Amelia’s love for Georgy is obviously a reflection of her all-consuming love for her late husband. Just as her whole life revolved around George when he was alive, her whole life revolves around Georgy. So then, why does the narrator say that Georgy is an “improved” version of George (388)? Georgy could be an improved version of George, in Amelia’s eyes, because he cannot leave her. Georgy is completely dependent on her and listens to whatever she says, because he is a child. On the other hand, George could and did leave Amelia whenever it was convenient for him to do so. He constantly left her to talk to or be around Becky. Georgy could also be considered an improved version of George (though Amelia may not think so) because he is not completely George. George was riddled with character flaws, like selfishness and faithlessness, to which Amelia continues to be completely blind. So, Georgy could be an improved version because George’s character and temperament is softened with parts of Amelia’s sensitive character. Georgy is a mixing of both Amelia and George. The narrator says that Georgy is like George “as if come back from heaven” (388). Since Amelia could be considered an “angel in the house,” the mixing of both Amelia and George could result in an innocent, holier version of George.
Are the readers supposed to favor a character and pick them as a hero in Vanity Fair? Is it really a novel without a hero?
Although the subtitle to Thackeray’s novel reads “A Novel Without a Hero,” I can’t help but wonder whether this is true or not, and in my reading of the novel, I have found some possible arguments against this subtitle. So far as I have read, I have determined that there are three possible heroes within this novel, there is Amelia, Becky, and Dobbin. As previously discussed, Thackeray makes a point to explain that Amelia is not a heroine, but later contradicts himself by describing Amelia’s character in detail because she is the heroine of the novel. Similarly, Thackary spends a lot of time showcasing Becky’s deplorable behavior, but makes a point to defend and excuse her behavior by explaining her situation and reasonably explaining to the readers that in Becky’s situation, her behavior is understandable. As for Dobbin, I feel like he’s the only good character in this entire book so far, he really cares for Amelia and would do almost anything to make her happy, and he kind of an underdog as well, he is not from a wealthy family (his family actually worked for their money, the embarassment!), he is not favored by his love interest, and really he’s just kind of cast aside a lot. I can’t help but want to make this novel a tragic love story between Dobbin and Amelia, but with Becky taking such a large part of this it’s so much harder to do that! With these three characters, Thackeray offends and defends them all alike, so I reallly can’t make up my mind yet…
Why does Amelia react so intensely when her mother attempts to give little Georgy medicine? Furthermore, why does Amelia’s reaction, which seems to be nothing more than protectiveness, cause Mrs. Sedley to respond, “may you never nourish a viper in your bosom, that’s my prayer” (388)? In a moment of panic, it seems that Amelia was simply trying to protect her child, the only remnant she has of her deceased husband, from a unfamiliar medication. As a reader, it is easy to understand her concern for her beloved son. However, her own mother is unable to give her the same grace. In fact, “till the termination of her [Mrs. Sedley’s] natural life, this breach between Mrs. Sedley and her daughter was never thoroughly mended” (388). Either Mrs. Sedley has no empathy for her daughter or she is so blinded by her pride that the motivations and concerns of other are unrecognizable to her. Just a couple pages before this scene, Thackeray writes that “Perhaps they [the Sedleys] were a little prouder in their down fall than in their prosperity” (385). Consequently, is this pride a self-protective measure or self-righteousness? Mrs. Sedley has lost her social status as a part of the upper class. As a result, her status as a successful mother is her only identity. As this scene illustrates, she will do anything to protect it.
Throughout Vanity Fair, Thackeray includes small illustrations that start the chapter and bigger illustrations that are spread out throughout the novel that give a visualization to the words on the page. However, some of these illustrations do not match up with the text perfectly, sometimes even contrasting them in an apparent manner. Why would Thackeray do this in his novel? The pictures at the beginning of the novel are drawn around the letter that begins the chapter, and usually sets a motif or a tone for how the events will follow. The main discrepancy comes from the much larger pictures that take up half or even full pages. These pictures offer a visual aid to the events that happen, and usually do an apt job at showing the action well. Other times Thackeray will describe an event or the people at the event, and then the picture will contrast that the previous words. One example of this is the picture found on p. 403 in which the Ribbons discovered the fact. Betsy Horrocks is described as, “a black-eyed guilty wench” but then the picture portrays her as a beautiful girl who seems innocent and not guilty. The stark contrast in these pictures makes the reader choose which to follow: the text or the picture.
