Vanity Fair: Novel by Thackeray - Summary and Analysis

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      Vanity Fair novel by Thackeray in which the genius of the novelist shows itself at its best. It is primarily concerned with the career of Becky Sharp, the clever, unscrupulous, and dauntless daughter of a poor artist whose wife is a French opera dancer. She, an articled pupil in Miss Pinkerton's Academy teaches French there. There she meets Amelia Sedley, a pretty, gentle, and a rather foolish daughter of a rich man of business. Becky uses her charms to captivate Ameia's brother Jos Sedley. Her ambitions run high to rise on the social scale. She engages herself as a governess in the house of dirty, cynical baronet Sir Pitt Crawley whom she captivates by her charms. The baronet on the death of his wife proposes to her, only to learn that Becky has secretly married his second son Rawdon, a cavalry officer, and a veritable roue. Rawdon is cast off by the irate father. The remainder of her story is taken up with the trickery, duplicity, and supple energy with which she makes her way to the highest society first in Paris and then in London, despite the poverty and disadvantages of birth. Her maneuvers are not strictly correct and moral. She encourages the love of the vicious, old Lord Steyne and extorts large sums of money from him. Rawdon Crawley, who is devoted to the wife and has a high sense of honor, despite his rakishness, once finds the lovers in incriminating situations, breaks with the wife after a furious scene with the Lord.

Vanity Fair novel by Thackeray
Vanity Fair

      The parallel story of Amelia Sedley running through changes and chances of fortune ends with the marriage of Amelia with Dobbin, the faithful lover who had always stood by her during her days of trials and hardship. Amelia, in the scheme of the novel, stands as the contrast to Becky Sharp.

Critical Analysis

      The canvas on which Thackeray has painted life with realism and often mingled with a romantic sensibility and a calm irony is large. The plot is loose, long, and complicated, being often mingled with extraneous elements and having frequent digressions. The multiplicity of characters is amazing. Becky Sharp is an immortal creation of English fiction. She is a most finished portrait of a "certain type of the eternal woman - the actress, the adventuress who scandalizes and conquers the world, invincible in her defeats, insecure in her triumph". Her history is the illustration of the rise and fall of the courtesans of all ages.

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