Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.
Thus ends William Makepeace Thackeray’s saucy, sarcastic, insightful novel about the citizens of Vanity Fair, a place of appearances, wealth, social status, and hypocrisy. The denizens of this part of Vanity Fair are the incorrigible Becky Sharp, the naive and kind Amelia Sedley, the steadfast and honorable William Dobbin, the vain Joseph Sedley, scoundrel George Osborne, and the dim-witted gambler Rawdon Crawley—among a host of others, a whole cast of vivid characters that the narrator, himself a character in the novel, eviscerates at every turn. I’ve written briefly before about my first impressions starting this novel, and now that I’ve finished, I have to say my biggest takeaway is my varying loyalties and sympathies to the two female characters in the book, who are extreme opposites: Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley.
Rebecca Sharp is the ultimate female anti-hero: a social climber, manipulative, dishonest by default, a terrible mother, a gambler, and a cheat. Her most famous description/line is:
…Though Miss Rebecca Sharp has twice had occasion to thank Heaven, it has been, in the first place, for ridding her of some person whom she hated, and secondly, for enabling her to bring her enemies to some sort of perplexity or confusion; neither of which are very amiable motives for religious gratitude…Miss Rebecca was not, then, in the least kind or placable. All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist…This is certain, that if the world neglected Miss Sharp, she never was known to have done a good action in behalf of anybody…”