of Becky’s character does not happen in solitude, while Becky h
erself is in acontemplative posture, but in a scene that is both modest (no grand flourishes) and subtlydramatic (as most scenes are wherein social mores are transgressed).
It is true that Thackeray’s treatment of Becky Sharp in
is somewhat unique.
She is “revealed” more often and with greater panache than other characters. We getmore than the “good long look” that Ortega y Gasset prescribes, and, where Becky
Sharp and the “things” that make up her life are concerned, Thackeray certainly “turns
rom the conventional signs to the things themselves”(297). Thackeray loves to “linger”
on Becky, and everything she does is invested with meaning. When we see how
“Rebecca sprang about the apartment…with the greatest liveliness, and had peeped into
the huge wardrobes, and the closets, and the cupboards, and tried the drawers that were
locked…”(71), we are seeing an action which can interest us on both a superficial level,
and as grist for contemplation. Becky Sharp can be imagined as an archetypalrepresentation of ambition, or curiosity, vanity, or bravery, rapacity. Her complexity
makes all her actions, even seemingly modest ones like snooping through someone else’s
. We are seeing what Ortega y Gasset calls a “construct(ed) human
ul”(315). As Ortega y Gasset asks of the novel form itself, we may feel “surrounded
by (her) on all sides”(311
). What gives Becky her sharpness, in the context of
, is thatshe does things instinctively that others would or could not do. To use a Freudiancliché, she is a walking Id. Her
amorality becomes the “wealth of her life” that
Ortegay Gasset mentions, even, paradoxically, when it reduces her to poverty. It is a wealththat may or may not be appreciated by her; the real wealth, the contemplative wealth,is for us, the audience; and the contemplative duration of this wealth is extended.Ortega y Gasset emphasizes personages over plots, contemplation over action,density and atmosphere over adventure. As a densely-detailed personage worthy of contemplation, Becky Sharp would seem to be what Ortega y Gasset might prize mostabout
. There is one final detail worth mentioning. Ortega y Gasset equates the inner
density of a novel with “high pressure”(303). This brings to light another aspect of B
eckySharp worth exploring and contemplating
the manner in which her intense energy
strains people and situations to the breaking point. Though married, we see Becky with “ascore of generals now round Becky’s chair, and she might take her choice of a d
bouquets when she went to the play”(350).
Becky’s intensity is matched by the intensity
of the reactions she elicits. She is both magnetic and repellent. This is one reason whyher social interactions often have an unusual tinge. In a comedy of manne
overt charisma and anti-charisma make her seem almost like a visitor from another story.
presence” pleases us because she is so manifestly unlike everyone else in
. We may not grieve when she falls from grace, because she herself does not grieve.We may get pleasure from everything she does. She gives us everything that Ortega yGasset could want from a single character
, and is in a sense “pimped” to us by the author.
Ortega y Gasset’s prescriptive suggestion for novels and nov
an emphasison character and contemplation
—may have been fulfilled by Thackeray’s rendering of
Becky Sharp in
; this novel is, however, from a bygone era, while Ortega y Gasset isspeaking to a more recent audience. If someone wanted to create a Becky Sharp for our day and age, challenges would present themselves
how to create a figure both in and
out of our society, an “outlaw” who knows the rules by heart; h
ow to convey the piquancy of mores transgressed, of ambition fit to burst; how to represent magnetic and