An Analysis of the Tragedy in Vanity Fair from Becky
I. Thackeray and His Masterpiece Vanity Fair
1.1Thackeray:“The Legitimate High Priest of Truth
Thackeray was born in Calcutta of India, the son of Richmond Thackeray, a collector in the East Indian Company’s service. Thackeray had a luxurious childhood, but his father died when he was three, and he was sent home to England in 1817 to rejoin his mother, who married again in 1820. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, but without taking a degree. Later he studied painting and began his career in journalism for a weekly paper, and he inherited money had been lost. So he tried to make a meager living from journalism, in 1836,he married Isbella Shawe, who suffered a mental breakdown in 1847; his first major Vanity Fair appeared which made him a
famous writer of his time .
Thackeray belonged to the mid-Victorian generation. In that period, the society underwent enormous changes, a multitude of social problems existed under the booming appearances, He had profound insight into the various phenomena of the society. Besides, he disliked people who were unduly impressed by birth and rank and his skillful ridicule of snobs and hypocrites. In his works, his realistic temperament enabled him to see and satirize inconsistencies in life. He knew that rogues sometimes did well while the innocent suffered and virtuous people could be dull and bad guys could be lively. Thackeray again and again pointed out that the folly, social climbing, hypocrisy, cruelty, avarice, loveless ness, and selfishness exhibited by individual characters had their origin and counterpart in society as a whole. To show the connection between the individual’s values and behavior and society’s he often generalized from a particular situation or individual’s action to the behavior and value of societies. He wrote of the world and its people as he saw them. He wrote as an observer rather than a participant in life. He always kept his characters at arm’s length and wrote as he saw them. Just as Charlotte Bronte, whose admiration for his genius was boundless, called him "the legitimate high priest of Truth."
1.2 Vanity Fair: Ruthlessly Raise the Veil Which Hides the
Rottenness Pervading Modern Society.
Vanity Fair mainly relates the tales of two main female characters, Becky and Amelia in the nineteenth century England. The two maidens who both have been educated at Miss Pnikerton’s Academy are sharply contrastive in character. Becky is cute and lovely, whose father is a frustrated painter, and whose mother a French opera dancer who was dead when Becky was still in her early years. Being a penniless orphan, Becky is vigorous and tries to master her own fate, with the belief she is not inferior to those who own fortunes, Becky decides to raise her status by means of matrimony. But in the end, Becky leads a depressing life. Amelia, the sheltered child of a rich city merchant, is kind and moderate; she married Osborne who expected to elope with Becky. Osborne was killed in the battle, but Amelia still worshiped the dead, and refused Dobbin, until she meets Becky who tells her of Osborn’s infidelity, Amelia marries Dobbin at last and leads an apparently secure life. What has happened in Vanity
Fair is just like that in The Pilgrim’s Progress by the English writer John Banyan.
Almost five thousand years agone, there are pilgrim walking to the Celestial
City, as these two honest persons are; and Beelzebub, Apollyou, and Legion with
their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made that their way to
the city bay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair, a fair
wherein should be sold of all sorts of vanity and that it should last all the year long,
Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold, as houses, lands, trades, places,
honors, preferment’s, titles, countries kingdom, lust, pleasure, and delights of all
thoughts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives,
blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. And
moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be seen juggling, cheats, games, plays,
fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of all sorts. Here are to be seen, too. And
that for noting, thefts, murders adulteries, false swears and that of a blood red color.
