Chapters 1-11

1. What is the symbolic importance of Becky Sharp tossing the gift of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary out the window of her coach as she leaves Chiswick Mall?

2. What do you make of Thackeray's frequent descriptions of Joseph Sedley's physical appearance?

3. Throughout the novel, Thackeray frequently interjects his own commentary into the narrative. What is the effect of these interruptions and how do they contribute to the novel's narrative strategy?

4. What is your impression of the differences between how Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley are characterized by Thackeray in the early stages of the novel?

5. What do you think about the characterization of the various Crawley's? How does Thackeray set up a contrast between Sir Pitt's family and that of Bute Crawley? Between Queen's Crawley and Russell Square?

6. Is there any symbolic importance attached to Becky Sharp's frequent backgammon contests with Sir Pitt?

Chapters 12-25

1. What are your growing impressions of Amelia Sedley, on the one hand, and Captain Dobbin, on the other? Do you find yourself beginning either to like or understand these characters more or less as you observe their development?

2. What is your impression of that unrepentant old sinner, Miss Crawley? What do you think Thackeray's impression of her is?

3. Thackeray's subtitle for Vanity Fair is "A Novel Without a Hero." Do you feel that there is a hero or heroine in the early stages of the story, and if not, what does the lack of a hero contribute to Thackeray's novel?

4. Chapter 21 deals with "A Quarrel about an Heiress." What is to be made of George Osbourne's decided aversion to a match with Miss Schwartz?

5. Is there any connection between how Mr. Osbourne goes through George's old documents and how Amelia Sedley goes through his old letters earlier in the novel?

6. Why does Dobbin go out of his way to look after George's financial affairs?

7. How do you feel the novel's serialized production has affected the narrative to this point?

Chapters 26-40

1. Is there any significance in George going to see a production of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (in Chapter 26)?

2. What is your reaction to meeting the irrepressible Peggy O'Dowd? Why does Thackeray include her in his novel?

3. What are your perceptions of Jos Sedley's behaviour throughout the course of the "Waterloo" chapters of Vantiy Fair? Of what does his "vanity" consist?

4. In Chapter 30, George mentally compares war to a game: "the great game of war was going to be played, and he one of the players. What a fierce excitement of doubt, hope, and pleasure! What tremendous hazards of loss or gain!" Does the novel support the idea that war, like everything else, is a game?

5. What do we learn from Chapter 34, "James Crawley's Pipe is Put Out?" Why is it here?

6. Whatever misgivings we might have concerning Rawdon Crawley, there is no question that he is very affectionate towards young Rawdon, something which Rebecca is not. How is this important in understanding their developing relationship?

Chapters 41-53

1. What is the significance of the friendship that develops between Rawdon Crawley and Lady Jane during this part of the novel?

2. Compare and contrast the characterizations of Amelia Sedley, Jane Osborne, and Lady Jane Crawley. What features of their personalities do they share and how are they different?

3. What is the narrator's attitude towards women in this part of the novel?

4. What similarities are there in the relationships between Amelia and George, and Amelia and Georgy?

5. What is the significance of the pair of charades that are acted in Chapter 51?

6. Is Rawdon's decision to leave Becky a spontaneous one--the result of wounded vanity--or is it the result of subtle changes in his character that have been developing for some time?

7. At the end of Chapter 53, the narrator provocatively questions the nature of Becky's relationship with Lord Steyne: "What had happened? Was she guilty or not? She said not; but who could tell what was truth which came from those lips; or if that corrupt heart was in this case pure." What evidence is there to suggest that Becky is guilty? Is not guilty?

Chapters 54-67

1. Trace all of the factors that influence our feelings about Dobbin throughout the novel. Do we experience peaks and valleys with him as we do with Becky, and do we feel that he gets what he deserves at the novel's close? Does Amelia get what she deserves?

2. What do you make of the challenge Rawdon Crawley wishes to issue to Lord Steyne, and what are your feelings about both Mr. Wenham (Lord Steyne's second) and Captain Macmurdo (Rawdon's second)? Do you find that these negotiations make for gripping drama or high comedy?

3. What is the significance of the deaths of Old Sedley and Mr. Osbourne? Do you feel anything amounting to sympathy and/or pity for these old rivals?

4. What do you make of the encounter between Becky and Georgy in the gaming room at the Stadthaus ball in Chapter 63?

5. Does Becky kill Jos Sedley? Is she capable of such an act? If we can not be entirely sure of the extent to which she is guilty of adultery in her liaison with Lord Steyne, can we possibly suspect her of poisoning her acquaintance?


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Last modified 7 July 2000