Vanity Fair in the Global Village -or- A Novel without a Hero
"When one fib becomes due as it were, you must forge another to take up the old acceptance; and so the stock of your lies in circulation inevitably multiplies, and the danger of detection increases every day." William Makepeace Thackeray
Political Satire in the Global Village-or-Flagellating the English Culture of Narcissism
If Daphne du Maurier's opening line of the novel "Rebecca" begins with "Last night I dreamt that I went to Manderlay again", then William Thackeray's "Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero" waits until the opening paragraphs of the second chapter to inform the reader; "I dreamed last night that I was flogged by Dr Raine". Vanity Fair is a novel that satirizes life in early 19th century England. The historical novel places human nature and the human condition in a dark poetic light, where all the characters are flawed, more or less. His literary characters all wear social masks, to cover up their variety of narcissistic weaknesses that include; vanity, greed, snobbery, idleness, deceit and hypocrisy among others. Thackeray's novel identifies the epochal English "Culture of Narcissism" of its time.
Political satire is a time honored literary vehicle to study and understand the nature of society. As a literary form of militant "irony", satire aims to attack, criticize and subvert national character, values, tastes, political power structures and the collective unconscious. The dream of flagellation reported in Thackeray's novel can be seen as an organizing and guiding political conceptual metaphor of English society used to instrumentally enforce social order. Flagellation, flogging and whipping have a long history not only in England, constituting disciplinary measures instituted by authority to maintain submission to the social order.
As an English satire, Thackeray can be seen as ironically attacking, flogging and punishing all his characters for their vices, abuses, shortcomings and deceit. Thackeray is seen as giving English society a verbal "tongue lashing". Why else would he maintain the "omniscient narrator" role? From a modern psychological perspective the English characters all suffer from a divided self.
It could be argued that Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" aimed at cultural narcissistic "realism" and stopped short of proposing social reforms and change in the national and collective nightmare of social deceit. Following in Thackeray's footsteps, Robert Louis Stephenson's would write about the "fine bogey tail" of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde whose characters were conjured up in a dream he had. Stephenson would unleash the oneiric repressed dark side of English culture, re-working Thackeray's brush strokes of the literary portrait of the divided self of English character.