(Bledsoe, 1981: 51-53)
Thackeray introduced this name from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, for he wanted
to present a real vanity fair in England and raise the veil, which hide the rotten pervading modern society. According to the history, Vanity Fair was completed in 1848,
the early stage of the Victorian Time, and numerous revolutionary events took place on the European Continent then, the new bourgeois compromised with the bygone
aristocrats in order to strengthen the authority, while the hereditary aristocrats went on struggling though they declined gradually, It was an era filled with cheat and degeneration. All the people, especially those from the middle and upper classes were striving for fame and wealth. “When Queen Victoria ascended the throne, England went
out of the shadows of wars, and peaceful environment impelled the economy forward with an unprecedented speed.” England turned into an industrial country and became flourishing. The expansion of capitalism was based on the blood and tears of the masses, in order to obtain large profits, the capitalists didn’t hesitate to adopt all means, and England became the heaven for capitalists and the hell for the ordinary people. A multitude of social problems existed under the booming appearances, accompanied by the acute class oppositions of the time (Edwards, 1997:45)
Therefore, combining the social background with his insight to the society, Thackeray created the Vanity Fair. His description of the worldly life and the disclosure of the darkness and rottenness existing in the society made the readers know the situation of that time clearly. In a word, Vanity Fair ruthlessly raises the veil, which
hides the rottenness pervading modern society.
II. The Two Characteristics between Becky and Amelia Led to
Tragedies in Vanity Fair
2.1 Personal Characteristics
2.1.1 Becky: Clever and Evil
In this novel, the main character, Becky was emphasized to depict and criticize. . She is an orphan without social position or noble family, but in order to step into the high levels of society, she made full use of her charm and tricks and became a conscienceless, vain and greedy liar. She was a clever, quick-witted and beautiful woman. She took advantage of the two superiorities to obtain wealthy and stable positions at her early age and she was ready to gain noble positions. Such as compared
to those sons and daughters of rich family, she can only use her head to change her fate. This point reflected her brilliance.
The first time Becky Sharp meets Amelia’s brother Joseph Sedley, she surely
won’t let the chance pass by:
If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart upon making the conquest of this big beau, I don't think, ladies, we have any right to blame her ; For though the task
of husband-hunting is generally, and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her and that if she did not get a husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who would take the trouble off her hands.
Becky uses all methods possible and her wisdom to develop its social status. In order to get the result needed she applies all kinds of techniques and measures. All these artifices serve the ultimate objective of touching the central power of the society and occupying one part of the Vanity Fair to control the society to bring more profits.
If the mere chance of becoming a baronet's daughter can procure a lady such
homage in the world, surely, surely we may respect the agonies of a young woman
who has lost the opportunity of becoming a baronet's wife. Who would have
dreamed of Lady Crawley dying so soon? She was one of those sickly women that
might have lasted these ten years—Rebecca thought to herself, in all the woes of
repentance—and I might have been my lady! I might have led that old man whither
I would. I might have thanked Mrs. But for her patronage, and Mr. Pitt for his
insufferable condescension. I would have had the town house newly furnished and
decorated. I would have had the handsomest carriage in London, and a box at the
opera; and I would have been presented next season. All this might have been; and
now—now all was doubt and mystery. (Thackeray, 2001:308)
Becky’s life target was to obtain wealth and rank. She believed that the social law
was that the inferiors fawn on the superiors, so she dreamt of becoming such person that she would flatter as well as to be flattered. For achieving this dream, Becky prepared for everything at any rate, and then she cheated, betrayed and disturbed other's life. She loved nobody, even including the man whose destiny was related with hers. Everyone was regarded as climbing ladders that could help her enter upper circle and make her wealthy and powerful. Once she didn’t take advantage of this man, she would abandon
him without consideration. The author exposed emptiness of her soul and greedy egoism and ruthlessness. She is a model of this money-grubbing impulse. Her ultimate desire is to gain wealth and position to change her humble and obscure status. She excellently masters very means to get what she wants, such as telling lies, taking unscrupulous and mean actions. She never stops challenging her fate and running after
her preys. The unprincipled adventuress, under her pretty and pure mask, carries out her plans with brilliant head as well as accurate judgment. Cringing to the rich and the noble, shrewd Becky perceives how shallow, worthless they are, and she actually is a high-spirited strategist in the battle of life. Yet Becky is not an exception among the characters in the Vanity Fair because everyone wishes to gain something and behaves
nearly the same as Becky. The following is an excerpt that describes how Becky smartly comprises with her husband’s debtors.
