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Thread: Thoughts on Vanity Fair

  1. #31
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    It seems to me Thackeray is suggesting that Becky's bitterness and ambition lead her at first into minor transgressions, and her successes and rationalizations of these minor transgressions tempt her to adultery and murder. She justifies her small sins, which, eventually, allows her to move on to venal ones. I don't know enough about Napoleon's early life and career to know if this model might be applied to him.
    I'm not a Catholic, but don't you mean mortal sins? Her bitterness leads her to venal sins and her successes lead her to mortal ones? If so, I agree.

    As far as Napoleon goes, Thackeray would have seem him as a dangerous radical who didn't mind burning Europe for his own ambition. I don't think the metaphor goes beyond that. (The young Napoleon was an anti-French Corsican separatist, by the way).
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  2. #32
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    Yes. "Venal" was the wrong word.

  3. #33
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    WARNING: SPOILERS

    I just finished rereading Vanity Fair after a period of many years, and I found it even better than I remembered. Thackeray's wit is extremely sharp and I had thought of him as being a little mean-spirited at times. I think now that nothing could be further from the truth. I found his voice wise, a little bemused, but ultimately rather sad about the society he described. (His satire was devastating, though, and laugh-out-loud funny. We had a long stagecoach ride together (to borrow Fielding's famous metaphor) and I was genuinely sorry to say goodbye.

    I remembered Becky's marital fidelity and sexual morality discussed on this thread and had some new ideas about them. First of all, yes, most modern readers would say that Becky was having adulterous sex with Lord Steyne, that she was a prostitute in Germany, and even (I think) that she was Jos' mistress near the novel's end; and that Thackeray was not able to be more explicit given his times. But of course we have only what he wrote, and he knew Becky better than we do.

    Ecurb made the interesting observation that Becky was adulterous whether she was having sex with Lord Steyne or not, since adultery is more than just the mechanics of intercourse. I decided that Thackeray would have agreed, although not entirely as ecurb had intended. Becky was cuckolding Rawdon if only because she was perceived to be doing so by others. She was dating and receiving Lord Steyneand using Rawdon as a convenient fool (at her apex he is described as a big-booted side show barker announcing her next performance); and all the tongues in Vanity Fair were wagging about it. And that's because in Vanity Fair, it's not what you do or don't do that matters, but what you can get away with; and that's because Vanity Fair is all about power.

    Once Becky loses access to Lord Steyne's Power--when she falls foul of it, in fact--she is a whore whether she lives in a Bohemian garret in Germany or not. Did she really wind up Jos mistress? Maybe. Or maybe she just followed him around to bully and use him--the facts didn't really matter n Vanity Fair. Even the shocking possibility that Becky may have murdered Jos is quickly glossed over. Who knows what really happened?

    Given all the things that a left ambiguous (and Vanity Fair's need to leave them ambiguous), I was surprised by the flashback in which George, just before his death at Waterloo, confesses to Dobbin that he is having an "intrigue" with a woman, and that he would prefer for Amelia not to know. But Amelia (and Dobbin, too) already knew where things stood between George and Becky. George humiliated Amelia over her publicly; Aemelia took Becky to task for it during the battle; and the women broke their friendship for many years over it. I think a careful reader has to conclude that there was something sexual going on, and that the flashback confession (much later in a lengthy book) was Thackeray's way of being as discreet as possible about it.

    The book's resolution, of course, depends on Amelia's eventual disillusionment with George. Oddly this comes with the disclosure by Becky of a note in which George had proposed that they run away together. This is a strange detail given George's wish that Amelia not find out about the intrigue (perhaps he meant not until he could arrange things), but it seems to have been important for Thackeray to let the reader know that where Becky and George was concerned there was no ambiguity.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 09-26-2016 at 01:34 PM.
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  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    WARNING: SPOILERS

    I just finished rereading Vanity Fair after a period of many years, and I found it even better than I remembered. Thackeray's wit is extremely sharp and I had thought of him as being a little mean-spirited at times. I think now that nothing could be further from the truth. I found his voice wise, a little bemused, but ultimately rather sad about the society he described. (His satire was devastating, though, and laugh-out-loud funny. We had a long stagecoach ride together (to borrow Fielding's famous metaphor) and I was genuinely sorry to say goodbye.

