Vanity Fair & Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice and Vanity Fair are constructed quite differently, but the themes of social class, upward mobility and the pursuit of marriage are at their hearts.
In 1813, life in Regency England was extremely stratified along the lines of social class. Whatever class a person was born into they could expect to stay in throughout their lifetime. The only real way to escape the bonds of class was to enter into an advantageous marriage.
Adding to this, the place of women was such that marriage was their entire future. Where a woman would live, what her ultimate station would be and how well she would be accepted in her social circles would all depend on her marriage.
Pride and Prejudice's Desperate Singles
The five Bennett sisters talked of little besides marriages and single men. Modern readers (or viewers of the movies) may see it as a frivolous romance tale interesting only to romance readers. But, the talk of marriage was as exciting during the Regency as the most fantastic modern tales of exploding buildings and foreign espionage are today.
Marriage was literally a matter of life and death for many women. The Bennett sisters had no brother and could not legally inherit their home. Entailed to a distant cousin, their home would be snatched from them the moment their aging father died. If any of them married, all of them would have a home upon his death. If not, they were at the mercy of sympathetic relatives. Marriage was literally life or death, starving or living a life of grace and ease.
Vanity Fair’s Socialite
Completed in 1848, Vanity Fair entered the market during a different political time, but many of the cultural divides in class were the same. Becky Sharp was a social climber to rival any of the socialites that make headlines today, and got exactly what it was she sought. Marriage meant an end to having to work for a living, something that was still looked down on by the upper classes.
Like Lizzie Bennett, Becky Sharp was pretty and confident and had no intentions of settling for less than her own idea of happiness. Her scheming may have gotten her a better social position in a less selfless manner than Lizzie Bennett’s, but making an advantageous marriage was just as crucial.
Both characters were determined, both married above themselves and were granted a better social position, but literary karma descended on each. No unhappiness was hinted at for Lizzie’s marriage, but Becky’s was an unhappy one that failed to give her what she craved. Still craving more, she persevered, gaining social status but not happiness.