Rebecca’s object in her journey to London was to effect a kind of compromise with her husband’s numerous creditors, and by offering them a dividend of nine pence or a shilling in the pound, to secure a return for him into his own country, It does not become us to trace the steps which she took in the conduct of this most difficult negotiation; but, having shown them to their satisfaction, that the sum which she was empowered to offer was all her husband’s available capital, and having convinced them that Colonel Crawley would prefer a perpetual retirement on the Continent to a residence in this country with his debts unsettled; having proved to them that there was no possibility of money accruing to him from other quarters and no earthly chance of their getting in a large dividend than that which she was empowered to offer, she brought the colonel’s creditors unanimously to accept their proposals and purchased with fifteen hundred pounds of ready money, more than ten times that amount of debts……Rebecca received their congratulations with perfect modesty; ordered a bottle of sherry and a bread cake to the little dingy lodgings where she dwelt while conducting the business, to treat the enemy’s lawyers; shook hands with them parting, in excellent good humor, and returned straightaway to the Continent, to rejoin her husband and son, and acquaint the former with the glad news of his entire liberation….. It reflects Becky is a shrewd girl.
On the other hand, we can see the evil side of Becky. At the dancing party, Osborne gave Becky a letter secretly, expecting her to elope with him, at that time, Amelia didn’t notice this, and she devoted herself to her husband, only she saw her husband moving around Becky, and he neglected the existence of Amelia. After that Amelia met Becky and said to her: “When you were quite poor, who was it that befriended you? Was I not a sister to you? You saw us all in happier days before he married me. I was all in all then to him; or would he have given up his fortune, his family, as he nobly did to make me happy? Why did you come between my love and me?
Who sent you to separate those whom God joined, and take my darling’s heart from me—my own husband? Do you think you could love him as I did? His love was everything to me. You knew it, and wanted to rob me of it. For shame, Rebecca; bad and wicked woman—false friend and false wife.” Even her hard words, reproachful as
the groans of a person stinging under defeat. what they were, were complimentary—
Amelia said to Becky, also presented Becky’s wickedness.
Why did Thackeray give Becky this kind of character? In my view, the author wanted to stress the tragic consciousness and moralize the readers and instruct them to avoid stepping in her way. We could see although Becky was shrewd, strong-minded, vigorous, she would never achieve her dreams and never be happy. Obviously, Thackeray portrayed a conscienceless, hypocritical adventurer instead of a hero. Becky undertook the tragic mission as a heroine. As a young girl, she suffered in poverty, so when she grew up, she desired to step into the upper society at the expense of everything, however, after a short hedonistic period, she was deserted by her husband, son and friends. So she was doomed to live a lonely later life and a tragic character. The tragedy was brought about by the ugly social reality. At the end of the story, the author sighed that: "Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum, which of us is happy is this world? Which of us has his desire? Or, having it, is satisfied? "It was tinted with the tragedy of reality.
2.1.2 Amelia: Kind-hearted and Soft-hearted
Amelia was another heroine in Vanity Fair. She was kind-hearted, softhearted and
tender love toward her lover, her friend and all people around her. In the following excerpts, it is clear to us.
First, Amelia showed her deep love. Although he died, she established a kind of worship for the dead. For instance, in this room was all Amelia’s heart and treasure. Here it was that she tended her boy, and watched him through the many ills of childhood, with a constant passion of love. The elder George returned in him somehow, only improved, and as if come back from heaven. In a hundred little tones, looks, and movements, the child was so like his father, whom the widow’s heart thrilled as she held him to it; he would often ask the cause of her tears. It was because of his likeness to his father, she did not scruple to tell him. She talked constantly to him about this dead father, and spoke of her love for George to the innocent and wondering child; much more than she ever had done to George himself, or to any confidante of her youth. To her parents she never talked about this matter; shrinking from baring her heart to them.
Little George very likely could understand no better than they; but into his ears she poured her sentimental secrets unreservedly, and into his only. The very joy of this woman was assort of grief, or so tender, at least, that its expression was tears. Her sensibilities were so weak and tremulous, that perhaps they ought not to be talked about in a book.
