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Like Becky, Amelia marries a man who is inferior to her, though unlike Becky she refuses to admit this fact to herself. Becky manipulates her husband to try to mold her own destiny; Amelia submits to whatever situation arises and accepts whatever George wants or does. Interestingly, Thackeray repeatedly refers to Amelia as "little," even though she is taller than Becky, as the illustration of their entering the Sedley drawing room indicates.

AMELIA'S UNEVENTFUL LIFE (Chapter XII, pages 128-137)

Portraying Becky's active full life and Amelia's passive empty life presents a technical problem. If Thackeray presents their lives as parallel and moves between them in real time, he will have a wealth of detail for Becky and almost nothing to write of Amelia. Amelia, with her "Poor little tender heart... goes on hoping and beating, and longing and trusting" in her misplaced love for George (page 132, chapter XII). Because she thinks only of him, her life offers little to write about. But her obsession with George is not the only reason her life is dull; Amelia leads an ordinary, repetitious life and is protected by her parents from active participation in the world, as girls from upper class homes usually are.
...the life of a good yong girl who is in the paternal nest as yet, can't have many of those thrilling incidents to which the heroine of romance commonly lays claim. Snares or shot may take off the old birds foraging without–hawks may be abroad, from which they escape or by whom they suffer; but the young ones in the nest have a pretty comfortable unromantic sort of existence... Amelia lay snug in her home of Russell Square; if she went into the world, it was under the guidance of the elders; nor did it seem that any evil could befall her or that opulent cheery comfortable home in which she was affectionately sheltered (page 133, chapter XII).
Thackeray is now free to write at great detail about Becky without having to deal with Amelia at the same time.

This passage does more than just solve a technical problem. It is ironic, as are similar passages (see the connection of her life to Napoleon, Chapter XVIII, pages 200-1). Amelia, like everyone else, is affected by and vulnerable to events outside her narrow world. Her security and protection are illusory. Her father's wealth and her prospect of marrying George are destroyed by political and military events in Europe. With characteristic self-centeredness, Amelia is unaware of battles in which 200,000 men are reported killed, nor does she notice how grave her father looks once or twice. In her selfishness, all that matters to her is George. This passage also contrasts her typical life with the unrealistic portrayal of young ladies' lives in popular romantic and sensation novels.

The fact that the passive, oblivious Amelia is vulnerable and powerless is emphasized by the references to the clock portraying the sacrifice of Iphigenia, which ticks away in the Osborne living room (page 144,  chapter XIII; pages 258 and 259, chapter XXIII).  She is being sacrificed because her father is a bankrupt, an unforgivable transgression to Mr. Osborne. Ironically, the Iphigenia clock is connected with Mr. Osborne's sacrifice of his older daughter to tend his needs and run the house (page 506, chapter XLII).

(Chapter XXVI, pages 300-308)

Little Amelia is typically described as tender, loving, weak, and selfish. This mixture of positive and negative traits has confused readers since the beginning. Readers who have a stereotypical view of love as a near-magical, ultimately-happy experience reject the possibility that a truly loving woman could be selfish or weak. Similarly, those who see her as a heroine ask how the heroine could be weak, let alone selfish. Clearly, such readers reason, Thackeray must have made a mistake, due to some personal confusion or ambiguity. But has he? Is he perhaps presenting unpalatable truths, a psychological reality that less subtle observers cannot or will not see?

Amelia's obsessive love for George, which is presented as admirable and natural in popular romantic fiction, does not bother conventional readers. It is the cause (e.g., vanity, weakness, and self-delusion) and the results of her love which upset them. Such a love isolates the lover, even when there is no external reason to be cut off from others, "In the midst of friends, home, and kind parents, she was alone" (page 202, chapter XVIII).

Her loyalty to George regardless of circumstances does not spring from love, as sentimentalists expect. Intelligent, if naive, Amelia is early aware of George's selfishness, his shallowness, and his superficial feelings for her.

And she had misgivings and fears which she dared not acknowledge to herself, though she was always secretly brooding over them.
        Her heart tried to persist in asserting that George Osborne was worthy and faithful to her, though she knew otherwise. How many a thing had she said, and got no echo from him. How many suspicions of selfishness and indifference had she to encounter and obstinately overcome. To whom could the poor little martyr tell these daily struggles and tortures. Her hero himself only half understood her. She did not dare to own that the man she loved was her inferior; or to feel that she had given her heart away too soon. Given once, the pure bashful maiden was too modest, too tender, too trustful, too weak, too much woman to recall it. (page 203, chapter XVIII)
Her loyalty is based not only on the virtues of tenderness and trust but on her weakness; in other words, she lacks the strength and courage to face the truth. The fourth source of her loyalty is being "too much woman." Are we to interpret her womanliness as a positive or a negative trait? is it virtue or vanity?

