Jos Sedley the Nabob: Colonization of India within Thackeray's Vanity Fair


Description: From the early 15th century to the late 19th century, the East India Trading Company played a large role in Britain’s economy and society. Many people were able to become wealthy by going to India, attaining wealth by trading and amassing goods that could be purchased inexpensively and sold at a high price back in Britain. There were so many men going to India to seek their fortune that they soon made up a large portion of British society , emphasizing the importance of consumer culture during this time. Jos Sedley in William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair works as a collector for the East India Trading Company. In this way, he embodies the consumer culture of his time. His gluttony and corruption of India for wealth mirrors Becky Sharp’s quest to capture a man for his wealth. Thackeray uses the illustrations of the portrait of Jos Sedley on an elephant and its movement in the novel to convey the connection between these two quests for excessive luxury and wealth by depicting Becky as a woman ready to capture a man in her web, and Jos as a colonizer as well as a large prize himself that Becky wishes to attain. 

F. G. Kitton, "The East India United Service, Wyndham, and Salisbury Clubs, St. James's Square," 1890, Victorian Web. Kitton provides an etching of the East India United Service Club, a place where those returning from India, also called Nabobs, could readjust to British society. Jos Sedley, who loved frequenting clubs after his return from India, would likely be found here. Many men who returned from India felt out of place in England, just as Jos Sedley does. They would use the East India United Service Club to reconnect with old acquaintances and to find a place of refuge from British society. Those returning from India often struggled with not being treated with the same amount of importance and luxury as in India, so they enjoyed being around others who were going through the same experience. A portion of British society also often saw these men as no longer being British enough to socialize with. Many members would continue to pay the membership fee even when they were away for longer than a decade, so that they could continue to preserve this connection to England and use it when in England on visits to family and friends. It would be easy to imagine Jos Sedley frequenting this club to feel a part of British society whenever he returns home. 

William Makepeace Thackeray, "Jos Entangled," Vanity Fair, 1848, Victorian Web. This illustration by Thackeray in Vanity Fair depicts Becky Sharp entangling Jos in her web of threads as she makes a net purse. The action of Becky physically catching Jos in her web establishes him as her target. A symbol of wealth and gluttony, Jos turns from a person to an embodiment of the wealth and status Becky desires. In this illustration, Becky works to conquer the wealth that she desires in the same manner that Jos works to take wealth from India through the East India Trading Company. This illustration ties Becky’s attempt to conquer Jos and the role Jos plays within the East India Trading Company as a colonizer of India. 

William Makepeace Thackeray, "The Death Warrant," Vanity Fair, 1848, Wikisource.  This Vanity Fair illustration depicts Becky Sharp sitting with Amelia Sedley receiving a note in which Jos tells her that he is leaving, thus establishing Becky's  failure in capturing him. At this moment, the note is established as “the death - warrant. All was over” (Oxford 74). Behind Becky and Amelia hangs a portrait of Jos sitting on an elephant. Thackeray’s choice to place the portrait of Jos behind Becky as she loses her chance at his wealth reitarates the idea that her quest is one of colonization. Jos is Becky's first attempt to gain a fortune through marriage, and the presence of his portrait at her first failure foreshadows the colonizing attitude that Becky will carry with her throughout the remainder of Vanity Fair. 

William Makepeace Thackeray, "Pictorial Capital to Chapter XVII," Vanity Fair, 1848, Wikisource. In this portrait of Jos Sedley, he sits on the elephant physically colonizing it, serving as a symbol of the way in which the British have forced themselves upon India through colonization. Throughout Vanity Fair, this portrait works to link Becky’s behavior towards Jos with Britain’s colonization of india.  After hanging on the wall of the Sedley’s living room, the portrait appears again when the Sedley’s items are sold at auction after their fortune declines. Becky can be seen in the crowd of bidders within the illustration of the auction, but the fate of the portrait is not revealed till later in the novel. When Becky is reunited with Jos in the town of Pumpernickel at the end of the novel, she reveals that she is the one who bought the portrait. This act cements Jos as Becky's property:  “that incident of the picture had finished him [Jos]” (864). After Becky tells Jos, “'I have never parted with that picture - I never will'” (861), Jos belongs to Becky for the rest of his life. Becky and Jos’s relationships are transactional, for he does not become hers till she purchases a symbol of him. When Becky finally procures Jos, she is staying at the Elephant hotel; Becky acts as a colonizer by occupying a space which symbolizes India in the same way that Jos sitting on the elephant symbolizes Britain colonizing India. 

Film Clip from the 2004 film adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1848), written by Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet, directed by Mira Nair. Within Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, the relationship between Becky and Jos ends in his death. Thackeray presents Becky as a possibly murdereress, as she becomes the inheirtor of his fortune (874) and the main suspect of his death among the other characters in the novel. However, in the 2004 film adaptation, Becky and Jos ride off on an elephant together in India.  Despite this difference, both the novel and film end with Becky succeeding as a colonizer, for in both versions she is able to procure his fortune. The clip from the film shows Becky and Jos enjoying excessive wealth and power attained by the British in India, as Becky is able to experience the of India that she has always desired. By saving Jos’s life, this film also works to preserve Becky’s character, as she is able to enjoy excessive luxury without having possibly murdered Jos. This film clip also highlights the importance of India within the novel. By placing Becky in far away India in a large fantastical parade, the film makes excessive luxury and colonialism the driving force of Becky Sharp.  



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