Vanity Fair: A new television adaptation of the great 19th century novel
1 February 2019
“But we are bound to stick closely, above all, by THE TRUTH—the truth, though it be not particularly pleasant to read of or to tell.”— Catherine: A Story (1839–40), William Makepeace Thackeray
A seven-part series based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, was broadcast in the UK in September and October, and released in the US on December 21. It was distributed by ITV in Britain and Amazon Video in the US.
Vanity Fair, published in 1848, is one of the great novels of the 19th century. Thackeray (1811–1863) set his work during and after the Napoleonic Wars, with the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 playing a role in the events.
It follows, over the course of two decades or so, a group of characters—Becky Sharp (“Sharp by name, and sharp, I fear, by nature,” as someone in the series suggests), a young woman from a poor family who survives by her wits and charms; her friend, then rival … and then friend again, the naïve Amelia Sedley; Amelia’s husband George Osborne and her adoring lover from a distance for much of the book, William Dobbin; and Becky’s spouse Rawdon Crawley, and their respective families, lovers and friends.
It is a remarkable social satire and picture of life. Without moralizing or lecturing, Thackeray holds up to the light the opportunism, hypocrisy and greed of the middle classes, the pseudo-greatness and viciousness of society’s “betters,” the high price to be paid for “getting ahead” in society at any cost, etc., all these social features and more.
The title comes from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the extended Christian allegory. In that book, often considered the…