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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – Vanity Fair

Published serially from 1847-1848, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray remains a classic of English literature to this day. Vanity Fair is a social satire set during the Napoleonic Era. Becky Sharp, the novel’s protagonist, is driven by a desire for wealth and prestige. Thackeray frames his novel with a puppet show to illustrate how thoroughly these desires control Becky. Read on to learn more about Vanity Fair, the “novel without a hero.”

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Vanity Fair.

BECKY SHARP Becky Sharp is resourceful, ambitious, and ruthless. She sees marriage to a wealthy man as her only way to escape poverty and obscurity. Becky first marries Rawdon Crawley, but is distraught when his richer father Sir Pitt also proposes to her. Not content with Crawley, she sets her sights on the Marquis of Steyne, first seducing him while acting as Clytemnestra in a game of charades. Becky’s final husband, Jos, dies in mysterious circumstances, leaving her enough money to live in comfortable ostracism from polite society.

AMELIA SEDLEY Amelia Sedley serves as foil to Becky Sharp. Graduating from Miss Pinkerton’s School alongside Becky, Amelia is good-natured and guileless. Devoted to her philandering husband, George Osborne, Amelia stays loyal to his memory long after his death. She only shows backbone when defending her son Georgy, but is otherwise a passive character. Her brother Joseph (or Jos) is Becky’s final husband. GEORGE OSBORNE George Osborne is Amelia’s husband and the object of her undeserved devotion. When George marries Amelia, his father disowns him. George flirts with Becky and shows little interest in his wife or his son until shortly before he is killed at the Battle of Waterloo.

WILLIAM DOBBIN The only respectable gentleman in Vanity Fair, Dobbin has an intense, unrequited love for Amelia. He supports her after George’s death and even serves as Georgy’s godfather before moving to India with his regiment. Eventually, he and Amelia do wind up together. He is described as tall, gangly, and somewhat awkward.

JOSEPH SEDLEY Joseph, or Jos, is Amelia’s cowardly brother and Becky’s final husband. He and Becky have several run-ins before their marriage. Becky initially wants to marry him rather than Crawley, but he gets drunk on punch at Vauxhall in front of her and is too embarrassed to propose. Later, as he tries to flee Brussels before the arrival of Napoleon, Becky sells him a horse at an inflated price. He dies in Aix-la-Chapelle shortly after marrying Becky, and it is suggested she poisoned him.

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Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

The Battle of Waterloo is a central event in Vanity Fair. To learn more about how the book treats the pivotal battle, check out this article! In 2003 the BBC conducted a poll to find the best-loved novels in Great Britain. Vanity Fair was #122 on the list, but it’s worth reading to see what cracked the top 100!

Was Becky Sharp based on a real person? This article considers some interesting theories.

Vanity Fair has been adapted countless times for the stage and the screen, most recently in a 2018 miniseries produced by ITV and Amazon Studios. If you’ve got two hours to spare, a 1935 film version is preserved on YouTube in its entirety.

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