The Ultimate Social Climber

Becky’s sharp rise to Fame and Fortune

Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray is best known as the author of the seminal novel about British life during and following the Napoleonic Wars in the wonderfully descriptive, incisive and popular novel Vanity Fair. Published in 1877, the novel remains as relevant today with language and style which is as accessible in the early 21st century as it originally was in the 19th century. Vanity Fair was not a Dickens or an Eliot novel, all social realism and stark morals but light, sharp and ironic with Thackeray weaving a vast plot with a huge collection of characters with flair and dexterity always keeping the reader in his sardonic sights, whilst remaining poignant, acerbic and darkly entertaining.

Vanity Fair follows the fortunes of Becky Sharp, the heroine a governess who becomes an artful social climber and marries into the wealthy Crawley family, illustrating how unscrupulous and brilliantly wicked and willful a heroine can be. The novel is episodic by nature and weaves many tales surrounding Becky’s rise and fall and rise again in the colourful and notorious Regency period in England, when as a nation, the British were establishing themselves as an Imperial power to be reckoned with.

Renowned Indian film director Mira Nair who brought the colourful and joyous Monsoon Wedding to international cinema, was at the helm of the film version of Vanity Fair, featuring the surprising but clever casting of American sweetheart actress and star of Legally Blonde and Cruel Intentions, Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp supported by a vast sea of British actors from Oscar Winner Jim Broadbent to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers of The Tudors fame to a lesser known Robert Pattinson, now famous as Edward Cullen in the Twilight Saga.

Whilst novel and film are two entirely different mediums both can be appreciated the first being a great social commentary of the emerging British Empire and the film as a sparkling and lavish period tale with exotic settings from Belgium and Bath to Baden-Baden ending with a vibrant colourful elephant ride in India.

Rereading Thackeray’s Vanity Fair certainly reveals how little has changed in high society over the centuries with nations still as obsessed with wealth, pride, status and ambition while stronger individuals take advantage of the weak for the benefit of securing more power and fame.

 

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