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And, as we bring our characters forward, I will ask leave, as a man and a brother, not only to introduce them, but occasionally to step down from the platform, and talk about them: if they are good and kindly, to love them and shake them by the hand: if they are silly, to laugh at them confidentially in the reader's sleeve: if they are wicked and heartless, to abuse them in the strongest terms which politeness admits of.ï¿½ï¿½ (Chapter 8, Vanity Fair) In Vanity Fair, Thackeray frequently intersperses his novel with the ï¿½ï¿½omniscientï¿½ï¿½ narratorï¿½ï¿½s views. These views are sometimes interpretation and explanation of what happens, expression of emotion, communication with the readers, and occasionally investigation questions about writing fiction that are thoroughly unrelated to the novel. Those narrative views compose one of the key elements of Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s idiosyncratic writing style, which makes his writing style controversial in many ways.
Some critics have commented Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s interventional comments in the novel that ï¿½ï¿½Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s own voice is missing.ï¿½ï¿½ Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s melancholy and sympathy in his attitude to Vanity Fair may not have brought to the readersï¿½ï¿½ attention; however, his words possibly have eased up the most painful and unbearable scenes in the novel, which are not only the pain in terms of morality, but also the paucity in terms of spiritual depth. All the characters in the novel, from leading roles to supporting roles, have basically no insight of the society and world. As a direct consequence, the intellectual and critical-thinking part is often provided by Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s comments. On the other hand, some people insist that most of Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s comments have a sense of preaching. These condescending comments make the narrative in Vanity Fair difficult to be accepted by modern and contemporary readers who no longer have faith in the ï¿½ï¿½authority of narrator.ï¿½ï¿½ (Transition into body paragraph)
Sometimes, Thackeray can not fully express what he means in the novel after telling the story for a while. Therefore, Thackeray inserts the narrative comments to reveal the essence of the real lives of characters hidden behind what has been presented. Deepening the theme and showing the essence is one of the effects of Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s narrative comments.
Becky Sharp, also known as Rebecca Sharp, is a girl from the lower class who desperately want to be in the upper class. When Rebecca visits Amelia Sedleyï¿½ï¿½s house, she meets Joseph Sedley who is a rich tax collector in India. Rebecca tries to marry Joseph as a way of getting into the upper class, and the narrator explains it in this way: ï¿½ï¿½If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart upon making the conquest of this big beau, I don't think, ladies, we have any right to blame her; for though the task of husband-hunting is generally, and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her, and that if she did not get a husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who would take the trouble off her hands. What causes young people to "come out," but the noble ambition of matrimony?ï¿½ï¿½ (Chapter 3, Vanity Fair) Without the narrative comments, readers may easily regard Rebecca as a scheming, hypocritical, and unscrupulous girl who wants to make use of her own marriage to earn wealth, position, and relationship in the upper class. Nevertheless, what Rebecca have done for herself are those things most respectable mothers have also arranged for their daughters with a more decent camouflage. In fact, in Pride and Prejudice by June Austen, how Mrs. Bennett attempted to marry her five daughters to wealthy gentlemen is a perfect demonstration of this social phenomenon. The narrator justifies Rebeccaï¿½ï¿½s decision to be crafty and sham in order to inform the readers the fact that Rebecca is just acting according to the unwritten rules of Vanity Fair. After reading this narrative comment, the readers will understand that the object of Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s criticism is not really Rebecca; instead, Thackeray intends to criticize the secular society in which Rebecca lives.
Amelia Sedley is a popular girl at school, which is often resented by other girls. However, when she ï¿½ï¿½comes outï¿½ï¿½ from school, she seems to lose her popularity. When Amelia is getting in touch with George Osborne, the man who Amelia eventually marries to, she is condemned by ï¿½ï¿½Misses Osborne, George's sisters, and the Mesdemoiselles Dobbin.ï¿½ï¿½ The author knows that his readers will doubt if this is really going to happen. Even before the readers actually ask the question, Thackeray answers the question himself as a narrative comment: ï¿½ï¿½How is this? some carping reader exclaims. How is it that Amelia, who had such a number of friends at school, and was so beloved there, comes out into the world and is spurned by her discriminating sex? My dear sir, there were no men at Miss Pinkerton's establishment except the old dancing-master; and you would not have had the girls fall out about HIM?ï¿½ï¿½ (Chapter 12, Vanity Fair) Such a fair and reasonable analysis of Ameliaï¿½ï¿½s social position makes the readers suddenly realize that the interrelationship between people in the Vanity Fair can easily change by the desire of profit. Thackeray, in this way, further criticizes the society. Such critique can also be found in the discussion of the betrayal actions of Mr. Osborne, George Osborneï¿½ï¿½s father.
Mr. John Osborne used to be a good neighbor and friend of Mr. Sedley, Amelia Sedleyï¿½ï¿½s father. Mr. Osborne would not have succeeded without the help of Mr. Sedley. However, Mr. Osborne is the first one to turn against Mr. Sedley when Mr. Sedley goes bankrupt. Mr. Osborne not only tears up the engagement between Amelia and George by slandering the innocent Amelia, but also becomes one of the toughest creditors of Mr. Sedley. The narrator expresses his thoughts on Mr. Osborne: ï¿½ï¿½When one man has been under very remarkable obligations to another, with whom he subsequently quarrels, a common sense of decency, as it were, makes of the former a much severer enemy than a mere stranger would be. To account for your own hard-heartedness and ingratitude in such a case, you are bound to prove the other party's crime. It is not that you are selfish, brutal, and angry at the failure of a speculation--no, no--it is that your partner has led you into it by the basest treachery and with the most sinister motives. From a mere sense of consistency, a persecutor is bound to show that the fallen man is a villain--otherwise he, the persecutor, is a wretch himself.ï¿½ï¿½ (Chapter 18, Vanity Fair) The narrator uses a tone of ridicule here to reveal the distorted mentality of Mr. Osborne. By imitating the whole process of how Mr. Osborne justifies himself, Thackeray satirizes the greedy human nature by revealing the persona of this coarse and glowering man.
This type of narrative comments abounds in the novel. The narrator makes the readersï¿½ï¿½ vague feeling of the story become explicit through analysis and insights of many fragments of the novel. As a matter of fact, Thackeray has the intention to guide the readers to clearly understand the ï¿½ï¿½rules of survivalï¿½ï¿½ of the Vanity Fair and make rational evaluations. Thackeray feels the desperation because he has already found out what the society is like. He ï¿½ï¿½sits on the sidelinesï¿½ï¿½ when writing the novel to fully express his desperateness of the society. Inevitably, he has to make his judgements on many events; this need of opinions brings out the narrative comments which come from the real feeling of Thackeray. It comments on not only the characters in the novel, but also the social climate. Through those somewhat complicated comments, a positive interventor presents his personal experience to the readers and characters to show Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s strong desire to expose the truths of the world.
The inserted narrative comments are not only expressions of Thackerayï¿½ï¿½s personal experience and teaching. Oftentimes, the narrator communicates with the readers and seems to be asking questions like ï¿½ï¿½what will you do if you are in this situation?ï¿½ï¿½, ï¿½ï¿½What do you think?ï¿½ï¿½, or open-ended questions that allow the readers to get their own questions.
Mr. Osborne has two daughters, Jane and Maria. Jane is forbade from having a companion because Mr. Osborne wants a woman to keep his house, especially after Mariaï¿½ï¿½s marriage.