At the beginning of Chapter 36, Thackeray discusses how people are able to live on “nothing a year” (340). I found this concept very interesting, given the fact that money is such a big focus throughout the novel. Rawdon and Rebecca do not have an income, yet they are able to live comfortably. Since this is the first mention of such a lifestyle in the novel, it would be interesting to see how common such a style of living actually was during the Victorian era. People who have inherited large amounts of money do not have to work, but neither Rebecca nor Rawdon inherited enough money to be able to live comfortably. Considering the fact that they entertained so much, how many people would have been aware that they did not have any money? There is always the possibility that people would not have respected them as much, or even wanted to be at their house for a party. Money is such a large part of society in Vanity Fair, whenever an unusual event happens concerning the characters and money, it is brought to light because it does not exactly match up with the rest of what is going on in the novel.
From a work’s subtitle, you are usually safe to assume you can derive a solid meaning. But in Vanity Fair, this is not the case. The novel’s subtitle, “A Novel without a Hero” implies that there isn’t a hero. However, Thackeray consistently proposes characters as heroes by the way that he portrays them. Even in the beginning, the best example of this, the narrator clearly says that “[Amelia] is not a heroine,” but then goes on to describe her person, her character, and infer that she is the protagonist. This continues to happen throughout the book. Is it true that a protagonist is a protagonist by name only, or could it really be, as Thackeray seems to think, that a hero or heroine is one simply because of their actions? Perhaps Thackeray’s intent is to write a novel without a set hero, or without a presupposed hero. That way, every reader must decide for themselves who their hero is. Or, on the other hand, perhaps this subtitle infers that though there are protagonists in the book, no one is without flaw and therefore worthy of the title “hero” or “heroine”. Whichever the case, Thackeray does a great job of keeping the reader in doubt as to who the narrator really likes or dislikes.
Beginning in chapter 36, is there an ongoing struggle of good vs evil or light vs dark occurring? In chapter 36 and the following few chapters, the course of events seems to present themselves in the light of there being some sort of struggle between good and evil or light and dark beginning with how Becky deals with their creditors and her affair with Lord Steyne. This continues on into the relationship that Rawdon has with his son, a reformed soldier that is eventually shown to be a caring and adoring father or an example of what is decent in the world. On the other hand, Becky is the evil, moral stricken wrench that is ripping off creditors and neglecting her husband whom is only looking to do what’s best for their child. The battle seems to continue outwards with Josephs refusal to participate in his parents ‘shady’ business and Amelia’s refusal to medicate Georgy in defiance of her mother.
It’s always interesting when a writer breaks the fourth wall and creates little meta-moments. Of course, this happens frequently in Vanity Fair. What are we to make of it? It’s true that it may heighten the Realism. But it’s also true that it makes the work less realistic—life doesn’t have narrators and novelists guiding the way and shaping your moral opinions. Thackeray writes “The novelist, it has been said before, knows everything.” He knows everything which is happening in the story because he wrote it. There is a deeper implication that he knows everything morally, which is a bit disconcerting.
These meta-moments may also give the reader a chance to assess the novelist/narrator himself. We usually know little about the narrator if he isn’t part of the story-world. Vanity Fair’s meta-moments may serve to let the reader characterize the narrator and make judgments for himself. After the narrator says the novelist knows everything, says “My son,–I would say, were I blessed with a child—you may by deep inquiry and constant intercourse with him, learn how a man lives comfortably.” We learn that the narrator may be childless (which may have bearing on his assessment of mother/father/child relationships). We learn that he views fatherhood as a gift, supposing he is being sincere. This statement could also position the reader as the son and the narrator as the father. This reinforces the idea of the narrator as a moral guide.
Throughout the novel, the narrator breaks the linear telling of the story to provide snarky comments and interesting side-notes. In Chapter 38, he remarks that he knows no “sort of lying . . . more frequent in Vanity Fair than” how hypocritical people are- pretending to be virtuous when really all they do is successfully deceive the world as to their true character but does the narrator mean this in a praising way? Or is he meant to be neutral or even critical of this type of behavior?
