Vanity Fair is arguably the crowning achievement of British author William Makepeace Thackeray. In it, he created perhaps the greatest anti-heroine in English literature, Becky Sharp. The name of the novel is an allusion to a place found in Pilgrim’s Progress where travelers’ find themselves lured in by a fascination of material things. It can also be read as a satire on English society of that time. Thackeray’s masterpiece has been adapted for both the big and small screen many times. But despite having seen two film versions, it is iTV’s recent adaptation which finally introduced me to the brilliance of Vanity Fair.
Vanity Fair follows the journey of two young ladies from their friendship at school, through a decade of their lives.
Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley cannot be more different. Becky is orphaned and without fortune, but uses her education, charm and beauty to make the most of her paltry connections. Above all she desires financial security and the influence of social position. She has no conscience about how she achieves these things. In her ruthless betterment of self, Becky manipulates various members of the Crawley family, Amelia’s brother Jos and eventually the Marquis de Steyne. Though she eventually obtains her objectives, it comes at a higher price than she expects.
In contrast, Amelia is sweet-natured but passive and completely naïve to the true natures of those she loves best. Unlike Becky, her only real wish is to settle down with her fiancé George Osborn to a life of happy domesticity. William Dobbin an army captain and friend to George secretly assists her in gaining her heart’s desire. Like Becky, Amelia eventually realizes her dream, but it also comes at a high cost.
As these women navigate ambition, romance, war and disappointment they must eventually face the truth and consequences of their choices. They must also decide if they are willing to change.
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