with the younger Becky, it is certainly consistent with the perhaps-murderous Becky of the last pages. Does she murder Jos? The text is ambiguous, deliberately so. There is no hard evidence against her, merely Jos's terror of her, her greed for money manifested in her unsuccessful speculations with his money, and the insurance company's suspicions. Her potential for murder is hinted at in her triumph at Steyne's party, where she plays Clytemnestra so convincingly that the audience is horrified. Steyne believes she could commit murder, as Clytemnestra did. If the text is ambiguous about Jos's death, the illustration of Jos's last conversation with Dobbin is not. Though in the text Becky is not present, in the drawing she is lurking in darkness, holding a barely visible cup (suggesting poison?), with a malevolent expression on her face. This drawing depicts Becky's second appearance as Clytemnestra.

Becky first appears as Clytemnestra in the charades at Lord Steyne's party and represents her success in fashionable society. In her first appearance as Clytemnestra, she is demure and innocent, modestly looking down while holding a knife, seemingly under the protection of her husband, who towers over her. Has she changed drastically since that party, or was her demure manner part of her performance, with the knife expressing her true nature?

Becky's last appearance is as a virtuous, respectable matron sitting behind a booth, to the consternation of Amelia and Dobbin, who recoil from her. What impression does the drawing of this incident, which is reproduced in your text, make? Consider Becky's expression and body language. Is this an appropriate last appearance by Becky?


Dobbin's love for Amelia becomes the determining factor of his life. He thinks about her constantly, does everything he can to provide for her welfare and happiness, and devotes his life to her. He falls in love with her at first sight, as she comes into the room singing. He knows nothing about her character, her interests, her personality, so, why does he fall in love with her? Does he fall in love because of his own needs or psychological makeup? There are hints in the text that Dobbin is an idealist in the sense that he projects idealized images onto others. Before his epic fight with Cuff, Dobbin is happily reading the Arabian Nights; lost in imagination, he is with Sinbad and with "Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peribanou in that delightful cavern where the Prince found her" (page 53). As a result of his

victory, his life improves significantly, but, "from some perverseness," he attributes the happy change to George, rather than to his own actions. He regards George as a character in the romantic tales he reads; he loves George with the affection "we read in the charming fairy-book... He believed Osborne to be the possessor of every perfection, to be the handsomest, the bravest, the most active, the cleverest, the most generous of created boys" (pages 60-1). In other words, he idealizes George into Prince Charming by attributing virtues to George which he does not possess. Does he then devote himself to the image of George he himself created? Does his love for Amelia follow the same pattern? When Amelia, unaware that he is in the room, comes in singing, does he fall in love with an idealized image rather than the actual Amelia, since he has no idea of what she is really like? (Is "falling in love at first sight" itself a literary clich, a sentimental ideal he might have learned from reading books like The Arabian Nights?) Thackeray, in discussing the nature of love, refers to the lover who projects idealized traits onto the love object; in the example, he is discussing a woman and at the end of the passage applies it to Amelia, but the principle applies equally to men in love: Perhaps some beloved female subscriber [to love] has arrayed an ass in the splendour and glory of her imagination; admired his dullness as manly simplicity; worshipped his selfishness as manly superiority; treated his stupidity as majestic gravity, and used him as the brilliant fairy Titania did a certain weaver at Athens.... But this is certain, that Amelia believed her lover to be one of the most gallant and brilliant men in the empire: and it is possible Lieutenant Osborne thought so too. Does this process, which Stendhal called crystallization, apply to Dobbin's falling in love with Amelia at first sight? The narrator recounts an incident that supports a "yes" answer. Dobbin's image of Amelia filled his thoughts; the narrator comments, Very likely Amelia was not like the portrait the Major had formed of her: there was a figure in a book of fashions which his sisters had in England, and with which William had made away privately, pasting it into the lid of his desk, and fancying he saw some resemblance to Mrs. Osborne in the print, whereas I have seen it, and can vouch that it is but the picture of a high-wasted gown with an impossible doll's face simpering over it and, perhaps, Mr. Dobbin's sentimental Amelia was no more like the real one than this absurd little print which he cherished. Or is an attachment to an idealized image of the love object what love commonly is? The narrator seems to suggest this possibility when he generalizes, "But what man in love, of us, is better informed?or is he much happier when he sees and owns his delusion?" (page 515). The truth of the second question is suggested at Dobbin's unhappiness and sense of having wasted his life when he finally faces the truth about Amelia. Is it possible that Dobbin's idealizations of George and then of Amelia are an expression of a sense of his inferiority, which can also be called a low self-esteem? His physical unattractiveness and his clumsiness are emphasized in the text and in the drawings, e.g.,

his first meeting Amelia. Is part of their attraction for him their physical attractiveness, since he is physically unprepossessing?


