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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Vanity Fair

Author and Title: William Makepeace Thackeray. Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero

First Edition: London: Bradbury and Evans, 1848. 1 volume, 8vo., 21s.

Serialization: 20 parts in 19, 1s per part, illustrated by W. M. Thackeray, London: Bradbury and Evans, January 1847 to July 1848 (monthly)

Summary: Illustrated by W. M. Thackeray. Set in the waning days of the Napoleonic wars, the novel begins with the angelic Amelia Sedley and the social-climbing Becky Sharp leaving Miss Pinkerton's finishing school. Amelia is the daughter of a prosperous London merchant and is engaged to the proud Captain George Osborne, a calvary officer. Becky is the orphaned daughter of a poor painter and French opera dancer (she works for her education at Pinkerton's by teaching French). While visiting the Sedleys, Becky attempts to trap Amelia's wealthy brother Joseph into marriage—newly returned from India, the shy Joseph is overwhelmed by Becky's advances. The would-be marriage falls to pieces after a disastrous trip to Vauxhall Gardens where George Osborne encourages Joseph to overindulge in punch and to make a fool of himself. The sober Joseph flees London. Becky goes as the governess to Queen's Crawley, the seat of the odious and ill-mannered baronet Sir Pitt Crawley. While there, Becky meets Captain Rawdon Crawley (Sir Pitt's second son) and Miss Crawley (Sir Pitt's rich spinster sister) and quickly becomes a favorite with the cosmopolitan relatives. When Sir Pitt's sickly wife dies, he proposes to Becky—however, she has already secretly wed Rawdon. He is quickly disowned by father and aunt. Meanwhile, Mr. Sedley loses his fortune and Mr. Osborne forbids his son to marry the penniless Amelia. George's best friend, the dependable and self-effacing Dobbin, shames him into keeping his word to his fiance which George soon regrets. Their marriage leads Mr. Osborne to scratch his son's name out of the family bible. Shortly afterwards, the English army gets called to Belgium: in Brussels, Becky leads a willing George astray at a ball. During the battle of Waterloo, George dies. Amelia returns to London with her son and lives with her parents in poverty. Becky, meanwhile, sparkles in London society, lives on "nothing a year," and neglects her husband and son. She becomes entangled with the lecherous Lord Steyne who supports Becky for his own ends. Events come to a head: Rawdon freed from debtors' prison finds Becky and Lord Steyne alone together and strikes the peer. The pair separate: Becky goes to the continent and Rawdon goes to Coventry Island as governor where he dies of fever. The faithful Dobbin proposes to Amelia but the widow still idolizes her dead husband. Amelia, under great distress, gives her son to Mr. Osborne to raise. When Mr. Osborne dies, young George inherits a fortune. Amelia, accompanied by Joseph and Dobbin, visit the continent where they meet Becky who tells Amelia about George's behavior on the eve of Waterloo. Amelia finally accepts the long-suffering Dobbin. Joseph, again smitten, marries Becky and quickly dies, leaving an inheritance for Becky which enables her to once again enter high society. (TJB)

Title Tags:

References: BL; EC; Sutherland; Vann


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