Vanity Fair and the Need for the HEA
I'll be the first to admit that I've never read Thackeray's social satire. Honestly, I don't think I could get through it. It would just depress me. I mean look at the subtitle of the book--Vanity Fair: a novel without a hero. Is that right? No hero??
I own the 1998 miniseries starring Natasha Little. I remember watching it the first time and thinking to myself that I wouldn't finish watching if it wasn't for the subplot of Amelia and seeing her attain her Happily Ever After. Becky Sharp is selfish and unlikeable. She had a chance at happiness and she gave it up.
About a year a ago, I went ahead and purchased the Reese Witherspoon version of Vanity Fair. I don't know why. I guess because I love period dramas and I do like Reese and on top of that it was really cheap. It's been sitting on my bookshelf ever since still in it's wrapping and collecting dust ever since.
I've been in the mood for period dramas this week and have already watched the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel with Jane Seymour, and the 1998 Our Mutual Friend miniseries based on Dicken's romantic novel. So, I went ahead and popped in the 2004 Vanity Fair.
This movie version is a lavish production with beautiful sets and gorgeous costumes. And Reese plays Becky Sharp much more sympathetically than in the previous versions. You can actually like her through most of the film. But just as always it falls apart at the end as you realize there is no way she can ever reach a happily ever after. Tears are running down my face. I'm devastated for her but she could care less as she goes on to entrap her next victim. Quite a depressing film.
It got me to thinking about the whole idea of the HEA or Happily Ever After. Why do we long so much for that ultimate outcome? Even here in watching this latest version of the book I knew it wouldn't end happily but I still wanted it too. I was heartbroken that it didn't. It's like watching the film Titanic for the first time and hoping the boat won't sink and yet you know ultimately that it will. It's an innate need in most of us to find that HEA. We wish for it in our own lives even though this is hardly the most common outcome. And so in our fiction and movies we need that happy fulfillment. Though Vanity Fair is a book meant to make social commentary of society at the time, I believe I can forgo that lesson and read something with a happier ending. I mean, I can read a sad story as well as the next person. I do have almost every Nicholas Sparks novel after all. But the poignancy of the novel needs to make sense--to touch you in a way that it's all going to be all right and a life has been changed for the better.
By the way, today to erase my melancholoy of Vanity Fair I watched the 2002 The Importance of Being Earnest--also with Reese except this one is cute and funny and everyone gets their HEA in the end. That's the way I like it.