    I remembered Becky's marital fidelity and sexual morality discussed on this thread and had some new ideas about them. First of all, yes, most modern readers would say that Becky was having adulterous sex with Lord Steyne, that she was a prostitute in Germany, and even (I think) that she was Jos' mistress near the novel's end; and that Thackeray was not able to be more explicit given his times. But of course we have only what he wrote, and he knew Becky better than we do.

    Ecurb made the interesting observation that Becky was adulterous whether she was having sex with Lord Steyne or not, since adultery is more than just the mechanics of intercourse. I decided that Thackeray would have agreed, although not entirely as ecurb had intended. Becky was cuckolding Rawdon if only because she was perceived to be doing so by others. She was dating and receiving Lord Steyne and using Rawdon as a convenient fool (at her apex he is described as a big-booted side show barker announcing her next performance); and all the tongues in Vanity Fair were wagging about it. And that's because in Vanity Fair, it's not what you do or don't do that matters, but what you can get away with; and that's because Vanity Fair is all about power.

    Once Becky loses access to Lord Steyne's Power--when she falls foul of it, in fact--she is a whore whether she lives in a Bohemian garret in Germany or not. Did she really wind up Jos mistress? Maybe. Or maybe she just followed him around to bully and use him--the facts didn't really matter n Vanity Fair. Even the shocking possibility that Becky may have murdered Jos is quickly glossed over. Who knows what really happened?

    Given all the things that a left ambiguous (and Vanity Fair's need to leave them ambiguous), I was surprised by the flashback in which George, just before his death at Waterloo, confesses to Dobbin that he is having an "intrigue" with a woman, and that he would prefer for Amelia not to know. But Amelia (and Dobbin, too) already knew where things stood between George and Becky. George humiliated Amelia over her publicly; Aemelia took Becky to task for it during the battle; and the women broke their friendship for many years over it. I think a careful reader has to conclude that there was something sexual going on, and that the flashback confession (much later in a lengthy book) was Thackeray's way of being as discreet as possible about it.

    The book's resolution, of course, depends on Amelia's eventual disillusionment with George. Oddly this comes with the disclosure by Becky of a note in which George had proposed that they run away together. This is a strange detail given George's wish that Amelia not find out about the intrigue (perhaps he meant not until he could arrange things), but it seems to have been important for Thackeray to let the reader know that where Becky and George was concerned there was no ambiguity.
    Every time I read Vanity Fair I am struck by the almost tenderness with which Thackeray treats Becky. He outlines her flaws pitilessly and to great comic effect, but also shows an odd empathy for her driving forces.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    I'm not a Catholic, but don't you mean mortal sins? Her bitterness leads her to venal sins and her successes lead her to mortal ones? If so, I agree.

    As far as Napoleon goes, Thackeray would have seem him as a dangerous radical who didn't mind burning Europe for his own ambition. I don't think the metaphor goes beyond that. (The young Napoleon was an anti-French Corsican separatist, by the way).
    Venality refers to corruption.

    Venial refers to less than mortal sins. [/grammar nazi] (I was a catholic, at some point. )

  5. #35
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    More spoilers!

    Oooh, religion nazis are even better than grammar nazis. Fair point and thank you.

    I think Thackeray loves Becky despite himself. He is a little hard on her at the end though. She's the one who wises Amelia up (finally) as to what a rotter George was, and that (in principle) allows Amelia to get over him and marry Dobbin. But rather than give Becky credit for the book's happy ending, Thackeray has Amelia tell Becky (for no good reason) that she has already written to Dobbin and asked him to come back. Apparently Thackeray didn't want the "artful little minx" to do something so beneficial. Poor Becky. You can tell he digs her, though.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 09-27-2016 at 05:51 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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