Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What evidence in the book hints at the original serial format of the novel?

    Thackeray is constantly interjecting, somewhat informally, his own thoughts in the novel, reflecting on its developments. There are times when he actually starts a chapter referencing the suspense he created by cutting off the story in the previous chapter. There are also clearly-defined sections in the book, framed by important events.

  2. 2

    Vanity Fair is packed with less-than-impressive characters. Why do you think the author chose to write a book without heroes and heroines, and instead to portray men and women he disdains? Additionally, can all his characters be read at face-value? Or are there important redeeming qualities to be considered?

    Thackeray writes unlikeable characters to satirize the bourgeoisie of Victorian England. Therefore, his characters are prototypical, and commit often ridiculous acts for the sake of their reputations and fortunes. He does create sympathy, however, by making his characters subtly complex. Rebecca is manipulative and ruthless, but Thackeray reminds his readers that she did not grow up in the easiest circumstances, and there are a few moments when she shows that she might have a conscience, such as her push to help Amelia and Dobbin realize their mutual affection.

  3. 3

    Compare and contrast the characters Amelia Sedley and Rebecca Sharp, Thackeray's female protagonists.

    On the surface, Rebecca and Amelia are opposites. They come from radically different backgrounds. Rebecca is witty and conniving, while Amelia is sincerely kind and innocent. Rebecca assumes the worst in people; we see this in the letter that she writes to Amelia about the Crawley estate and its residents. Amelia, on the other hand, wants to believe that people are inherently good; she defends Rebecca when she is caught stealing and she continues to believe in her (possibly in an effort to protect herself). At the same time, they are both interested in securing a husband at all costs.

  4. 4

    Reflect on the significance of Rebecca playing the character Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's scorned wife, in a game of charades.

    Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, was left behind for 20 years at their home while her husband was off fighting a war of which she didn't approve. When he returned, he was accompanied by his war prize, Cassandra, the prophetess no one had believed. Clytemnestra was not a woman to be snubbed, so she schemed with Aegisthus, who has taken her as his mistress, to have her husband murdered.

  5. 5

    Is there any character evolution in Vanity Fair?

    There seems to be very little character evolution in the novel. Rebecca is probably the best example of the characters' stagnancy; she manipulates everyone from beginning to end, and she never stops doing everything she can to secure herself a good financial situation. She does, however, confess her affair with George to Amelia at the very end of the novel, which she thinks will motivate Amelia to forget George and move on to Dobbin. Dobbin continues to subordinate himself to George throughout the entire novel. He continues to want George's wife, rather than accepting her infatuation with his friend and moving on to find a woman who could appreciate him. He even takes up George's cause of speaking against Rebecca. Amelia eventually comes around to love Dobbin, but it seems more like a convenient choice than one made out of love.

  6. 6

    Analyze the humorous implications of the names in Vanity Fair.

    The best example is probably the group of Crawleys. The name implies something base, and indeed, the family is characterized by its scheming, pettiness, dishonesty, and general vice. There is also Sheepshanks, the wife of Young Sir Pitt, whom the author derides via other characters in the novel. Lord Tapeworm suggests a miracle cure for Jos Sedley's obesity. And Jos' girlfriend in Pumpernickel is Fanny de Butterbrod, which gives some indication of what the girl looks like.

  7. 7

    Describe situations in the novel when characters behave dishonestly, especially those situations that emphasize Thackeray's focus on the theme of vanity and greed as the primary motivators of human action.

    The competition over Aunt Matilda's estate features a number of actors who feign appearances in order to appeal to Miss Crawley. Rawdon and Young Sir Pitt pretend to like each other when she is around, as do Bute and Sir Pitt. Rebecca cares for the old woman when she is ill. Joseph Sedley is also an example of this, when he completely abandons his intention to propose marriage to Rebecca simply because George tells him that he made a drunken fool of himself at dinner.

  8. 8

    What is Thackeray's conception of motherhood in Vanity Fair?

    Rebecca's mother is absent from the beginning of the book, and it seems that she is haunted by this lack of a motherly figure. Miss Pinkerton, who could have stood in her mother's place, simply rejected Rebecca out of what might have been jealousy. Thackeray seems to think one's experience of motherhood as a child influences how one acts as a mother later in life; Rebecca, unsurprisingly, treats her son with indifference, while Amelia exhibits strong concern for Georgy, even at her own expense.