Just as Amelia holds tenaciously to her false image of George, so Dobbin tenaciously holds on to his false image of Amelia. The process of his disillusionment in her is long and slow. When he reads the letter in which she congratulates him on his supposed engagement, he cries out at the injustice of her disregard of his years of faithfulness. He despairs and reads all her letters and notes and sees "how cold, how kind, how hopeless, how selfish they were!" (page 517). And yet he keeps on loving her and continues faithful. Why? The easy answer is true love. But is that the only explanation? Is it possible that he remains a faithful lover because he has no one else to love? The narrator speculates, Had there been some kind gentle soul near at hand who could read and appreciate this silent generous heart, who knows but that the reign of Amelia might have been over, and that friend William's love might have flowed into a kinder channel? But there was only Glorvina... It was not jealousy, or frocks, or shoulders that could move him, and Glorvina had nothing more (pages 517-8).


More than any other character, Dobbin qualifies to be the hero, based on his solid moral qualities and kind, considerate actions. But he, like all the other characters, lives in Vanity Fair; he is selfish in his constant thinking of Amelia, to the exclusion of his family. Is it selflessness or selfishness that moves him to push George into marriage? After discussing reasons why Dobbin thinks Amelia and George should marry, the narrator asks, "Was he anxious himself, I wonder, to have it over?as people, when death has occurred, like to press forward the funeral..." (page 228). Later, Dobbin wonders whether he encouraged them to marry as soon as possible because he couldn't bear to see Amelia suffer "or because his own sufferings of suspense were so unendurable that he was glad to crush them at once..." (page 265). Thackeray leaves the question of his motive or motives in encouraging the marriage ambiguous. Thackeray, however, asserts unequivocally Dobbin's folly in loving Amelia. A paragraph that describes her tyranny over him and her giving him orders like a dog, which he likes to obey, concludes, "This history has been written to very little purpose if

the reader has not perceived that the Major was a spooney" (page 791). (The OED defines a spooney as "A simple, silly, or foolish person; a noodle.") The Major is a fool in love, in other words. His folly in love and his self-delusion also qualify him for membership in Vanity Fair.

After the confrontation in Pumpernickel, Dobbin loses his illusions about Amelia and his hopes that she will one day come to love him. She has worn out his love, but he does not blame her; he takes responsibility for deluding himself, It was myself I deluded and persisted in cajoling; had she been worthy of the love I gave her, she would have returned it long ago. It was a fond mistake. Isn't the whole course of life made up of such? And suppose I had won her, should I not have been disenchanted the day after my victory? Why pine, or be ashamed of my defeat? (page 810). Dobbin's defeat in love and his life's ambition to marry Amelia becomes even greater than it is at this point. He does win Amelia, after all, and marries her, though he no longer loves her and knows, as Thackeray said he would in a letter to a friend, that she is not worth winning. As an honest and so an honorable man, he feels he has no choice but to return, when she writes to him, and return, of course, means marriage. For a fuller discussion of the break with Amelia and their marriage, see the discussion of Amelia: The Ending.


A concern in Thackeray's writing, as in the writing of many other middle-class Victorian novelists, is the question of who and what a gentleman is. The traditional concept of a gentleman is a man of family and fortune who does not work; it is a class-based concept which excluded most middle class men. Having in mind this definition, Thackeray said that it took three generations to make a gentleman. The middle classes, which were growing in number, wealth, and power, did not want to wait to be accepted as gentlemen. To make the concept of the gentleman more inclusive, writers identified character and moral values as the criteria for recognizing a gentleman. Thackeray uses both concepts of the gentleman in Vanity Fair. He uses the older definition ironically in connection with characters like Lord Steyne and Sir Pitt Crawley, the father; the new definition is applied to the honourableand honest William Dobbin.