The quote comes from a passage regarding Mrs. Bute, who it seems that the narrator dislikes. She’s mean to her children, horrible to her husband and still manages to keep up outward appearances. However, Becky isn’t winning the world’s greatest mother award any time soon and she, too, takes advantage of her kind husband all for the sake of rising in society, and yet, the narrator seems to elevate her above Mrs. Bute. But why? Is it because Becky’s the underdog? Is it even still fair to say that Becky’s doing it because she has the task of making a life for herself while Mrs. Bute, a born wealthy woman, is just rude? Or does the narrator have absolutely no preference for anyone and merely chose this instance to highlight hypocrisy in the Vanity Fair? And the ever-lingering question: can we trust this narrator or is he as much a hypocrite as those on which he passes judgment?
One of the issues seen in “Vanity Fair” is the problem of poverty in England in the Victorian Period. Thackeray obviously focuses much of his novel’s critique on the superficiality and blindness that money, or “mammon,” bring about in an urban society. This issue is contrasted with (and seen as a cause of) the condition of the destitute of England: those unfortunate souls who most assuredly have found an end in taverns, alleyways, orphan-houses, and other disgustingly bleak black-holes that are not a small amount similar to the prevailing view of hell at that time. In Thackeray’s catalogue of a society that knowingly or unknowingly casts the poor to the wayside, he most frequently uses specific examples: painting pictures (quite literally, if you look at the illustrations) of vagabonds and a few microscopic details of their way of life which serve to illustrate their condition more effectively than if he were to describe in overarching detail the general situation at the time. Similarly, Mayhew uses minute, detailed, and specific examples of children he has personally seen and interacted with in order to present their condition to the public in writing. Mayhew describes the language of a group of poor boys, delineates one boy’s daily routine, presents their physical condition, and writes about one specific interaction he had with a boy. Mayhew refuses to view the situation from the sky, but instead climbs into the rubble and shouts out what he sees from a perspective only a victim could accurately describe. However, the difference between Mayhew and Thackeray is the contrast or lack of contrast to wealthy society. Sure, Mayhew mentions rich folks who are living a socially active life and run into the impoverished subjects of his writing, but he does not at all focus on them, and because he refuses to contrast the two vastly different ways of life, his perspective on poverty is more scientific and explanatory than it is critical. Thackeray, on the other hand, uses biting sarcasm and criticism towards the wealthy class to make his point. Any mention of poverty Thackeray makes is starkly contrasted with the society he is already writing about. If I were to compare each work to a modern documentary, Mayhew’s would be like a national geographic documentary on a strange species of monkey in a remote African jungle: informative, inquisitive, scientific, and impartial; while Thackeray’s would be closer the typical cinematic documentary: biased, sweeping, detailed, and heavy-handed. I’m not sure how Mayhew wrote in a way that feels so cold and calloused about such a heavy and heart-wrenching subject. Only Thackeray seems to have a heart and an opinion about the matter.
In “Song of the Shirt,” by Thomas Hood, what effect does the repetition of the first and last stanzas lend to the meaning of the poem? On one hand, it could be exemplifying the popular viewpoint held by many of the English upper class that the plight of poor laborers was self-perpetuating. Just as the repeated description of the “weary and worn” seamstress affords the poem a cyclical feel, it was common in ninteenth-century England to regard the poverty of the working class as a cycle fueled by laziness and depraved morality−best to be ignored as any economic assistance would only encourage the corrupt mindset.
It is more likely, however, that Hood repeats this stanza to emphasize his frustration that those in power continuously stifled reform that would have brought about greatly needed economic relief for the working classes. Although “Song of the Shirt” is a poem, it exudes journalistic style as it seeks expose and raise awareness of the poverty raging throughout the country. Perhaps the image that resonates with this cause the most comes when the seamstress laments: “But why do I talk of Death? That phantom of grisly bone; I hardly fear his terrible shape, it seems so like my own.” How can the wealthy look upon such horrid conditions and feel no sense of responsibility to foster change? Hood’s repetition of the first and last stanza can be interpreted as a desperate plea for them to discover morality.