Second, Amelia was kind-hearted to her friend, Rebecca. When Rebecca saw the two magnificent Cashmere shawls, which Joseph Sedley had brought home to his sister, she said, with perfect truth, “that it must be delightful to have a brother,” and easily got
the pity of the tender-hearted Amelia, for being alone in the world, an orphan without friends or kindred. “Not alone,” said Amelia; “you know, Rebecca, I shall always be your friend, and love you as a sister—indeed I will.”
Finally, Amelia is soft-hearted and tender to other people, and is acceptant to
all kinds of people. This prostration and sweet underpinning obedience exquisitely
touched and flattered George Osborne. He saw a slave before him in that simple
yielding faithful creature, and his soul within him thrilled secretly somehow at the
knowledge of his power. He would be generous-minded, Sultan as he was, raised
up this kneeling Esther and made a queen of her: besides, her sadness and beauty
touched him as much as her submission, and so he cheered her, and raised her up
and forgave her, so to speak. All her hopes and feelings, which were dying and
withering, her sun having been removed from her, bloomed again and at once, its
light being restored. You would scarcely have recognized the beaming little face
upon Amelia's pillow that night as the one that was laid there the night before, so
wan, so lifeless, so careless of all round about. The honest Irish maid-servant,
delighted with the change, asked leave to kiss the face that had grown all of a
sudden so rosy. Amelia put her arms round the girl's neck and kissed her with all
her heart, like a child. She was little more. She had that night a sweet refreshing
sleep, like one—and what a spring of inexpressible happiness as she woke in the
Why did Thackeray give Amelia this kind of character? She undertook three missions because of her rich implications. The first was embodiment of love, the second was her critical character, and the third was the tragic consciousness. Embodiment of love reflected her devotion for her parents and friends and servants. This love was not
absolutely unselfish and he also held critical attitude, but the author, indeed, praised the love. The second one mainly criticized the cowardly character and the blindness of love. The most important point is we should mainly pay more attention to the third one. The tragedy and critique was interrelated. The tragic destiny of Amelia mainly lied in her character and vicissitudes. We could see the points in the social circumstances and her psychology. In this novel, Amelia was depicted as a good woman in every aspect, but she also had many hidden shortcomings. The author’s satirize to Amelia is not less than Becky’s. She is deeply in love with void Osborne, and devoted herself to loving him,
especially after his death, she established a kind of worship for the dead, but after experiencing a long time, almost at the end of the novel, Becky just made her sober, and she took the love letter which Osborne Becky wrote to her, at that time he wanted to abandon Amelia and eloped with Becky. Amelia was regarded to be living on her illusion, so her whole life took on emptiness and was a lack of true meaning. Amelia’s life was not full of happiness due to her ignorance of Dobbin, who could give her happiness and love. However, she chose Osborne as her lover who almost destroyed her life.