Fashionable society accepts Lord Steyne as indisputably a gentleman even though his

immoral lifestyle is notorious. Despite his open womanizing and other vices, his "distinguished courtesy" toward his wife in public "caused the severest critics to admit how perfect a gentleman he was, and to own that his Lordship's heart at least was in the right place" (page 576). Appearance and status are what matter in determining who is a gentleman, not character or virtue or the whole life of a man. In private, where society cannot see or hear his treatment of his wife or other female dependents, Steyne is heartless or ungentlemanly. He savagely abuses his wife, Lady Steyne, and daughter-in-law, Lady Gaunt, verbally to force them to invite Becky to their home. Moreover, "To see his wife and daughter suffering always put his Lordship into a good humour" (page 757). To emphasize the irony, Thackeray uses Steyne's title, "his lordship." When Lady Gaunt defies him to strike her, he replies, "I am a gentleman, and never lay my hand upon a woman, save in the way of kindness" (page 575). He is brutal in his advice to Becky, when she reveals that she has cheated Miss Briggs out of her money and ruined her financially: "Ruined her? Then why don't you turn her out?' the gentleman asked" (page 571). In both of these incidents, the term "gentleman" is used ironically for satiric purpose; Steyne is simultaneousl-and ironically--a sadistic brute and a perfect gentleman. This concept of the gentleman contrasts with the newer one Thackeray espouses.


Thackeray explicitly identifies what the true gentleman is and who of his characters is a true gentleman. On the one hand, his concept democratizes the concept of the gentleman because a man of any class who has the requisite character and integrity could be a gentleman. On the other hand, Thackeray sets such a high standard for the gentleman that very few men actually fit his definition of a true gentlemen, though there are many who regard themselves and are regarded as gentlemen using the standards of Vanity Fair. Thackeray distinguishes between the few true gentlemen and the more numerous group whose claim to being gentlemen is based on externals, not ideals: Perhaps these are rarer personages than some of us think for. Which of us can point out many such in his circlemen whose aims are generous, whose truth is constant, and not only constant in its kind but elevated in its degree; whose want of meanness makes them simple; who can look the world honestly in the face with an equal manly sympathy for the great and the small? We all know a hundred whose coats are very well made, and a score who have excellent manners, and one or two happy beings who are what they call in the inner circles and have shot into the very centre and bull's-eye of the fashion; but of gentlemen how many? Let us take a little scrap of paper and each make out his list. My friend the Major I write, without any doubt, in mine. He had very long legs, a yellow face, and a slight lisp, which at first was rather ridiculous. But his thoughts were just, his brains were fairly good, his life was honest and pure, and his heart warm and humble (page 740).


The new concept of the gentleman can degenerate into the recognition of appearance, position, wealth, and a conformity to decorum. Sir Pitt Crawley, the son, is the model of the prig who places money and advancement before generosity, honour, and kindness. He is able to listen to Rawdon's request for help and sympathize with him after Rawdon assures him he is not asking for money. On this occasion, Thackeray describes Sir Pitt, ironically, as "a real old English gentleman, in a worda model of neatness and every propriety" (page 636). He is wearing a starched cravat with his dressing gown! Mr. Osborne, made brutal and selfrighteous by egotism and pride of success, represents the middle class capitalist who sees the world in terms of money, judges people by their wealth, and uses his children to fulfil his social ambitions and enhance his sense of self-worth. He raises his son to be a gentleman and not surprisingly turns out a self-centred, self-satisfied, superficial snob. He is in the process of ruining his grandson with extravagant indulgence. Ironically the chapter which describes Georgy's life in the Osborne mansion is titled "Georgy is Made a Gentleman"; in reality, his crass, ignorant grandfather is making Georgy less of a gentleman than he starts out as by encouraging his self-importance and by not providing boundaries to guide him. Fortunately Georgy is redeemable. It is true that he has been indulged by his mother, that his egotism has been fostered by her idolizing him, and that he is being turned into his father even by her. Nevertheless he has benefitted morally and emotionally by being raised by a true lady who has many excellent qualities; he is, after all, the recipient of her love, kindness, humility, selflessness, and tenderness. Obnoxious as Georgy can be, he nevertheless has sterling qualities, as shown by his generosity to and tender feeling for the beggar boy whom he gives money tobefore his attendant can chase the boy away. Circumstance favours his being saved from his father's character with the elder Osborne's death and the guidance of Dobbin, whose sterling nature George is gentleman enough to perceive.


