The ideas of Vanity Fair have proven themselves timeless. The fair made its first grandé appearance in the world through William Makepeace Thackeray’s satirical, realist novel; ‘Vanity Fair’. The title itself derived from a popular allegorical novel of the time; ‘The Pilgrims Progress’ (John Bunyan, 1678) in which there is a never ending fair held in the town of Vanity. Through the use of extreme hyperbole, author narration/anecdotes and an omniscient third person point of view Thackeray paints a comedic, yet shockingly perfect picture of upper-class British society. Themes and values presented and addressed by this written masterpiece have been echoed throughout the ages since their publishing in 1847. Through close cross examination od the films; ‘Becky Sharp’ (1935) directed by Rouben Mamoulain and ‘Vanity Fair’ (2004) directed by Mira Nair one can easily understand how this beautifully ridiculous façade has remained a timeless classic.
A little short of century after its first publication Thackeray’s ideas were taking shape and being challenged. The 1930’s proved to be the catalyst of Thackeray’s work. Life for women hadn’t changed much since the 1840’s. A proper lady had many expectations; she was to get married, have children, run the household and do everything her husband asked. Women were still treated very much as possessions or accessories. Women’s rights, though improving were far from being equal. Life was difficult, even more so for the not-so-well-off-girl. The great depression brought financial strain knocking on everyone’s door. Many families were in need of two incomes just to get by. Despite this obvious social trend many states of America attempted to pass legislation to make it illegal for a married woman to work. Suddenly the not-so-well-off-girl analogy could be applied to almost everybody. The great depression is what changed peoples thoughts of Thackeray’s novel. While in the C19th it was frowned upon for a woman to try and improve her social standing, the C20th practically demanded it. The character of Miss Rebecca Sharp could now be idolized as the ultimate not-so-well-off-girl. He desire to better her position in life instantly relates the text to the audience.
This relate-ability is clearly exploited through the opening scene to ‘Becky Sharp’. The first moments are a very defining moment of the film and write the first words on a blank page of character defining moments for the poor unfortunate orphan Rebecca Sharp. Within Thackeray’s tale Miss Sharp was always to leave with Miss Sedley. However in Mamoulains recreation the poor unfortunate orphan begins as the ultimate not-so-well-off-girl with nothing; no home, no family, no fortune. Through a few carefully chosen words, the kind heart of Miss Amelia and the underlying affections of Jos Sedley, Rebecca takes her first naïve steps on a journey through the classes of society. The idea that one can go from being not-so-well-off to slightly better off through a combination of cunning intuition and carefully chosen words immediately sets the relate-able backdrop a responder needs to connect with a character.
In stark comparison to the dark ages of women, the naughties prove to be a shinning beacon of light. Though wages remain unequal and there is still a stigma surrounding the roles of women (‘Get in the Kitchen and make me a sandwich’), not to mention the added pressure of feminist fundamentalists (‘a woman must have a family, a top rate career, loving husband and still put three meals on the table’) . Women have it a whole lot better; there is no immediate pressure on a woman to do something she doesn’t want or isn’t ready for; par example: to marry, settle down and have children. Social climbing is so common we don’t even realize we do it. Due to these ideas responders of this centuray look at the world of ‘Vanity Fair’ as romantic wonder set in a fantasy world. The essence of this has been captured by Mira Nair in