2.2 Social Characteristics
2.2.1 The Inferiority of Women at That Time
thIn the early 19 century, Britain is in Victorian era, the women receive traditional morals restraint. Amelia have the most generous selfless mother love, on her body has manifested Thackeray to feminine the greatest ideal. But in the author’s eye, Becky and Lord Steyne commit adultery with the lack of love, the more difficult to forgive. From another point of view, the selfless mother’s love is sacrifice for others. To the stress of motherhood and respected, it reflects the male-dominated society of cultural slavery of women, men need that women who own the attribute of Notre Dame. Owing to pursue her own value and realize her meaning in life, Becky violates this rule to be collusion and deportation of male-dominated society. From Becky to Amelia, is not difficult to find that Thackeray put Amelia into the right set of life for male paradigm, Becky is a negative example of this paradigm. Male-dominated formulate the standards in order to convict women’s moral. The men use their aesthetic ideals and standards to measure the value of women. Becky refused to act as male-centered society that has long arranged for her role, so it is seen as “adulteress”. Becky poor and humble origin and gender discrimination, her effort, pursuit and resistance are doomed and will only end up in
failure. Thackeray has noticed the sorrow of female and in many ways wrote his suppression of the social status of women. Becky is positive and optimistic that she exerts oneself various means, endowed with an indomitable will climb to the top. What happened? In the times of the deceive each other, and the opportunism of the profits earned incident, a weak women is not in a male-centered society to win eventually be abandoned by men. And the women can only do as Amelia, cowardly incompetence of this man will see their advantage in the face of a woman, and never allow a woman above his head. Becky born female and male with resistance to confront her, it is very lonely and weak resistance, and it is very easy to defeat. At that time, British women’s subordinate status, it decided that she is not possible to fight for true equality with men. Whatever she is in such a manner, she is unable to shake off the heavy burden of history, which not only caught out of the misery of women. Alone to mull over the ups and downs of their life experiences, the pain and grief in our hearts to chew. This is a tragedy for Becky, as well as the vast number of British women’s sorrow.
2.2.2The Restraint of Unfair Morality
In the novel, men and women were different in moral standards. So-called morality was laws that men imposed on women. So women were in the restraint of unfair morality. We could find some evidences to prove.
Osborne had hoped to elope with Becky, but most of the responsibility was imposed on Becky. As for Osborne, this was just a piece of episode in his romances. At that time, the people would not blame Osborne severely, but criticism for Becky spread everywhere .was this fair for Becky? She committed adultery with Lord Steyne, unfortunately, the incident was exposed, her husband abandoned Becky, she was criticized bitterly as well as forced to wander away, but Lord Steyne, except the head wounds, was still a pompous knight. As Engel’s pointed out: “Where women are considered serious crimes and to the legal and social consequences of all, it is an honor for men, at best, but was glad to accept the reasoning as a blemish. Although Dobbin thought Amelia occupy love to be accused of selfishness, her stubborn loyal to her husband was respected as the purity, which had been commended. However, such praise was built up on the twisted nature of sacrifice.
Traditionally speaking, women were a form of recreation, a partnership to men, but for woman, man was her value of existence and able to prove her legitimacy of existence Love was the services provided by women to men, who appeared to be her
master, she had be obedient to him, while men could move more freely within the wider scope.
2.3Tragedies Caused by the Two Characteristics
Combination of personal and social characters caused their tragedies and determined their embarrassing conditions: they should be docile and kindhearted, pure and noble, and they must control their own fate. Otherwise they were regarded as ignorant and cowardly. At the same time they could not go to extremes, else would be charged.
“With regard to masculine logic and stipulated systems. They agree or not, out of respect for society, they showed agreement.” If they did not agree，they had been very
easy to let herself depend upon other people's protection, help and supervision. If they did not agree, they had not walked too far, because they lacked another method to construct society again. They were only on the way in the revolt and were enslaved; they only had obeyed the male- authority reluctantly. (Harden, 47).
Amelia accepted the logic and duty of male-authority totally and gained the illusive feminine wealth at the expense of motherly burden and freedom, finally lost she and her fate was attached to her husband. When such feminine temperament received the praise, she was accused of ignorance, incompetence and cowardice.
Becky partly accepted this kind of condition，She dreamed of changing the
situation through her own diligence, but her method also was only to seek” her qualified
men to depend upon” But no matter who she depended on, all were depending upon men. But this kind of dependence and revolts against men were destined to fail. The man might accept her temptation on the premise that he didn’t harm his benefits when
she was evaluated for her intelligence, bravery and charm, she was charged with her dissolute and selfish qualities. Becky and Amelia belonged to the traditional women in essence; because of combination of personal and social characters their fates were filled with sorrow and tragedy.
III. The Influence of “the Consciousness of Tragedy” in Vanity
3.1 The Influence on the Society at That Time
Referring to the influence on the society, I wanted to emphasize two aspects. On one hand, written in the Victorian 1850s, Vanity Fair is set several decades earlier. The