10. William Makepeace Thackeray as a representative of English realism of the 19th century.
The two main figures of the English realism of the 19th century are Charles Dickens and William Thackeray. Realism followed romanticism in the middle of the 19th century due to several reasons. The difference between realism and romanticism lies in the subject of investigations and the way of its studies. Realists viewed the world from the point of view of the social characteristics and levels. According to their point of view every person in its actions, words and even feelings is influenced by the society, its rules and prejudices. For this reason the representatives of this literary trend tried to show all the connections of the person with society and all the influences they have on each other. These ideas came to England from France and in the literature expressed themselves mainly in the form of a novel. This genre gave the author a possibility to show the development of the character through all of his life, to show all the different relations of the main character with the outer world. According to the same reason deep psychological analysis is also very common for the realistic works.
In the literary work of this type the author chooses typical characters and situations to present a society as a mechanism where places, levels and posts denote the manner of thinking of people, their thoughts and actions.
At the same time, in the realistic novels all the events and characters should be perceived as real, that’s why the author gives a lot of individual features to his types and puts them into real situations. The reality of the situations is often proved by the real historical events that influence the lives of the characters in this or that way.
William Makepeace Thackeray can be called a classical representative of English realism of the 19th century. He was born in a prosperous middle-class family. His father was a well-to-do English official in Calcutta, India. When the boy was six years old he was taken to England to be educated. From Charterhouse school he passed on to Cambridge University. While a student, William spent much time drawing cartoons and writing verses, chiefly parodies. His ambition was to become an artist, so he left without graduating and went to Germany., Italy and France to study art. Later he wanted to complete his education but the bank in which the money left by his father was invested went bankrupt and Thackeray left penniless. After some reflections he decided to try his hand as a journalist and succeeded. His humorous stories, reviews and essays found a ready market.
Thackeray’s first notable work was “The book of Snobs” which deals with the upper classes and their followers in the middle class, whose vices the author criticized with sharp pen of satire. The book may be regarded as a prelude to “The Vanity Fair” which can be called the peak of critical realism.
“The book of snobs” is a strong social satire that is more obvious but less touching than in the vanity fair. The gallery of snobs in the book “Great city snobs”, “The University snobs” convinces the reader that snobbishness was one of the most characteristic features of the ruling classes of England.
The realistic origin of the novel is viewed right in its subtitle. It shows the authors intention not to describe separate individuals, but English bourgeois-aristocratic society as a whole. The title of the book is borrowed from “The Pilgrim’s Progress” an allegorical novel written by John Bunyan, one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 17th century. In this novel a man comes to a fair where everybody is ready to cheat just to earn his own living. To achieve his aim a man is ready to kill or devour any human being, no matter whether he is friend or enemy. The same idea is expressed by Thackeray in his masterpiece, Vanity fair.
Vanity Fair is a social novel which shows not only bourgeois society as a whole but also the very laws which govern it. The social background of the novel which influences all the characters in their thoughts and action, is the high society at large. Thackeray attacks vanity, prejudices and corruption of the aristocracy (the Crawleys, Lord Steyne), the narrow-mindedness and greed (the Osbornes, the Sedleys). The interest centers rather on the characters than on the plot where really there is no main character. This is the idea of the author: there can be no hero in a society where the cult of money rules the world.
Thackeray’s satire reaches its climax when he describes Sir Pitt Crawley, a typical snob of Vanity Fait. He represents all the people of the same kind: those who can do nothing, no nothing and have no talent but feel their power and greatness only due to the belonging to the upper class.
The novel tells us the destiny of two girls with sharply contrasting characters – Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley. Becky Sharp is a wolf in the sheep’s coat. She in the best representative of the Vanity Fair – ready to sell anything including her feeling, her hand and whatever to rich the upper class. She is a pretty and pleasant villain with those who can do something for her. Thackeray manages to make his character gifted and beautiful and at the same time shows all her intentions that are always unfair. She manages to reach her aim but the price is too high.
Amelia Sedley in contrast to Becky is honest, generous and kind to all the people she comes in touch with and loves by all. But she cannot be called the heroine of the book. She is too silly and naïve to understand the real qualities of the people who surround her. She is too unintelligent and simple-hearted to understand the dirty machinations of the clever and sly Becky Sharp. Amelia is absolutely blind to all the fault of George Osbourne, her light-minded and selfish husband, and even after his death she wants to stay faithful to him. Only being already not young she understands how unworthy of her love her idol was. Subtle irony is characteristic of Thackeray’s style when he describes Amelia’s character.
The same nice but rather simple-minded character of the novel is Captain William Dobbin. He wants to do everything possible to make Amelia happy without thinking of his own future. But the author doesn’t admire him because he is too simple.
Through these typical characters we can make a conclusion that Thackeray divides the society into rogues and dupes. The characters are different but their fates have much in common. They are victims of a society where evil rules the world. The author compares his characters to puppets, and society as a whole to a puppet show.
The characteristic feature of the Thackeray’s style is author’s digressions. But he rarely tells what he thinks about this or that character directly, usually his attitude is expressed by different personages in the novel or by means of vivid and graphic descriptions which invite the reader to share the author’s view.
Being a representative of the middle class Thackeray addresses to the high class level leaving the low class almost untouched in his description but for the images of the servants. This opposes him to Dickens who also being a representative of realism mainly dwelt of the lives of the usual people. Thackeray is characteristic by his psychological portraits of the characters. He manages to create an image in all of its fullness as f.e. Becky Sharp. Starting with her background the author shows his readers the information about her education, reasons of her actions and so on.
This novel also shows historical events in connection with the fates of the heroes that is follows the principle of historicity common for the realistic work of literature.
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