Critical Essays Imagery in Vanity Fair


The symbolism described in the foregoing paragraphs constitutes one form of imagery. To continue with similar figures which may not be considered broadly symbolic, one reads of Miss Pinkerton, "the Semiramis of Hammersmith." Sermiramis was an Assyrian queen noted for beauty, wisdom, and voluptuousness. Hammersmith was a metropolitan borough of London. Obviously the figure is ironic. When Pitt lures James into trouble by urging him to drink and smoke in Miss Crawley's house, Thackeray calls Pitt, Machiavel, a name synonymous with political cunning, duplicity, and bad faith.

Old Sir Pitt, called Silenus, leers at Becky like a satyr. In mythology Silenus is a fat old man, jolly, intoxicated, an attendant of Bacchus. Satyrs are goat-like men, attendants of Bacchus, the god of wine.

Men and women are compared to trees and birds: "While Becky Sharp was on her own wing in the country, hopping on all sorts of twigs and amid a multiplicity of traps, and pecking up her food quite harmless and successful, Amelia lay snug in her home . . ." He compares George to a tree where Amelia can built her nest but says it is not safe. When Dobbin has at last won Amelia, the author says, "The bird has come in at last. There it is with its head on his shoulder, billing and cooing close up to his heart with soft outstretched fluttering wings . . ." He calls Dobbin the "rugged old oak to which you cling."

Dobbin, the "uproused British lion," tells his sisters they "hiss and shriek and cackle . . . don't begin to cry. I only said you were a couple of geese."

Thackeray compares Amelia to a violet, speaks of her nursing the corpse of Love, after George seems to have abandoned her In caring for her father, she appears to Dobbin to walk "into the room as silently as a sunbeam."

Pitt Crawley is "pompous as an undertaker." Lady Crawley is a "mere machine in her husband's house." Amelia is a "poor little white-robed angel," who fortunately can't hear George and his fellows roaring over their whiskey-punch.

When the ladies cry, the author says, "The waterworks again began to play." Miss Swartz, in fancy garments, is dressed "about as elegantly . . . as a she chimney-sweep on May Day." Dobbin, on contemplating Becky's flirtation, has "a countenance as glum as an undertaker's." When Amelia comes out, just before George's departure for battle, holding his sash against her bosom, Thackeray says "the heavy net of crimson dropped like a large stain of blood," a possible symbol of George's fate.

The note George gives Becky asking her to run away with him, lies "coiled like a snake among the flowers." When Becky exploits her fellow men, she is like the mermaid feeding below the surface of the water on the pickled victims. The "sheep-dog," or female companion necessary to the vivacious social climber in Vanity Fair, reminds Thackeray of "the death's head which figured in the repasts of Egyptian bon-vivants . . ."

Mrs. Bowls, formerly Firkin, maid to Miss Crawley, extends her hand to Becky and "her fingers were like so many sausages, cold and lifeless." Mrs. Frederick Bullock's kiss is "like the contact of an oyster."

One of the most humorous comparisons is that of cleaning a woman's reputation by presenting her at Court as one would clean dirty linen by putting it through the laundry. A countess of sixty is compared with faded street lights. She has "chinks and crannies" in her face. The calling cards from the ladies of Lord Steyne's family are "the trumps of Becky's hand." But Steyne says, "You poor little earthenware pipkin, you want to swim down the stream along with the great copper kettles."

When Georgy's nose is hurt, one does not see blood, but "the claret drawn from his own little nose." Becky calls herself a mouse, perhaps able to help the lion, the second Sir Pitt. To indicate that the servants are gossiping about Becky, Thackeray personifies Discovery and Calumny as the waiters who serve the food and drink.

When Dobbin comes home, the English landscape "seems to shake hands" with him. Dobbin's desire is a "bread-and-butter paradise." Becky is a hardened Ishmaelite who halts at Jos' tents and rests.

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