The experiences of her friend Amelia Sedley accentuate the theme of lost childhood innocence in that she comes to know the harsh realities of peasantry though she was born to a more elevated lifestyle. Even in love, both women learn that life can be stubbornly ungenerous”though each learns in different ways. Different techniques are used to bring out this theme in the film adaptation of the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. Rebecca Sharp is shown to be a strong character who is able to weather the many problems and downturns of her life.
She is at first seen as a child who peddles paintings done by her father, yet who is remarkably astute in her ability to acquire the prices she wants for her wares. Her wit allows her to ascend to a higher station”a school, where she learns and later becomes a governess. Though her prospects seem to improve, she is confronted by the fact that her first position as governess, though reportedly with a noble family, turns out to appear as base as though she had come to work for peasants.
Time and time again, though her prospects improve, she is disappointed by unfavourable turns of events. These situations underpin the theme of innocence lost, as her childhood hopes of elevating her station are continually thwarted. Amelia Sedley is also one whose experiences contribute to the theme of lost innocence. She is blinded by an infatuation for George Osborne that is as foolish as it is difficult to dispel. She naively considers his inner beauty to be comparable to his outer one, and is devastated again and again by his nonchalant attitude toward her.
Though he capitulates and marries her, she eventually loses her station and does lose George as he dies in the war. She later loses their son”a series of losses that take with them her innocence and hardens her in the real world. Loss of virginity may also be looked at as a way in which both these women lose their innocence. Yet though it is clear that Amelia has married George, the film casts a shadow over the marriage of Rebecca Sharp to Rawdon Crawley. Certain techniques used by the director of the film”such as light and dark”serve to accentuate the effects of this.
Rawdon frequently corners Rebecca in dark places and touches her inappropriately. In the carriage when Miss Matilda Crawley falls asleep, in the shadow of her slumber Rawdon touches Rebeccas hand. He later touches her chest and cleavage while it is dark”though he is not married to her”and she allows it. Darkness appears to usher in the losses that childhood must incur in order for maturity to come to the fore. The ultimate loss of childlike innocence for women is arguably in the birth of their own children, as one must from that point on truly be an adult.
Rebecca and Amelia give birth to sons, whose existence cause their mothers much grief. They both realize that though their children are a part of them, they may not be able to retain their affection or even possession of them. The idea of having beautiful children with rosy cheeks to become ambassadors of their own beliefs is taken from them and they forfeit completely the romantic notion of unbreakable filial ties. The structure of the plot appears to take the form of multiple climaxes.
Rebeccas ascension from pauperism to scholarship represents one climax. Her rising to become an indispensable governess was another, as was that of her being taken into the society of Miss Matilda Crawley. Her fall from society follows as she marries Rawdon Crawley, but she soon rises to fame as she is much spoken of when they move to Brussels. Inevitably, she descends again as Rawdons gambling creates debts and they live an impoverished life until her ascent into wealth she obtains from Lord Styne.
She then descends to poverty once more when her husband, in another climactic moment, finds her in the arms of Lord Styne. In this film, culture is also highly visible in many of its forms. Though Rebecca may not be considered rich, she might be called cultured, as she has been exposed to an education in the fine arts and excels in drawing, music, and languages. The societal line that divides several of the families might also be seen to divide along cultural lines.
Men and women of high society are more likely to observe social graces, to be well educated and well travelled. It might also be seen that the culture regarding work at the time was that the truly rich did not do any, and that those who did work (often as merchants in trade) and managed to attain equality in wealth with the higher nobles were still considered of a lower estate. The lowest class whose members did menial labour for small pittances were the least educated, the least socially graceful, and considered the least cultured of all.
One of the major cinematic elements is the use of shadow”the contrast of dark and bright. Much of the film takes place in the dark, and this points toward the filmmakers desire to portray much of the action as vile and despicable. The dark vanity of most characters, who would place society above true affection and loyalty, is highlighted by the shadows that cover them in almost every scene. Malicious backbiting and backstabbing is shrouded in darkness as the director and the unseen narrator frown upon the intentions and actions of many of the vain characters.
Vanity Fair combines several elements, themes, and techniques to convey the loss of innocence that many of the characters experience. The ideas of the darkness of (bad) experiences covering the light of innocence shows this, as do the many climaxes and pitfalls of the families represented in the film. The cinematic elements combine cleverly to demonstrate through the lives of Amelia Sedley and Rebecca Sharp that life hides misfortunes in several dark corners.
Thackeray, W. M. Vanity Fair. New York: London, 2003.