Vanity Fair is a novel written by a British novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. In this novel we can find various interesting characters. It was first published in serial form which people liked the most. There were 19 volume monthly serial which attracted people towards the way of life which Thackeray wanted to show during 1847 to 1848. This is one of the reasons that it was first entitled as Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society. In 1848, it was published as a single novel entitled A Novel without a Hero. It is one of my favorite novels because it has a sense of realism. The title of the present novel has been taken from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Vanity Fair is a stop which lies in the route of the Pilgrim’s Progress. Vanity is a town in Bunyan’s work and this town symbolized the attachment of a man to worldly things. This attachment makes him sinful. Let us come to the summary of the present novel.
Although there are so many characters in this novel but it is mainly the story of two girls whose names are Rebecca Sharp or Becky and Amelia Sedley or Emmy. Amelia is a rich girl whereas Becky is poor. Both these girls study in Miss Pinkerton’s Academy. Amelia has so many friends but Becky has only Amelia as her friend. These two girls are the central characters of this novel. Amelia is a good hearted girl who is very innocent whereas Becky is a clever girl who is tricky in nature. Still both of them are good friends. It seems that Becky wants to come out of her poverty and to do so she could go to any extent. This attitude and behavior of Becky disappoints even Miss Pinkerton. After completing studies at the academy Becky went to the house of her friend Amelia for a week. There at the house of Amelia she meets Mr. George Osborne who is going to be the husband of Amelia and Joseph who is Amelia’s brother. Joseph is a civil servant at the East India Company and Becky thinks that she can have a good life if she manages to marry George. She tries to make him her prey but she fails. Next, readers are introduced to Dobbin who is the friend of George Osborne. It is interesting to notice that even Dobbin secretly loves Amelia. Becky leaves the house of Amelia and goes to serve at Sir Pitt’s house to earn her livelihood. She is appointed as the governess of the daughters of Sir Pitt. The story is unfolded and we find that the wife of Sir Pitt has died. It was his second wife who died recently. Sir Pitt offers Becky to marry him to have a good fortune. Sir Pitt has a son whose name is Captain Rawdon. Becky is so clever that she has married Caption Rawdon secretly. Becky is disappointed that if she could have known that the second wife of Sir Pitt is about to die then she would have never married to Caption Rawdon but she could have married to his father. She hardly cares for love but what appeals her most is the fortune. Miss Crawley is other interesting character who is the sister of Sir Pitt. She has not married and whole family of Sir Pitt is fond of her because of her money. She likes Rawdon but, is disappointed at the knowledge of his secret marriage. She disinherits him of her property. Apart from the life of Becky we will find that Amelia’s fortune has also changed. Amelia’s father has invested huge money in stock market but because of the volatility in the market he suddenly becomes poor. George Osborne’s father refuses to get her son married to Amelia because Amelia was no more a rich girl. However, Dobbin makes Osborne understand that because of his father he cannot ditch a girl like Amelia. As a result Osborne marries Amelia in spite of his father’s refusal. The story moves forward and we find that Captain George Osborne is disinherited from the property of his father because he has married against his wishes. All the three major male characters like Captain George Osborne, Dobbin and Caption Rawdon are army men. They are appointed at Brussels and they take their wives along with them. Joseph the brother of Amelia also accompanies them. George shifts his attention from his wife to Becky. As a result Amelia feels unhappy and jealous. George writes a letter to Becky in which she invites her to elope with him. Suddenly the battle of Waterloo begins and this plan of elopement fails. Thackeray has portrayed Becky as a negative character in this novel she hardly cares about Waterloo. What she cares is all about her own fortune. To make her fortune she can even have extra marital affairs. As the battle of waterloo is in progress Becky leaves Brussels with the help of Joseph who buys her carriage and horses at inflated price. The most shocking news from the battle of Waterloo comes and George Osborne dies in this battle. Amelia is shocked and she goes to live with her poor parents. A posthumous son is born to her and she is happy in the memory of her husband. Dobbin again expresses his love to Amelia but she says that she is happy with the memories of her husband. Dobbin leaves for India along with Joseph. Becky has also a son but she could not become a good mother. Later we find her in London patronized by Marquis of Steyne who is powerful and rich. By his help she arrives at the court of Prince Regent and the prince is charmed by her acting’s. As the plot advances we find that the news of the death of elderly Sir Pitt’s arrives. He is succeeded by Pitt who is his son and Rawdon’s brother. Junior Pitt has married a girl whose name is Jane. There are moments when Becky tries to come near Junior Pitt and Jane does not like it. Jane also not like the way Becky treats her son. The plot of the novel advances further and we find that Becky’s husband, Caption Rawdon has been arrested because of debt. Becky has money and jewels given by Marquis of Steyne but she refuses to use her money to set her husband free. Lady Jane receives a letter from Rawdon and she pays one hundred and seventy pound to set Rawdon free. When Rawdon reaches home from jail he finds his wife Becky singing for Marquis. He becomes angry and in rage he strikes his wife and challenges Marquis. Readers are made aware that Marquis was also kept in darkness by Becky that she has managed her husband. Marquis understands the psychological condition of Rawdon. Marquis makes him the Governor of Coventry Island. Thus, Becky is left alone. She has lost her husband as well as her patron. Becky leaves her son to Lady Jane and goes somewhere in Europe. Coming back to Amelia we find that her husband’s father takes his grandson with him and Amelia could not stop him because she knew that he can look after him very well. After twelve years Dobbin and Joseph returns back from India. Dobbin still loved Amelia. Dobbin made arrangements between Amelia and her father in law. She was accepted by her father in law. Later we find that her father in law Mr.Osborne dies and he left legacy to Amelia and his grandson. Amelia, Dobbin and Joseph went Germany after the death of Mr. Osborne. There they were surprised to see Becky. She was also present there. Her situation was very bad. She played cards, used to gambling and drinking. Amelia was persuaded to help Becky by joining them but Dobbin refused. Dobbin said that she was the same Becky who once tried to seduce George Osborne during the battle of waterloo. Amelia becomes angry on Dobbin and charges him severely that he has no rights to speak against her deceased husband. Dobbin goes from there and finally Becky does an act of kindness. Becky makes Amelia realize the real character of her husband by showing her the letter of her husband in which he has written that he wanted to run away with Becky. Amelia also realizes the true love of Dobbin. In England Amelia is united with Dobbin while Becky was still living in Europe with Joseph. She comes to England when Joseph dies in Europe but in England everybody refused to recognize Becky. The story ends here.
I have already said that it is one my favorite novels because it has a sense of realism. Charlotte Bronte has remarked about W.M.Thackeray that-
“You will not easily find a second Thackeray. How he can render, with a few black lines and dots, shades of expression, so fine, so real; traits of character so minute, so subtle, so difficult to seize and fix, I cannot tell—I can only wonder and admire… If Truth were again a goddess, Thackeray should be her high priest.”
It is noteworthy to find that this novel is an example of a classic novel where we can find various characters which provide us a sense of realism. The situations portrayed in the novel do not seem to be fictional. The melancholy and vanity of Captain Dobbin matches to the simplicity of Amelia. Greed, snobbery, idleness, deceit, and hypocrisy have been projected by the novelist in such a way that it provides a mask to humanity. This novel presents a satire where the characters like Becky satirize the whole society. She is immoral and sinful because the society has made her to be cunning. She understands that struggle for existence is mandatory where only the fittest will survive.