The Victorians assigned men and women to separate spheres because of their different (assumed) physical, emotional, moral, and intellectual qualities. Men had the freedom of the public sphere and returned to the haven of their homes and to their wives, who were idealized as the angel in the house; women were confined to the private sphere or the home. Thackeray's attitude toward the Victorian construct of gender roles and the male-female relationship is not simple; consider the rest of the paragraph on Amelia's wilfully deluding herself about George.

We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too. We let their bodies go abroad liberally enough, with smiles and ringlets and pink bonnets to disguise them instead of veils and yakmaks. But their souls must be seen by only one man, and they obey not unwillingly, and consent to remain at home as our slaves–ministering to us and doing drudgery for us. (page 203, chapter XVIII)
As the pronouns "we," "us," and "our" indicate, the narrator (Thackeray?) is speaking to men as a man and identifies himself with their views and treatment of women. The Turks were synonymous with brutality and tyranny for Thackeray's age. Does his comparison of men to Turks and women to slaves indicate that Thackeray disapproves of the treatment of women, or does he intellectually see the repressiveness but emotionally accept the system? Does he admire the voluntary martyrdom of women? Answering these questions may require looking at other passages revealing Thackeray's attitude toward women's role and natures.

Is Thackeray's final judgment on Amelia's self-delusion expressed in the phrase, "of the crime she had long ago been guilty–the crime of loving wrongly, too violently, against reason" (page 206)? Even if her deluded love is a crime, are the general lovelessness of her society and its emphasis on wealth and status as a basis for marriage worse crimes?  Is there any admiration, warmth, or compassion in Thackeray's view of Amelia's loving?  Is she misguided? or capable of learning and maturity?

AMELIA AS BRIDE AND WIFE (Chapter XXVI, pages 300- 308)

When Amelia returns home only nine days after her marriage, she looks at her "little white bed," an action suggesting her innocence, childishness, and virginity; she thinks "with terror of the great funereal damask pavilion in the vast and dingy state bedroom" she shares with George at the Cavendish Hotel (page 304, chapter XXVI). What is Thackeray suggesting about her response to and experience of marriage? Is she mature enough for marriage, or she is still too much a child? Is she comfortable with the extravagance and ostentation of life with George? Is there a hint about sexual inadequacy and/or disappointment? It is only nine days after her marriage, yet Amelia is looking yearningly at the time she previously spent unhappily waiting for George and brooding in her virginial bedroom, "Dear little white bed! how many a long night had she wept on its pillow!" (page 304, chapter XXVI). Does the repetition of "little" suggest anything about Amelia?

"Wounded and timorous," Amelia kneels by her bed looking for consolation, which she does not find. Her self-centeredness has isolated her from God, to whom she seldom turned: "Love had been her faith hitherto; and the sad, bleeding disappointed heart began to feel the want of another consoler" (page 305, chapter XXVI). Thus, spiritual alienation is another consequence of selfishness, of her having focused solely on her adoration of and sacrifice for George. When she goes downstairs to her parents, she uncharacteristically tries to please them and in so doing has a pleasant visit: "And in her determining to make everybody else happy, she found herself so" (page 305, chapter XXVI). She does not generalize from this experience and stop selfishly thinking of herself and selfishly indulging in her suffering. She grieves and suffers, alone and silent, while George neglects her during their honeymoon in Brighton, in London and in Brussels. It is a mistake to attribute Osborne's neglect to Becky rather than to his selfish nature; his neglect begins immediately after the honeymoon.

As she sits by her bed in her virgin bedroom, she remembers

fondly that image of George to which she had knelt before marriage. Did she own to herself how different the real man was from that superb young hero whom she had worshipped? It requires many, many years–and a man must be very bad indeed–before a woman's pride and vanity will let her own to such a confession. (page 304, chapter XXVI)
Thackeray again stresses Amelia's emotional dishonesty and moral cowardice; she sees George's moral, intellectual, and emotional inferiority–and, out of vanity and weakness, deliberately chooses to ignore the truth about him and to cling tenaciously to her false view of him as glorious hero and magnificient prince. In this passage, is there approval in Thackeray's tone with his reference to women in general? or, if not approval, then sympathy? or is he pointing out the vanity of Amelia's loyal devotion to her husband as well as the vanity of the loyal devotion which wives showed–and were expected to show–toward their husbands?


Day 1

Thackeray, Vanity Fair. pp. ix-170
Overview of Thackeray and Vanity Fair
The Narrator, the Reader, and Ambiguity
The Structure
Thackeray's Illustrations: A Discussion

Day 2 Vanity Fair. pp. 171-326
Attitude Toward Women
Day 3 Vanity Fair. pp. 326-488
Day 4 Vanity Fair. pp. 489-662
Becky's Innocence
Day 5 Vanity Fair. pp. 663-822
The Ending
Amelia: The Ending
Becky: The Ending
Dobbin: The Ending
The Gentleman and the Lady
Album of All the Vanity Fair Drawings

March 2, 2011