“In the midst of friends, home, and kind parents, she was alone.”
~~ William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair ~~
One of the hardest things to endure, is to be alone in a crowded room; this is the great psychological engine which propels the driven, ruthless Becky Sharp towards her determined goal of a better life, through marriage and money, even at the expense of the people closest to her. Her sociopathic tendencies leave a trail of debt, broken promises and lives, as she determinedly ploughs a swathe through the massed ranks of high society towards her eventual comeuppance through her own hubris and lust for social, and material riches.
Vanity Fair is subtitled `A Novel Without A Hero` and one only has to delve a few pages into this extraordinary book to fully agree. We meet two anti-heroines, each desperately flawed individuals in different ways: Becky Sharp is probably the most awesome, multi-dimensional female character in literature; she is a highly intelligent, manipulative, cunning uber vamp, who never recognizes there is a line she should not cross in her relentless quest for social domination.
Amelia Sedley is the complete moral antithesis to Becky; she displays honesty and kindness, and a deep love for a husband totally undeserving of her, as she is blindly strung along by his lies, while ignoring the love of a better man who would cherish her.
Becky`s behavioral patterns are probably a direct result of her childhood: born into humble circumstances, she is orphaned very young and packed off into a classic wicked step-sister scenario to Miss Pinkerton`s Academy in Chiswick, where the staff attempt to instil in her the ways of polite society. It`s perhaps a comment upon the capabilities of the women teaching her, that they are unable to detect that young Becky possesses far greater brain power than they do; coupled with her indomitable resourcefulness and street smarts, she looks to be onto a winner.
” It is the ordinary lot of people to have no friends if they themselves care for nobody.”
As soon as she is old enough, she ups sticks to make her way in the big bad world; but little does the world realize that there is someone, bigger, and badder about to inflict herself upon it`s upper crust denizens. Such an unsuspecting inhabitant of planet earth is found in the shape of Sir Pitt Crawley, for whom she gains employment as a governess, and meets the wealthy spinstress, Aunt Matilda, who, taking a shine to Becky, takes her off to the social whirl in the world`s greatest city – London. Is this Becky Sharp hitting the jackpot and gone to heaven?
Unfortunately for Aunt Matilda, Becky shows her intellectual talons are rather sharper than hers, by sinking her sexual teeth into Matilda`s son and heir, Rawdon Crawley. Marriage comes quickly, because Becky is in haste to make her way up society`s greasy pole, and the newly weds are expelled from her sight by a seriously disgruntled and outmanoeuvred Aunt Matilda.
What follows, is Becky, with the dissolute reprobate Rawdon in tow, mashing her way up the social ladder, stepping on heads, cruelly using and discarding all who show her kindness when they have outlasted their usefulness. Becky finds herself without friends, because ultimately, she is no friend; everyone is looked upon as a means to an end, because she does whatever is necessary to improve her status. Her life mission is Becky Sharp first and last, and all points in between. Even war with Napoleon will not deter her from her ultimate personal quest as all the young bloods go off to defend the English way of life and fight the great French anti-Christ across the water.
Which is when she meets her social Waterloo, as it were; an encounter with the man of her dreams, the fabulously wealthy Marquess of Steyne; here is the vehicle to which she can finally hitch a lift on and transport her into the social stratosphere and provide her with the rich, pampered existence she has fought tooth and nail her entire life to secure. But it`s not to be, scandal of Becky`s own making brings her down to where she started. It looks like game over……..But if you have read the book, well, you know plucky little Becky; there`s always time for one last scam. Her friend, the innocent and loving Amelia Sedley suffers also, but her downfall is due to circumstances and fate, and not to hubris and greed.
” All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist, and we may be pretty certain that persons whom all the world treats ill, deserve entirely the treatment they get. The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the refection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
Becky Sharp is a most remarkable character; there is a relentless, tunnel vision quality to the driven personality instilled in her by a destitute childhood, which left her from a very early age, relying upon her own intelligence, street smarts and adaptability to circumstances to survive. Her downfall was that she always wanted just that little bit more, until she over reached herself and crashed and burned back down to the gutter where she had begun her long journey. Despite all of her faults, she is quite a character; plucky, likeable, sparky and bright: but be warned; next time she turns and smiles at you, run for the nearest exit, because she will take everything you have until there is nothing left to concern her with you. She is one of literature`s great predators; a formidable female shark, forever moving, and searching, with teeth as sharp as razors, and a jaw wide enough to accommodate the biggest bank balance.