In his discussion of Thackeray's illustrations for Vanity Fair, Robin Gilmour asserts that 'the illustrations which seem most functional — and most rewarding from an interpretive angle — are the smaller drawings, and in particular the pictorial capitals' (56). He explains that 'the pictorial capital is an overture to the chapter which picks out and accentuates a dominant theme or mood' (58). A good example of this is the opening illustration of Chapter IV.
This shows Becky sitting inside a capital P shaped from a bare tree. She is alone and is dangling a fishing rod into a body of water where there is a solitary, particularly fat, fish visible. The meaning of this visual metaphor is made obvious by the comments of the elder Mr Sedley later in the chapter. He says, of Jos, to his wife: 'That man is destined to be a prey to a woman as I am to go on change everyday. [ . . . ] but mark my words the first woman who fishes for him hooks him' (Thackeray, 25). Clearly Thackeray felt it necessary to repeat the fish metaphor which had already been neatly stated by the pictorial capital. However the image does more than depict Jos as a fat fish that Becky is angling for. There is significance in the fact that both Becky and Jos (in the form of a fish) are alone in this outdoor image. Jos is alone in the lake, and so is alone in facing Becky. This reiterates the fact that Jos' family offer him no assistance in his interaction with Becky during the chapter. When Mrs Sedley suggests sending 'the artful little creature' (28) Becky away, Mr Sedley replies: 'Why not she as well as another, Mrs. Sed? [ . . . ] I don't care who marries him. Let Jos please himself' (29). Both parents abandon Jos, leaving him alone in the lake and vulnerable to Becky's fishing. The fact that the image depicts Becky fishing alone alludes to a discussion of her behaviour within Chapter IV. After an incident in which Becky gave Jos 'ever so gentle a pressure with her little hand, and drew it back quite frightened' (26), the narrator gives his explanation of Becky's conduct.
It was an advance and as such some [. . . ] will condemn the action as immodest- but you see poor Becky had all this work to do for herself. If a person is too poor to keep a servant, though ever so elegant, he must sweep his own rooms: If a dear girl has no mamma to settle matters with the young man, she must do it for herself. 
Like Jos, Becky has no parental help in this matter of romance. Therefore she has to fish for Jos 'for herself' (26). Becky's advances toward Jos are immodest, her partaking in the sporting activity of angling also seems inappropriate for 'a dear girl' (26). Becky must do for herself, what it would be more appropriate for her 'mamma' to do for her. Similarly, Jos is left to 'please himself' (29). Throughout the chapter Becky is allowed to fish for Jos' heart unhindered by the interference of others; the illustration reflects this. It also reflects the one sidedness of the struggle, and foreshadows the inevitable capture of Jos. At the end of the chapter, when 'Mr Joseph Sedley, of the East India Company's Service was actually seated tête-à-tête with [Becky]' (36) and had 'his hands bound in a web of green silk' (36) the reader can be sure, temporarily at least, that the fat fish has been caught.
Thackary, W. M, Vanity Fair. Text of First Edition. New York: Norton, 1994.
Gilmour. Robin, Thackeray: Vanity Fair. London: Edward Arnold, 1982.
Last modified 13 July 2008