vanity fair (1847 – 48)


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vanityfair

Plot
Vanity Fair, which appeared in monthly parts 1847-8. Named after the fair set up by Beelzebub in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the plot appears complex because of the multitude of characters and because the stated motives are seldom the true ones. Moreover, the author digresses so often in essays on related subjects that the casual reader may lose the thread of the story. The novel takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and concerns the lives of two starkly contrasted girls: Becky Sharp, orphaned and poor but ingenious; and Amelia Sedley, sheltered daughter of a rich City merchant. These two meet at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for young ladies, the former driven by social ambition and the latter by her delicate heart. Sharp’s adventures begin with an attempt to marry Jos Sedley, Amelia’s brother, who is rich but dim. She soon finds her way to the Crawley household as a governess and marries Rawdon, the second son of Sir Pitt Crawley, although the father himself had proposed to her. Rawdon is, typically for the novel, an ignorant and self-indulgent man. However, Becky moves on further to become the mistress of Lord Steyne and finds her place in society almost accidentally in the end. Miss Sedley’s story is less intriguing, largely due to useless first husband Osborne and moral by uninteresting second love Dobbin. Thackeray’s portrait of the upper classes in the early nineteenth century is consistently disparaging and negative but is entertaining for its vile characters and hopeless, loveless relationships.

 

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