Upon reading Thomas Hood’s “Song of the Shirt” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Cry of the Children,” it is clear to see that both authors believe the victims, children and women, were not their natural selves. For instance, in Hood’s writing, “a woman sat, in unwomanly rags . . .” (italics mine). He also mentions how their monotonous work continues on throughout all the seasons with no acknowledgement of change.
Similarly, in Browning’s poem, “the reddest would look as pale as snow” to one of the “crying children,” revealing the children’s incapability to observe nature. Furthermore, the only “wind” the children feel is the wind blown from the droning wheels in the factories if they are not in the stuffy “coal dark, underground.” Browning also highlights the despairing idea that the children are slaves, martyrs, orphans, and grieving people even thought they are so young: they live lives of the most decrepit elderly, yet they are in their youth. Even when the children cry out to their true Father, God, they fell that that familial bond has been broken and He does not hear them. They were not naturally meant to be on their own, left in the silence of God and passer-byes.
Are these poems a social critique on the factories and industrialism or more of the people in charge? I think both authors directly target people to look on the plight of their fellow men and help them, regardless of the reason for it. I honestly think that this poem even applies to the despondent situation that so many forced-labour slaves or victims of sex trafficking are trapped in. That being said, both Hood and Browning’s poems are timeless.
In her poem, “The Cry of the Children,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning repeatedly emphasizes the youth of the children. What purpose does this serve? Aren’t all children already assumed to be young? From a more technical point of view, a “child” is anyone under the age of eighteen. In using the phrase, “young children,” Browning may be simply indicating that her subject matter is under the age of ten rather than an adolescent nearing adulthood. Browning’s repeated use of the adjective “young” to describe the children could also serve to further highlight the discrepancy between their age and their attitude towards life. Even though it is generally understood that children are young by virtue of being children, Browning may be using repetition to insure that her audience fully comprehends how young the poem’s subjects are to be so downtrodden and depressed.In continually emphasizing the young age of the poem’s subjects, Browning could be trying remind her readers of the connotations generally associated with youth–vitality, innocence, eagerness, and optimism–and then point out how many of these qualities the children lack. Use of the word “young” could also serve as a contrast to the word “old,” which is also used repeatedly throughout the poem.
Why does “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning paint men in a negative light? The poem portrays women as nurturers of these children in poverty. The poem claims that the children are “weeping sore before the bosom of their mothers” (23). Masculinity, however, is not presented in such a positive way. It is the “Father land” in which the children are weeping (line 24). The poem is directed at “O my brothers” (1). In these cases men are indifferent, both society’s men that makes up the fatherland and readers.
This could be because the men of society have the power to change the children’s situations. After all, the men are the captains of industry. Men hold the power to vote and reform the system in favor of these children. Not a single father is mentioned in this poem; perhaps she calls the men of society to be the fathers to these fatherless children by means of practical aid.
Or maybe the male figure in the fathers place reminds us of God to whom the children call saying, “our Father” (115). These children are “orphans of the earthly love and heavenly” (147). Browning could be claiming that the situation of the children is not simply a physical poverty, but a spiritual lack due to neglect from society to show God’s love to these children. Maybe it is not only physical need that society owes these children, but the spiritual love of God. After all, “For God’s possible is taught by His world’s loving” (135).
“Anthology of British Literature (3rd set of readings)” English 3351 course handout. Baylor University. Spring 2012.
Tall, awkward, and not particularly easy on the eyes, Dobbin is different than his upper class peers,a stuttering standout amongst the beautiful, eloquent, and impeccably dressed. What role does Dobbin play in Vanity Fair? How does his character contribute the Thackeray’s commentary on the upper class?
On one hand, Dobbin could be used to soften the readers’ view of the upper class. His acts of kindness, such as buying back Amelia’s piano after her family lost everything, and gentle spirit could prove that not everyone rich and privileged is shallow and selfish. He serves as an encouraging contrast to his louder, more worldly peers.
On the other hand, Dobbin’s behavior could be viewed disfavorably, his flaws no different from those of the rest of the upper class, just manifested in another way. His undying love for Amelia could come off as pathetic, his obsession with her self-indulgent. In going out of his way to see her whenever possible and construing his actions to please and impress her, Dobbin’s motives could be seen as just as selfish and shallow as the rest of high society.