How The Eustace Diamonds Changes Representations of Femininity Essay

How The Eustace Diamonds Changes Representations of Femininity Essay

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How The Eustace Diamonds Changes Representations of Femininity in Vanity Fair


Since Anthony Trollope published The Eustace Diamonds (1872), readers have associated Lizzie Eustace with Becky Sharp of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848) (John Hall 378). Both Becky and Lizzie perform a femininity made all the more dangerous by contrast to the femininity of their idealized counterparts, Amelia and Lucy. Both novels involve a man’s choice between satisfying his sexual desire for the dangerous girl and fulfilling his promise to the ideal girl. As is typical in Victorian novels, the narrators spend more time exploring the bad girl option than the less-exciting alternative. In the context of denying the novel’s focus on Lizzie, Trollope’s narrator furthers the connection between the two bad girls by recalling Becky:

Although the first two chapters of this new history have been devoted to the fortunes and personal attributes of Lady Eustace, the historian begs his readers not to believe that opulent and aristocratic Becky Sharp is to assume the dignity of heroine in the forthcoming pages (57).

Given the difficulty of imagining how Trollope could have spent more time telling Lizzie’s story, the novel itself belies this statement; readers know that the bad girls are the heroines of both novels.

Critics have noted the similarity between the two novels, but they have not really explored it. I want to argue that to understand the relationship between the good girl and bad girl in each novel, we have to move out from the dichotomy itself to the third term that determines the meaning of the other two: the woman who comes from abroad. I will argue that it is the shift that occurs in t...


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McLennan, John. Studies in Ancient History: Comprising a Reprint of Primitive
Marriage. London: Macmillan, 1886.

Miller, Andrew. Novels Behind Glass: Commodity, Culture, and Victorian
Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

Nunokawa, Jeff. The Afterlife of Property: Domestic Security and the Victorian
Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Psomiades, Kathy. “Heterosexual Exchange and Other Victorian Fictions: The
Eustace Diamonds and Victorian Anthropology.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction
33.1 (1999): 93-118.

Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. John Carey, ed. London: Penguin
Books, 2001.

Thackeray, W.M. Vanity Fair. John Sutherland, ed. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1983.

Trollope, Anthony. The Eustace Diamonds. Stephen Gill and John Sutherland,
eds. London: Penguin Books, 1969.

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