Stage 3 (Journeyman): Vanity Fair, chapter 1

Author: William Makepeace Thackeray

Retold by Hugo Vernes 

CHAPTER 1: LEAVING CHISWICK

On one sunny June morning, a large family coach pulled up at Mrs. Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies. Miss Jemima Pinkerton, the sister of Mrs. Pinkerton — the headmaster of the school — noticed this coach and realized that it belonged to Ms.Sedley. Being the one assigned(1) to oversee her leave, Miss Jemina had mailed the remaining balance of Ms. Sedley’s account: ninety three pound and four shillings, and an autographed letter to Mr. John Sedley, her father, and to her mother as well.

This letter is an item of great veneration(2), one that could only be sent out on a few selected occasions. The letter’s content is reproduced below:

 

Madam – after your daughter, Ms. Amelia Sedley has lived here for six years, she has grown to be woman of great honor and virtues(3), those that are very important to her as a young English woman. She has been very sweet and kind to her instructors, and more often than not, charming.

Of course, there are still many skills that she should learn, but as she leaves this school,

I’m sure she will carry with her the love and affection of all the students and teachers.

 

Barbara Pinkerton

 

P.S: Ms. Sharp will only be staying with Ms. Sedley for ten days, since she has found a family of distinction to adopt her.

 

Ms. Sedley was then given an autographed copy of the Johnson’s dictionary, a symbol of great pride and honor for the school’s students. Becky Sharp, however, did not receive one.

“But it’s only two and ninepence, why shouldn’t we give Becky one? She will be very sad.”, Ms. Jemima pleads.

“Miss Jemima! Put the Dictionary back on the shelf, and don’t ever have that kind of thought again!”—slighted, Mrs.Pinkerton replies.

While Miss. Sedley comes from a wealthy family, Ms. Sharp is an orphan, and thus Mrs. Pinkerton thought she had done enough for her already. After all, Miss. Sedley is very special, and deserves all the praises she has received. She has a generous and tender heart, and no one has ever made any negative comment about her. A truly harmless creature she is: perpetually(4) caring for others and never ceasing to be cheerful.

 

No one is ever hard-hearted enough to harm or say anything unkind towards her, not even Mrs.  Pinkerton as she told all the teachers to treat Miss. Sedley more gently than any other in the academy.

So on the last day of school, even though Ms.Sedley was happy to go back home, she was also sad to leave the school. Many of the school’s teachers and students asked her to promise them that she would write to them everyday or every week. Everywhere she went, the girl was   surrounded with flowers and presents.

Everyone, however, seemed to have forgotten about Becky, who, then, was obliged to say goodbye to Mrs. Pinkerton. After a battle of who-is-more-formal between the two and no real emotions whatsoever, Becky hopped onto the carriage. Meanwhile, Miss Sedley, of course, was still showered in hugs, kisses and tears. None of them were for Becky. Not a single one.

As the carriage started leaving, Miss Jemima rushed towards it, carrying a sandwich for Amelia and a copy of Johson’s Dictionary for Becky, one she took out of the shelf without permission(5). Upon the carriage’s departure, however, Becky threw the Dictionary out of the window onto the garden with a look of absolute hatred in her eyes, much to  the dismay(6) of Miss Jemima. Amelia was absolutely shocked as well.

“Why did you do that, Becky?” – she asked. Becky told her that she absolutely hated the school and wished that Miss Pinkerton would be at the bottom of the Thames.

“Becky, why are your thoughts so revengeful?, Amelia asked.

“Revenge is natural. I’m no angel!”

She certainly wasn’t.

1.1.jpg

 

And this was reasonable, because if you are mistreated by the world, it is likely that being an  angel is not your top choice. Neglected, Becky has all the reason not to do good. After all, not many women could match the kindness and decorum(7) of Amelia, who is the undeniable heroine of this novel.

 

Becky comes from a household with a father who was a painter and a mother who descended from a noble French family. When her mother passed away, her father pleaded Miss Pinkerton, who was then a friend of Becky’s mother, to let her stay at the academy. Her father passed away soon after that, leaving Becky on her own. As she turned seventeen, her education at Chiswick Hall commenced.

