Hope for Vanity Fair: Love as a Solution in Thackeray's Novels

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Virginia Tech


Although William Makepeace Thackeray is praised by critics for the realism of such characters as Becky Sharp, his novels also prompt complaints about their moral bleakness. It is felt that Thackeray's view departs from the "middle ground" of realism to a depiction of an always-selfish and corrupt mankind. To be sure, Thackeray includes such characters, seen in Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, Blanche Amory and Sir Francis Clavering in Pendennis, Beatrix and Lord Castlewood in Henry Esmond, Barnes Newcome in The Newcomes, Barry Lyndon in Barry Lyndon, and the Earl of Castlewood in The Virginians. Few critics perceive, however, that these characters represent only part of Thackeray's view of mankind.

Even good characters (e.g., Amelia Osborne) have faults, however, appropriate to Thackeray's literary realism. Oftentimes these good characters suffer unduly, while selfish or corrupt characters prosper. This temporary triumph of good over evil perplexes critics, and moves them to complain about the aforementioned bleakness. The purpose of this study is to illustrate that Thackeray's novels do indeed include a force that raises good characters above evil ones, an escape, as it were, from Thackeray's Vanity Fair. That force is love, and beginning with Barry Lyndon, continuing in Vanity Fair and Pendennis, Thackeray consistently "rewards" with happiness characters who love sincerely and openly. With the last three major novels, Henry Esmond, The Newcomes, and The Virginians, come explicit statements that love is immortal. Through love, there is salvation from Vanity Fair.



Thackeray, William Makepeace