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Free Study Guide-Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray-Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

Chapter 1 - Chiswick Mall

Summary

Two young ladies-Amelia Sedley and Rebecca (Becky) Sharp are preparing to leave Miss Pinkerton’s finishing school. Amelia is the kind hearted, conventional beauty who is loved by all, while Rebecca is a defiant young woman, who is disliked by almost everyone, including Miss Pinkerton. Only Miss Pinkerton’s sister, Jemima, and Amelia seem to be fond of Becky. Becky is to leave with Amelia and spend some time at her home before she can take her job as a governess at Queen’s Crawley.

Owing to the difference in the social status as well as their temperaments, only Amelia is gifted a copy of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, as per the tradition of Chiswick Mall, as a parting gift. Miss Pinkerton refuses to give Becky a copy. Just as their carriage is about to move, Miss Jemima runs to Becky and hands over a copy of the Dictionary to her, but Becky, in her defiance, flings the gift out of the carriage, leaving Miss Jemima shocked!

Notes

In ‘Vanity Fair,’ Thackeray has sarcastically parodied the highly Romantic and adventurous form of novel prevalent during his times. He takes stock situation of such novels and turns them upside-down. Very conventionally, he begins with the story of two young ladies out to face the world, but his use of realism sets the mood further.

Even the title indicates his intention. He has borrowed it from Bunyan’s book A Pilgrim’s Progress in which his protagonist, Christian, travels through many places to reach the Celestial City. In Bunyan’s moral book, ‘Vanity Fair’ is a place full of vices and temptations. Thackeray uses this metaphor for the world. It is a world where each one lives, pursuing and gratifying his own vanity.


The subtitle of the novel is very interesting. It says, ‘A Novel without A Hero’ - this surely does not mean that the novel has a heroine, or two heroes or even two heroines. Thackeray wants to present a true picture of reality and he believes that reality can afford no heroes. There are only human beings, good, bad and grey but never heroes, which inhabit Vanity Fair.

He chooses a better-enlightened man, who is also an inhabitant of Vanity Fair, as the narrator. He is not to be confused with the author. As the book advances, the narrator shares his opinions, ideas, and visions on life and morality with the reader. He uses a tone of friendly confidentiality.

To enhance this detachment, Thackeray has comfortably set this novel 20-60 years before his time. This is very important as it eases satirisation, and distancing helps to avoid any specific associations with the present. The vast canvas of his novel presents a verisimilitude to reality.

Thackeray gradually exposes the underbelly of society and its vanities in his novel. Miss Rebecca Sharp (Becky) is not a dear member of the academy, mainly because she does not command the same social position as Amelia or the other girls. Due to this, Becky comes across as a very rude, rebellious and self- respecting headstrong girl. She engages the reader’s aesthetic sympathies, who ignores the moral implications of such rude behavior.

Amelia, on the other hand, is sweet, graceful and ladylike, everything that a heroine of a Romantic novel is. By using a character like Amelia, Thackeray tries to show that how, when a romantic heroine is placed in a real world, she becomes a problematic character. But the reader can be sure that she is not the heroine of ‘Vanity Fair.’

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