 

Becky was small and pale, and had strikingly attractive eyes. She looked like a child in comparison to the other tall and beautiful girls in her school yet deep inside, she was a woman steeled from sufferings and poverty. In spite of this, Miss Pinkerton , in the beginning thought her to be a meek(8) and childish girl. When her father brought her to Chiswick, Miss Pinkerton gave Becky the present of a doll, which Becky soon made into a little caricature(9) of the old lady. She used this doll to make fun of Miss Pinkerton to all of her father’s friends, and she made a doll of Miss Jemima too, even though she had been kind to Becky. Upon being enrolled in Chiswick, she was surrounded with loneliness, which enraged her. All she received was worthless pity from others, and the formality of the whole place annoyed her. When she left, she wasn’t remembered; only Amelia was. After all, who could forget Amelia?

 

As she continued to seek education at Chiswick Hall, Becky grew more and more envious of her wealthy fellow classmates. Enraged at the fact that they received so much more than her, she started focusing on her education. She practiced music everyday, and when Ms. Jemima asked if she could teach music to the other girls for free, she refused. “Give me money, and I will teach them.” She said to Mrs Jemima, much to her dismay. “Either let me be a governess of a nobleman’s family, or keep me here and leave me alone. I hate this place”. There was nothing Ms. Jemima could do. The battle between her and the school authority continued until Sir Pitt Crawley’s family came to look for a governess. She was, then, released to stay at Amelia’s place for a week before going to serve at this family.

 

4.1.jpgWhen the two girls arrived at Russell Square, Amelia started showing Becky around the place and gave her wonderful presents. However, through the tour, the person that Becky took the most interest in is Amelia’s brother, Joseph Sedley. After asking Amelia about him, Becky found out that he is single and better yet, wealthy. A thought sparked in Becky’s brain: If Joseph Sedley is rich and single, why shouldn’t she marry him? And that was what she was determined to do. He was the first person to greet the two girls as they enter the dining room. As Becky approached Joseph, she immediately became so much more mild-mannered and gentle,

remarking on his handsomeness, her eyes gazing at him perseveringly(10). Joseph, however, had to go dine with Bonamy, a friend of his. Just then, his father appeared, joyous and merry, and decided to bring everyone out to dine instead.

 

Although there is nothing wrong about Becky’s endeavors(11) to have Joseph Sedley as her husband, without any parents assisting her, she was at a great disadvantage. There are parents who are always willing to do anything to find their daughter an appropriate husband, yet in this case, Becky was left on her own. She was determined to marry Joseph, however, and had already dreamed of a happy marriage with him.

Joseph was twelve years older than Amelia and is a collector of the East India Register in Bengal where he had lived for 8 years. Upon having a liver condition, he returned to Russel Squares, where he was even lonelier and more friendless than when he was in India. He was very fat, and he tried to hide that by being well–dressed and apply many beauty products to his body. To win Joseph’s heart, Becky would have to show how intelligent she was. And she did. Because when she praised Joseph for his handsomeness, the shy, self- conscious man became so flattered he started questioning if the compliment was in earnest.

During dinner, Becky was prompted to try authentic(12) Indian curry and pepper. Much to the amusement of the other family members, it was too spicy for Becky and she quickly cried for  water while everyone else in the room enjoyed it.

Through all of this, Joseph felt even more enchanted with her, yet he was too embarrassed to express his emotions. When his father told him that Becky seems to have interest in him, Joseph diverted from the topics and decided to go see a play, leaving Becky playing the piano and singing by herself upstairs. “Becky has frightened him away.” Mrs. Sedley told Amelia. “Poor Joe! Why is he always so shy?”


+ GLOSSARY

  1. assigned (adj): to give someone a particular job or responsibility
  2. veneration (n): great respect
  3. virtue (n): A habitual and firm disposition to do good
  4. perpetually (Adv): continually
  5. permission (n): consent
  6. dismay (n): a worried, sad feeling after an unpleasant surprise
  7. decorum (n): appropriateness of behavior or conduct; propriety
  8. meek (Adj): shy, spiritless
  9. caricature (n.) a representation (especially in drawing) in which the subject’s characteristic features are deliberately exaggerated; (v.) to present someone or something in a deliberately distorted way
  10. perseveringly (Adv): persistently, enduringly, ploddingly
  11. endeavor (n):  a serious attempt or effort
  12. authentic (adj): genuine

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