Study Guide

Vanity Fair Sex

By William Makepeace Thackeray

Sex

She was small and slight in person; pale, sandy-haired, and with eyes habitually cast down: when they looked up they were very large, odd, and attractive; so attractive that the Reverend Mr. Crisp, fresh from Oxford, and curate to the Vicar of Chiswick, the Reverend Mr. Flowerdew, fell in love with Miss Sharp; being shot dead by a glance of her eyes which was fired all the way across Chiswick Church from the school-pew to the reading-desk. (2.14)

Becky's sexuality is always aggressive and so always takes men unawares. The expectation was that women should be passive recipients of male attention rather than the other way around. All of Becky's conquests are always described in traditionally feminine terms. Here, check out the "fresh" curate named "Flowerdew" – "fresh" is usually a word that's used about girls that have just arrived on the marriage market scene. And flowerdew? That's really driving the point home.

"You don't mind my cigar, do you, Miss Sharp?" Miss Sharp loved the smell of a cigar out of doors beyond everything in the world--and she just tasted one too, in the prettiest way possible, and gave a little puff, and a little scream, and a little giggle, and restored the delicacy to the Captain, who twirled his moustache, and straightway puffed it into a blaze that glowed quite red in the dark plantation, and swore--"Jove--aw--Gad--aw--it's the finest segaw I ever smoked in the world aw," for his intellect and conversation were alike brilliant and becoming to a heavy young dragoon. (11.76)

We promise we're not dirty-minded – or at least not any more than the novel itself. But just do the mental image here and you'll get a sense of what Becky seems to be promising Rawdon. And his weird exclamations? Kind of orgasmic, no?

Rawdon Crawley, Esquire, gave vent to a prodigious whistle, in token of astonishment at this announcement. He couldn't deny it. His father's evident liking for Miss Sharp had not escaped him. He knew the old gentleman's character well; and a more unscrupulous old--whyou--he did not conclude the sentence [...]

When he saw Rebecca alone, he rallied her about his father's attachment in his graceful way. She flung up her head scornfully, looked him full in the face, and said, "Well, suppose he is fond of me. I know he is, and others too. You don't think I am afraid of him, Captain Crawley? You don't suppose I can't defend my own honour," said the little woman, looking as stately as a queen.

"Oh, ah, why--give you fair warning--look out, you know--that's all," said the mustachio-twiddler.

"You hint at something not honourable, then?" said she, flashing out. (14.42-48)

Rawdon doesn't complete the sentence about his father, but we easily can. "Something not honorable" could mean one of two things: 1) Becky becoming Sir Pitt's mistress, which is unlikely, since she's all about putting a ring on it; or 2) getting assaulted by Sir Pitt, which has some traction based on his earlier threat to keep coming to her room every night if she doesn't put her candle out sooner. Either way, Becky's instant coming to the point rather than pretending she doesn't understand what Rawdon is talking about gets him kind of hot and bothered in his jealousy of his father.

"The feller has left you, has he?" the Baronet said, beginning, as he fancied, to comprehend. "Well, Becky--come back if you like. You can't eat your cake and have it. Any ways I made you a vair offer. Coom back as governess--you shall have it all your own way." She held out one hand. She cried fit to break her heart; her ringlets fell over her face, and over the marble mantelpiece where she laid it.

"So the rascal ran off, eh?" Sir Pitt said, with a hideous attempt at consolation. "Never mind, Becky, I'LL take care of 'ee." (15.6-7)

What's amazing about Sir Pitt is how open he is about his desires. Here, of course, what makes his consolation so "hideous" is that he's talking about sexual healing while being an old man who should be over that kind of thing by now, according to propriety.

"'Gad, if Miss S. will have me, I'm her man. I ain't particular about a shade or so of tawny." And the old gentleman [Mr. Osborne] gave his knowing grin and coarse laugh. (24.13)

Not that Sir Pitt has the market cornered on being a dirty old man. Here is Mr. Osborne talking about Miss Swartz's appeal, which is for him more than money, according to the adjectives "knowing" and "coarse."

[Becky] called George Osborne, Cupid. She had flattered him about his good looks a score of times already. She watched over him kindly at ecarte of a night when he would drop in to Rawdon's quarters for a half-hour before bed-time.

She had often called him a horrid dissipated wretch, and threatened to tell Emmy of his wicked ways and naughty extravagant habits. She brought his cigar and lighted it for him; she knew the effect of that manoeuvre, having practised it in former days upon Rawdon Crawley. He thought her gay, brisk, arch, distinguee, delightful. (25.25-26)

Here is clear proof that the cigar thing is an intentional come-on on Becky's part. It seems it works on George, who, like Rawdon, responds with a breathy string of exclamatory adjectives (and then propositions her).

She had mastered this rude coarse nature; and he loved and worshipped her with all his faculties of regard and admiration. In all his life he had never been so happy, as, during the past few months, his wife had made him. All former delights of turf, mess, hunting-field, and gambling-table; all previous loves and courtships of milliners, opera-dancers, and the like easy triumphs of the clumsy military Adonis, were quite insipid when compared to the lawful matrimonial pleasures which of late he had enjoyed. (30.6)

Translation: One-night stands can't compete with good old-fashioned married sex.

Rebecca was a good economist, and the price poor Jos Sedley had paid for her two horses was in itself sufficient to keep their little establishment afloat for a year, at the least; there was no occasion to turn into money "my pistols, the same which I shot Captain Marker," or the gold dressing-case, or the cloak lined with sable. Becky had it made into a pelisse for herself, in which she rode in the Bois de Boulogne to the admiration of all: and you should have seen the scene between her and her delighted husband, whom she rejoined after the army had entered Cambray, and when she unsewed herself, and let out of her dress all those watches, knick-knacks, bank-notes, cheques, and valuables, which she had secreted in the wadding, previous to her meditated flight from Brussels! Tufto was charmed, and Rawdon roared with delighted laughter, and swore that she was better than any play he ever saw, by Jove. And the way in which she jockeyed Jos, and which she described with infinite fun, carried up his delight to a pitch of quite insane enthusiasm. (34.72)

This image of Becky's money-tinged striptease is a very nice way to conflate the interest of those around her (sex) with her own (financial security). This is a literal representation of the constant connection in the novel between the sexual release for men that women bring to relationships and the wealth and material well-being that men bring. Of course, in Becky's case, she has to bring both – and here, she is doing just that.