Vanity Fair

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A novel by Thackeray, published in numbers 1847–8, illustrated by the author.

The story follows the fortunes of two sharply contrasted characters, Rebecca (Becky) Sharp, the penniless orphaned daughter of an artist and a French opera dancer, and Amelia Sedley, the sheltered child of a rich City merchant. The two girls have been educated at Miss Pinkerton's Academy. Becky, having failed to capture Amelia's elephantine brother Jos, becomes governess to the children of Sir Pitt Crawley, a coarse old man who bullies his fading second wife. Becky charms the Crawley family, and becomes a favourite of Miss Crawley, Sir Pitt's rich sister. When his wife dies Sir Pitt proposes to Becky, but she has to confess that she is already married, to his younger son Rawdon. The young couple abruptly fall from favour with Miss Crawley, and have to live on Becky's wits.

Meanwhile Amelia's father has lost all his money and her engagement to George Osborne, the vain and shallow son of another City magnate, has been broken off in consequence. William Dobbin, George's awkward, loyal friend, who is secretly in love with Amelia, persuades George to defy his father and go on with the marriage, and Mr Osborne disinherits his son.

George, Rawdon, and Dobbin are all in the army, and Amelia and Becky accompany their husbands to Belgium, where Becky carries on an intrigue with George Osborne. George is killed at Waterloo, and Amelia, with her baby son Georgy, goes to live in poverty with her parents, while Becky and Rawdon manage to make a brilliant display in London society on ‘nothing a year’. Amelia is finally forced by poverty to part with Georgy to his grandfather. Dobbin, despairing of ever winning Amelia's love, has spent ten years in India. Becky and Rawdon part, after Rawdon has discovered his wife in a compromising situation with Lord Steyne. Becky leads an increasingly disreputable life on the Continent. Rawdon, who has become governor of Coventry Island, dies of fever. Amelia steadfastly refuses to marry Dobbin, until Becky tells her of George Osborne's infidelity. Disillusioned, she marries Dobbin, but by then his love for her has lost much of its intensity.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811—1863) novelist

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