Redefining the gentleman requires redefining the lady, so that the lady, too, is no longer a class-based concept. Like the gentleman, the lady must have character and be virtuous, though the nature of her character and her specific virtues differ from those of the gentleman. Amelia exemplifies the true lady for Thackeray, in a passage discussing her raising Georgy:: He had been brought up by a kind, weak, and tender woman, who had no pride about anything but about him, and whose heart was so pure and whose bearing so meek and humble that she could not but needs be a true lady. She busied herself in gentle offices and quiet duties; if she never said brilliant things, she never spoke or thought unkind ones; guileless and artless, loving and pure, indeed how could our poor little Amelia be other than a real gentlewoman!" (page 664). Lady Steyne, suffering, pure, and passive, is a true lady; Lady Jane Sheepshanks, who develops more depth and character as the novel progresses, comes to be another true lady.


The new concept of the lady, like that of the gentleman, can degenerate into the recognition of appearance, position, wealth, and a conformity to decorum. As Amelia exemplifies the new true lady, so Becky expresses the corrupted concept of a lady, a concept whose criteria would be easier to meet and would undoubtedly be more widely acceptable: "It isn't difficult to be a country gentleman's wife," Rebecca thought. "I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year. I could dawdle about in the nursery and count the apricots on the wall. I could water plants in a green-house and pick off dead leaves from the geraniums. I could ask old women about their rheumatisms and order half-a-crown's worth of soup for the poor. I shouldn't miss it much, out of five thousand a year. I could even drive out ten miles to dine at a neighbours, and dress in the fashions of the year before last. I could go to church and keep awake in the great family pew, or go to sleep behind the curtains, with my veil down, if I only had practice. I could pay everybody, if I had but the money. This is what the conjurors here pride themselves upon doing. They look down with pity upon us miserable sinners who have none. They think themselves generous if they give our children a five-pound note, and us contemptible if we are without one" (page 499). Becky's idea of a lady is based on externalsmoney, clothes, and socially-acceptable behaviour, without the virtues and character which should motivate that behaviour. The satire is clear. But Thackeray introduces ambiguity by wondering in the rest of this paragraph whether Becky is right: And who knows but Rebecca was right in her speculationsand that it was only a question of money and fortune which made the difference between her and an honest woman? If you take temptations into account, who is to say that he is better than his neighbour? A comfortable career of prosperity, if it does not make people honest, at

least keeps them so. An alderman coming from a turtle feast will not step out of his carriage to steal a leg of mutton; but put him to starve, and see if he will not purloin a loaf (pages 499-500). Is this Thackeray speaking or a narrator, a persona who is not expressing Thackeray's view? Is Thackeray expressing a pessimistic view about human nature and our capacity for goodness and honesty? The small number of gentlemen would be explained by such a view. Or is he challenging the smug, reassuring belief his readers may hold of their own righteousness? This passage upset many contemporaries, because it assumes that honesty comes from self-interest and sufficient wealth not to be tempted rather than innate goodness. Thackeray justified this passage to G.H. Lewes, who was offended by it: I am quite aware of the dismal roguery which goes all through the Vanity Fair story and God forbid that the world should be like it altogether: though I fear it is more like it than we like to own. But my object is to make every body engaged, engaged in the pursuit of Vanity and I must carry my story through in this dreary minor key, with only occasional hints here & there of better thingsof better things which it does not become me to preach. Thackeray felt some unease with the role of moralist and preacher because he seldom lost sight of his own flawed nature and regrettable past actions. He had personally experienced Becky's view and feelings. In 1839, when he was facing poverty after the loss of his inheritance, he wrote his mother about a wealthy "good, sober, and religious" friend, "a fine English squire"; he added that "if I had 3,000 a year I think I'd be so too."