updated: 04/02/2009

C19th makeups: Becky Sharp

William Makepeace Thackeray’s satirical novel Vanity Fair – subtitled ‘A Novel without a Hero’ –was published in 1847–48. It is set around the time of Waterloo and ends in the late 1820s.

Becky Sharp, the heroine or anti-heroine, is an intelligent, cunning, young woman with a sharp but witty tongue, and a desperate need for a secure social and financial position. She is described as a petite, sandy haired girl with has green eyes; she is accomplished, being fluent in French, having a beautiful singing voice, skilled at the piano, and being no mean actress. She is also extremely manipulative, and completely amoral and without conscience. At the end of book, she is found living on her wits – prostitution? – and drinking heavily; she has lost her singing voice and much of her looks. She still manages to seduce Joseph Smedley and secure a share of his wealth before he dies mysteriously – Thackeray’s illustrations suggest poison.

Vanity Fair (2004): Looks pretty but loses the bite – gutted would be a more brutal but accurate description; a Becky (Reese Witherspoon) who has retained her looks not only seduces Jos Smedley but goes to India with him in style for a (provisionally) happy ending. Rebecca Lafford was makeup artist (Reese Witherspoon); Loulia Sheppard was hairdresser (Reese Witherspoon).

Vanity Fair (1998): While it plods a bit, it retains more bite than the recent movie – though it leaves the ending ambiguous. Natasha Little who played Becky had a minor part in the Reese Witherspoon movie. Christine Walmesley-Cotham was hair designer / makeup designer.

Vanity Fair (1967): Featuring Susan Hampshire as Becky Sharp – coming soon.

Vanity Fair (1932): Featuring Myrna Loy as a contemporary Becky Sharp – she ‘gave it a good try, and that is about all that could be said’. No makeup credits were given.