Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Rebecca (Becky) Sharp
Rebecca (Becky) Sharp, an intelligent, beautiful, self-centered, and grasping woman whose career begins as an orphaned charity pupil at Miss Pinkerton’s School for girls and continues through a series of attempted seductions, affairs, and marriages that form the background of the novel. Unscrupulous Becky is the chief exponent of the people who inhabit Vanity Fair—the world of pretense and show—but she is always apart from it because she sees the humor and ridiculousness of the men and women of this middle-class English world where pride, wealth, and ambition are the ruling virtues.
Amelia Sedley, Becky Sharp’s sweet, good, and gentle schoolmate at Miss Pinkerton’s School. Although married to George Osborne, who subsequently dies in the Battle of Waterloo, Amelia is worshiped by William Dobbin. Amelia does not notice his love, however, so involved is she with the memory of her dashing dead husband. Eventually, some of Amelia’s goddess-like virtue is dimmed in Dobbin’s eyes, but he marries her anyway and transfers his idealization of women to their little girl, Jane.
Captain William Dobbin
Captain William Dobbin, an officer in the British Army and a former schoolmate of George Osborne at Dr. Swishtail’s school. He idolizes Amelia Sedley, George’s wife, and while in the background provides financial and emotional support for her when...
(The entire section is 2018 words.)
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George has longstanding relationships with the Sedley family and with Dobbin. He is a good-looking, self-centered, prideful, free-spending, gambler. He has a certain amount of wealth but not nobility, and he courts the favor of all aristocrats who cross his path. It is George who ruins Becky's hopes of marrying Joseph Sedley by convincing Joseph that it would be inappropriate for him to marry a governess. George does this not out of concern for Joseph but because he is engaged to marry Joseph's sister, Amelia, and does not want a governess in the family.
While Amelia loves George, George is incapable of loving anyone as much as he loves himself. He nearly backs out of marrying Amelia (his father is against the union and in fact disinherits George over it), but Dobbin persuades him to go through with it. Then, just before going off to the Battle of Waterloo, George flirts with Becky and passes her a mysterious note. George is killed in the battle, and Amelia grieves deeply. She doesn't find out until many years later that George's note to Becky suggested that the two of them run away together.
(The entire section is 191 words.)
Amelia is the daughter of John Sedley, a businessman who is successful and moneyed as the novel opens. She is sweet, kind, malleable, naïve, and shallow.
Amelia's love for George Osborne is blind love. On the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, as George flirts with Becky, Amelia is deeply distraught at George's imminent departure for the battle. George is handsome, and Amelia doesn't see beneath the surface to the ugliness underneath, any more than she sees the nobility beneath Dobbin's unattractive appearance. Even after George's death, she remains as unaware of his lack of integrity and devotion as she is of William Dobbin's love for her.
Amelia is a loving mother to Georgy, the son born to her after George's death. She finally marries Dobbin but only after Becky awakens her to his virtue.
(The entire section is 136 words.)
Becky Sharp is the central character in Vanity Fair and Amelia Sedley's opposite. She is the orphaned daughter of destitute parents, and she learns early on to look after her own interests in all situations. Becky values money and social status above all and is thoroughly corrupt in her pursuit of them. Her most well-known (though often doubted) observation is that for five thousand pounds a year, she could be a good woman. Selfish, unscrupulous, manipulative, and ambitious, she is capable of appearing sweet, mild, and even timid when it furthers her aims to do so. She can blush and cry at will but cries genuinely only once: when she is forced to turn down the wealthy Sir Pitt's marriage proposal because she has already secretly married his son.
Becky is helped in her relentless social climbing both by her wits, which are as keenly honed as her surname implies, and by her physical attributes, which are listed thus: "Green eyes, fair skin, pretty figure, famous frontal development." Nearly all the male characters in the novel are taken in by her, always to their detriment.
As the novel opens, Becky attends Miss Pinkerton's academy where she earns her keep by teaching French (learned from her mother). She becomes Amelia's friend and goes to her home for a long visit when the two leave the academy. There she tries to lure Amelia's brother Joseph into marrying her but is foiled by George Osborne. She then goes to work as a governess for Sir...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Joseph is Amelia's older brother. He loves nothing more than food, drink, and sleep. His father tells his mother, "if you and I and his sister were to die tomorrow, he would say, 'Good Gad!' and eat his dinner just as well as usual." He is fat and cowardly, yet conceited and a dandy. At Waterloo, he goes no nearer the battlefield than the women do and still shakes with fear, and yet he later tells such tales of his courage that he is given the nickname "Waterloo Sedley." He believes that Becky is genuinely attracted to him, when her only real interest is in his money, and plans to propose to her until George dissuades him. When his father goes bankrupt, Joseph sends only a little money and is tardy even with that.
Joseph meets Becky in Europe after her husband has left her, and she charms him just as she had years earlier. Joseph and Becky travel together, but Joseph confides to Dobbin that he is frightened of Becky. Joseph soon dies of poisoning, and it is left unclear whether Becky has murdered him for his only remaining asset, an insurance policy whose proceeds are split between Becky and Amelia.
(The entire section is 203 words.)
The Sedleys' housekeeper, Mrs. Blenkinsop is loyal enough to stay with the family when they lose their money. She is also Amelia's trusted confidant.
Briggs is at first a maid for Miss Matilda Crawley and later a companion to Becky Sharp. She is good-hearted and naïve enough to loan money to Becky, which Becky, predictably, does not repay. Lord Steyne ends up providing for Miss Briggs.
Frederick, a lawyer, is Maria Osborne's suitor and eventual husband. When Maria's brother George is disinherited, Frederick does not hide his pleasure that Maria is now likely to receive a larger share of the family's money.
The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clapp, the Sedleys' landlords after they lose their money, Mary becomes Amelia's friend.
Mr. Clapp is the Sedleys' longtime clerk, who takes the family in when they lose their fortune.
The Sedleys' landlady, Mrs. Clapp, nags Amelia about the rent when the family has fallen on hard times, but she changes her attitude when Amelia comes into money.
The brother of Sir Pitt Crawley, Bute is a reverend who is ill-suited to his position. He likes to eat, drink, and gamble (and therefore is in debt) and is happy to let his...
(The entire section is 1795 words.)