Several weeks ago I started watching Vanity Fair on Prime. No… Not the fashion magazine. Vanity Fair is an English novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray. The story was actually told over the course of time in monthly subscriptions from 1847-1848. Originally published in 19 separate volumes, the story covered the lives of the fictional Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley shortly before, during, and after the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th Century.
I was familiar with the story, having previously watching the 2004 film starting Reese Witherspoon. I was very interested to see how the story would play out told over the course of seven, nearly hour long, episodes. I was a preteen when I first saw the Reese Witherspoon version, so the more in-depth themes of the story went right over my head, but now, as a twenty five year old woman, I see the story with open eyes and I hear the message loud and clear.
Even back in the 1800s, money, and the striving for riches and social advancement never does anyone any good.
Let’s take a dive into the characters of this story. I will try my hardest to not give any spoilers away, but you have been warned. Not to mention that the story is well over one hundred years old, and has been adapted into countless movies, plays, and radio dramas.
Rebecca “Becky” Sharp – The Literal Sharp One
Becky is our main character, the story starts and ends with her. My first thoughts when we first “meet” Becky was that I genuinely hoped she would get everything she wanted. She was the orphan child of no one important in particular. People treated her with no respect or kindness. Yet… she was difficult, non-conforming, headstrong, crass, and manipulative. We see Becky start out in rags and we learn quickly that she desires to rise to riches.
I began to grow increasingly annoyed with Becky as the story played on, her personality type is polar opposite to mine and is not the type of person I would enjoy keeping company with. She is willing to step over even her closest and loyalist of companions in order make her own personal gain. It becomes increasingly clear that Becky only cares about Becky.
At one point in the story, Becky pretty much has everything a young lady in her day and age could only hope and pray for. She has a Husband who has position, she has a child, and a small income. Yet Becky wants more. Nothing is ever good enough for Becky. This is what annoys me the most. I found myself wishing I could reach through the television and slap her and shake her by the shoulders. She has it good! Why does she need more?!
How far will Becky climb, and at what cost?
Rawdon Crawley – The Clueless One
The story starts with us learning that Rawdon is the second son of an English Estate owner. Although the Estate is large and historic, the Crawley Estate is far from regal or wealthy. The only Crawley in the family that is wealthy is Rawdon’s aunt, who has it within her power to leave all her money to whomever she wishes. At the onset, Rawdon is favored to be the heir to the large fortune. Until Becky gets in the way.
Rawdon has what could have been the makings of a noble gentleman. He had a good family name, his aunt who doted and financially supported him, and a notable career. Yet instead of using his own sense, I found that Rawdon was easily manipulated, spineless, empty headed, and naive.
There was so, so much potential for Rawdon to be a great gentleman, but his great fault was his ability to be easily manipulated. At the end of the story, we see Rawdon finally gain some wisdom, but it comes too little, too late.
Amelia Sedley – The Dumbly Devoted One
Now Amelia was a character more my speed. She was true, innocent, ladylike, poised, delicate, yet when it came to it, strong and enduring. She had her faults, however, I wont lie.
We meet Amelia when she has everything. Her family is wealthy, she is beautiful, she is betrothed to the son of an even wealthier man. It appears that Amelia has everything she could ever want right from the beginning. Hard times, however befall Amelia. It seems like one bad thing after another befalls the Sedley family. What makes Amelia’s story heartbreaking was that she was doing everything right, she behaved and did just as any good young lady of her day should. Yet things still went wrong. This to me shows that trials and tribulations fall even the best of us. Even when we do everything right, life just sometimes isn’t fair, yet we still can endure it.
Amelia’s biggest fault is her devotion to George. More on George in a minute….
George is her betrothed and Amelia genuinely loves him… or at least the idea of him. Seeing him only through rose colored glasses. Her whole life she lives in the anticipation of one day becoming Mrs. George Osborne. She lives constantly on the thought and idea that once she marries George that, that’s when her life was going to begin. Life and her short lived marriage to George proves to not be what Amelia had dreamed up. This teaches us that a life lived in fairytale like anticipation can often lead to disappointments brought upon ourselves due to our own foolishness.
Amelia then goes on to live in the memory of George. She refuses to move on, only instead festering in her sorrow of what could have been. She wallows so much that she deliberately blinds herself to the fact that there had been someone who had been showing her true love for the vast majority of her life, something George never did.
George Osborne – The Vain One
George is the eldest son to a very wealthy man. It is George‘s Father’s goal to have his son married into the highest of society all in the name of bettering the family. His whole life George is promised to Amelia, but when Amelia’s family falls on hard times, Mr. Osborne reneges on the marriage of George to Amelia. George knows he does not love Amelia. George is a playboy, a typical frat bro, if you were. George would like to do nothing more than party, gamble, and flirt with beautiful women. It is clear that young Osborne is not husband material.
George is torn between doing what is socially considered honorable and doing what his family wishes him to do. George marries Amelia purely because he had already been engaged to her. He didn’t want to and it’s made clear that the relationship was already deteriorating even though Amelia refused see it.
George proves himself to be a poor husband. He cares very little for Amelia, often times belittling her and blaming her for his own faults, even though, by all accounts, Amelia proves to be an excellent wife.
Ultimately we see just how dishonorable George truly is, for he attempts to commit the ultimate betray of his wife. Fortunately, for all parties involved, the French intervene just in time.
William Dobbin – The True One
I spent most of my time thinking: “Poor William.” Yet in the end I realized that we can learn much from William Dobbin. William is loyal, honorable, chivalrous, virtuous, humble, devoted, smart, wise, and a natural born leader. At first I wanted to peg William for being foolish and weak, but he by far was the strongest, wisest, and most intellectual of our cast of characters.
William was not only romantically in love with Amelia but he displayed true Agape love for Amelia. According to the Greeks, there are four kinds of love:
Eros – Sexual/passionate love
Philia- Love between friends
Storge- Love between relatives
Agape – Love based on principle
Agape love is sometimes the most difficult kind of love for us to manifest. Mostly because, at times it can feel very one sided. Constantly throughout the story we see William put Amelia before himself. All the other characters displayed selfishness, hubris, and apathy; but not William. Through thick and thin William was never wavering towards Amelia. When Amelia was set to marry George, he set aside his feelings for her and helped with the wedding because he knew it would make Amelia happy. He supported her anonymously financially and materially, never once boasting or trying to announce that he was doing such until it was discovered by a third party.
What William went through and what he endured would have probably destroyed the average person. This is why William is the truest and purest person in our story. It is why we can learn so much from William. It is why he is my favorite character in the entire story.
I throughly enjoyed Vanity Fair and I do recommend it as suitable television entertainment. There are many morals and life lessons one can glean from the series. The characters are all dynamic and each bring their own flavor and spice to the story line.
Have you seen Vanity Fair? Be sure to follow me on Instagram to let me know what you think.