Vanity Fair, when it came out in installments between January 1847 to July 1848, created a sensation among the readers and the only talk that went around was about Becky – the Becky Sharp who outshined all the ‘noble characters’ and so-called a goodman’s job in the novel writing was turned upside down with this new theory proposed by non-other than an almost cynic William Makepeace Thackeray. Vanity Fair was ironically subtitled (but with a vision) a novel without a hero. The intentions behind this clever subtitle might well have been to gain more readers. A rewarding success for Thackeray, the novel still remains in the popular culture and therefore, it does demand an Indian Book Critics scrutiny. I will be doing the same tonight.
Vanity Fair is surely one of those beginner novels which set the trend for an anti-hero movement in fiction writing. The rise of Becky, Amelia Sedley fading in the background, the absence of any man whom the fair ladies could rely on and the lack of conviction… everything was just perfectly set for a different kind of novel to proceed and it did! Becky, who is really sharp, dominates the novel from the beginning to the end and Thackeray seems to be in a romantic relationship with her rather than letting her grace fall a little for the unfortunate Emmy (poor Emmy).
Thackeray knew what he was going to do and that’s the only reason for the subtitle a novel without a hero. Except for William Dobbin, there is no one who shows any manly courage in the novel… everyone is indulged in things overhead – be it a sensual pursuit, lust for wealth or anything else which by all the means reflect illegitimacy! Most of the critics in the modern era as well as in those days claim that Becky Sharp might be the ‘hero’ of the novel as she takes the risks (often deemed as manly enough trait), she controls the novel and also shows a kind of dominance.
Leaving the hero thing aside, the aesthetic appeal of the novel is marvellous! I am saying aesthetic because at the end of the day, this is a fictional work and Thackeray just wanted to present something to the society to be read (and might be warned of). Fused with humour, realism, vision and negative approach to the life, Vanity Fair goes on to make the reader’s time delightful. This was one of those novels which are voluminous yet pleasant and exciting! My Wordsworth Classic edition runs up to 657 pages (including some pages for notes, almost around 680), and believe me, I enjoyed each page of it! There is no single twist in the novel which does not enchant you – be it the Vauxhall punch or be it the fall or the Sedleys. The characters in the novel do their job as assigned by the novelist – George Osborne, Joseph Sedley, Sir Pitt Crawley, Baronet, Rawdon Crawley and all… they are perfectly crafted and they make the novel’s ‘whole’ complete.
Plot construction of the novel seems to act as a graph where all the focus is fixed to the rise of Becky Sharp on the social stage of Victorian London. Her deceits; her courtships; her romances; her struggle and the company that she enjoys – William Thackeray’s cunning craftsmanship, everything seems falling in line for her and she keeps on surging. Some sense of ‘poetic justice’ is only delivered to the relief of the emotional readers in the terms of Amelia’s relationship with Dobbin who is with her as a faithful ‘dog’ and at last wins her love (by chance, maybe).
And to conclude, Becky, who could love anyone and Becky, who could even murder anyone, wins the heart of the readers, no doubt. Rest of the characters in the novel are mere characters but Becky is the ‘soul’ of the novel and characters like her are the ones who are written with the immortal ink on the plot of literature’s history! I have no problems in announcing from my side that Vanity Fair is Becky’s novel – about Becky, for Becky and driven by Becky! Read Vanity Fair for her…
Review by: Alok Mishra