Boekverslag: Vanity Fair
A novel without a hero
In John Bunyan?s famous book The Pilgrim?s Progress (1678), which is an allegorical description of a Christian?s journey to Heaven, Vanity Fair was a fair set up by the devil in the town of Vanity, which all pilgrims to the City of God must pass. In the fair were sold all kinds of vanity, all the strife, honours and delights of the world.
The struggle for success, power and prestige.
The plot deals with the parallel lives of the two heroines, one of whom represents the female rogue, a clever rascal of low birth who makes his way by tricks and roguery. Therefore it is called a picaresque novel (picaro means rogue in Spanish).
The construction is not solid, the book is rather a succession of scenes against the background of a social panorama. It lacks the unifying element of a hero, but there are parallels in the characters, who form pairs exhibiting some kind of contrast.
The characters are round, but their inner life is not very important.
The action takes place in the rather limited circle of the upper middle classes. The description of the events connected with the battle of Waterloo provide a historical element which makes the story more realistic, the battle itself is hardly touched upon.
The sweet-tempered, unintelligent Amelia Sedley and the shrewd, courageous, unscrupulous Rebecca Sharp (Becky) left the school for girls of well-to-do families where Becky, the daughter of an obscure artist and a French opera girl, had paid the school-fees by giving French lessons. Amelia took Becky with her for a ten days? stay before the latter would set out on a career as a governess. In the luxurious Sedley home Becky tried to catch Amelia?s brother Joseph, a fat, overdressed, lazy civil servant who had just returned from India. At the very moment when she expectes Joseph propose her, Becky was deeply disappointed to find that he had suddenly left London. She left the Sedleys to become governess in the household of Sir Pitt Crawley, baronet, a misery, vulgar, very dirty man who began by calling her his ?pretty little hussy? and ultimately fell in love with her. Becky met his middle-aged sister, the rich Matilda Crawley, who occasionally visited her brother in the company of Sir Pitt?s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley, whom she had taken under her care. He was the darling of his aunt, who had appointed him her heir. In the meantime, Amelia had become engaged to George Osborne, the son of her father?s business friend. She loved George and refused to see that he was a shallow, unreliable young man. It was his friend, the honest, unselfish Captain William Dobbin who, secretly in love with Amelia himself, tried to make George realize his obligations to her. Lady Matilda Crawley being taken ill at Sir Pitt?s house, she took Rebecca with her to London as a nurse. Here the irresponsable but brave and essentially good-natured Captain Rawdon Crawley fell in love with her and they were secretly married. When Sir Pitt himself, his wife having died, hurried to London and proposed to Becky, the girl could only stammer that she was already married. Sir Pitt and Lady Crawley were furious and Rawdon?s prospects of an inheritance were shattered. The newly-weds had to make the best of life as they found it, a task for which they were excellently fitted. When the stockbroker?s business of Amelia?s father had ended in a bankruptcy, old Mr. Osborne ordered his son to break with Amelia. Dobbin used all his influence to make George stand by Amelia in her misfortune, and in spite of old Osborne?s threats the two were married. During their honeymoon they went to Brighton were they met Rawdon and Becky, who lived in grand style thanks to Becky?s ability to spend money without possessing it and Rawdon?s skill at the gaming table. When Napoleon escaped from Elba, Rawdon and George had to go with their regiments to the Low Countries, accompanied by their wives. In Brussels they spent an exiting time, George falling violently in love with Rebecca. But the battle of Waterloo put an end to the feasting and flirting, and when the firing had ceased George lay dead with a bullet through his heart. Both Amelia and Becky gave birth to a son, both were penniless and both found themselves in unaccustomed circumstances, Becky in bustling Paris and Amelia living with her poor, heartbroken parents in London. But whereas Amelia bore her fate with resignation, Becky managed to climb the social ladder step by step, living handsomely on nothing a year. Rawdon played the game with her until, after their return to London, he discovered that his wife secretly entertained the immensely rich, malicious Lord Steyne. At that moment his inborn sense of honour reasserted himself, and he left her for ever. William Dobbin had succeeded in anonumously helping Amelia in her poverty, but was dismayed to find that after ten years the memory of George still prevented her from returning his affection. After some hesitation she consented to make a tour through the continent with him, accompanied by her brother Joseph. In Germany they came across Rebecca, who led a disreputable wandering existence. Now Rebecca did the one disinterested deed of her life when she proved to Amelia that in Brussels George had written her a note proposing elopement. This revelation had a profound effect on Amelia, who began to rate William Dobbin at his proper value and finally married him. Rebecca managed to reduce Joseph Sedley to a state of dog-like devotion. Together they travelled through Europe and on his death she cashed a considerable life insurance. But her life was a lonely one, her son refused to see her, the success she had tried so hard to achieve had turned to ashes.
The author?s attitude
In the preface Thackeray announces his intention of introducing the reader to the brilliant but empty show of the fair called world. This is ironical because it shows the great gulf between appearance and reality, between the ideas people have of themselves and what they really are. On this show the author provides a running commentary, now and again addressing the reader over the heads of the characters.
Thackeray and Dickens compared
The resemblances between William Thackeray and Charles Dickens are realism, a panoramic picture of life and society, publication of instalments, humour, a certain superficiality.
There are also differences: Dickens is more of a conscious reformer, Thackeray a cynical observer. Thackeray is less dynamic and optimistic as well as less emotional and romantic. To Dickens na?ve people are always good, and he distrusts clever people, Thackeray despises na?ve people, like Amelia and Dobbin, and admires Rebecca?s cleverness. Dickens?s humour is playful, often fantastic, Thackeray?s is controlled and ironical. Dickens?s interest in the supernatural and in imaginative life is absent in Thackeray, who paus more attention to how people behave. In this aspect he resembles Jane Austen, and also in the setting, which is in the upper middle classes, whereas Dickens is mainly interested in poor people. Dickens writes like a dramatist, Thackeray in the manner of an essayist.
- Vanity Fair
- William Makepeace Thackeray
- Meer boeken van:William Makepeace Thackeray