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Thackeray, who intended his illustrations to be an integral part of the novel, filled it with drawings. The first letter of every chapter is incorporated into a drawing; almost every chapter includes a full-page drawing with an inscription at the bottom and one or more drawings of various sizes.The drawings supplement or complement the text in various ways. He was not entirely pleased with the final result in print. Firstly, he regarded them as "tenth or twentieth rate performances having a meaning perhaps but a ludicrous bad news of execution." Secondly, the methods of reproducing graphics in the nineteenth century tended to produce less accurate renderings than modern methods.

I have included several drawings to illustrate some of the ways that they contribute to the meaning of the novel.

Example 1

Thackeray's drawing of himself holding a mask and a fool's scepter is relevant to the discussion of the narrator: is Thackeray to be equated with the narrator and the narrator's views, or is Thackeray the deliberate creator of a persona whom we call the narrator? Does the mask suggest the possibility of changing guises or identities? (A poor copy of this drawing appears on the title page of your text.)


Example 2

The meaning of the initial drawing for Chapter 4 is obvious; Becky is angling for a fat fish, Jos. There is irony in the fact that Jos, who distinguishes himself by how much he eats and drinks, is himself in danger of being caught and eaten by Becky. Continuing the fish metaphor, Mr. Sedley tells his wife, "But mark my words, the first woman who fishes for him, hooks him" (43). Besides flattering Jos with references to his knowledge of foods, Becky lures Jos by knitting a green purse, the green perhaps suggesting Becky's envy of the Sedley's affluence; she shyly implies that she is making it for him. Though Becky is in a natural setting in the drawing, Thackeray's emphasis on society is maintained by the buildings in the background.

Example 3

The initial drawing for Chapter 5 deflates the "epic" fight between Cuff and Dobbin. The boys carry wooden swords, wear paper hats, and Cuff rides a rocking horse. Interestingly, in a novel which deals with the Battle of Waterloo, a watershed in European history, their fight is one of the most violent actions presented.


Example 4

Some drawings are less flattering to Becky than the text is. The drawing which most affects our view of Becky represents Becky as Clytemnestra at the end of the book. I will discuss it after you have finished the novel. The point I am making can readily be seen in the drawing of Becky using the dolls as puppets to mimic Miss Pinkerton and her sister. Note Becky's malicious expression. The posture and dress of the men is somewhat disreputable. Does the picture also suggest why, as an adult, she gets along so well with men? why the Bohemian life appeals to her? and why she enjoys being with people?


Example 5

Thackeray uses a drawing to support the reason he offers for using contemporary dress for his characters, even though the novel is set a generation earlier, when styles were quite different:

        It was the author's intention, faithful to history, to depict all the characters of this tale in their proper costume, as they wore them at the commencement of this century. But when I remember the appearance of people in those days, and that an officer and lady were actually habited like this–

I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous; and have, on the contrary, engaged a model of rank dressed according to the present fashion.


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