As the subtitle of Vanity Fair is “A Novel Without a Hero,” I found myself waiting for the scene in which the narrator would reveal Amelia Sedley’s character flaw. He wasted no time in doing so with regard to Rebecca Sharp, who does not hesitate to declare regarding Chiskick, “I hate the whole house … I wish it were in the bottom of the Thames, I do; and if Miss Pinkerton were there, I wouldn’t pick her out, that I wouldn’t. Oh, how I should like to see her floating in the water yonder, turban and all, with her train streaming after her, and her nose like the beak of a wherry.” (Well, Miss Sharp. I think I understand why Miss Pinkerton disdained to give you “the high honor of the Dixonary.”) In contrast to this disturbing introduction to Rebecca, the narrator writes of Amelia that she is “fully worthy of the praises bestowed by” Miss Pinkerton and has “many [additional] charming qualities.” He even tells us that she is “a dear little creature” and that it is “a great mercy … that we are to have for a constant companion, so guileless and good-natured a person.” Does this not sound like a candidate for the role of heroine? And yet the narrator’s very next words reject the idea: “As she is not a heroine, there is no need to describe her.” My question is, why not? Why can’t Amelia be the heroine of Vanity Fair?
After reading two-thirds of the novel, I am convinced that it is not because Amelia possesses some inner villainy yet to be revealed. I am more inclined to suggest that the reason is simply that she is dull. The Miss Osbornes represent the consistent review of Amelia among the members of her own sex when they “ask each other with increased wonder, ‘What could George find in that creature?’” Amelia does not have what it takes to thrive in the world of Vanity Fair. Where others are disloyal, she is faithful. Where they are designing and corrupt, she is artless and honest. Others manipulate emotions for their own gain. The emotions Amelia expresses are sincere. The world of Vanity Fair doesn’t know what to do with her. Women like Mrs. Bute Crawley and Rebecca take the world by storm. They exercise their agency and endeavor to get what they want by their own less-than admirable efforts. Amelia, in contrast, does not spring headlong into the fray.
In the context of a satirical novel, however, it is worth asking whether or not the book’s subtitle is to be accepted. Is Vanity Fair really a novel without a heroine or hero? I think there is reason to believe that it might actually have both: Amelia and William Dobbin, respectively. Dobbin is Amelia’s male parallel. He is honest, loyal, passive, and under-appreciated, as she is. These two are not the exciting heros that the world of Vanity Fair is looking for. They do not thrive on the empty pursuits and accolades of their peers. In a novel that so criticizes the society it describes, the under-appreciation of Amelia and Dobbin among their peers actually functions as testimony of their heroic stand. They are heros precisely because they do not respond to the beck and call of and receive praise from the vain world in which they live.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.