By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain itself was beginning to change. Money then, as money now, mattered. From distant colonies, producing significant goods and income, His Majesty’s kingdom was becoming an international power. His subjects were growing more wealthy. As the wealth increased, so did the middle class.
But what significance did Britain’s increasing wealth mean to someone not born into an aristocratic family? If a person was defined by one’s birth, or by one’s marriage, what chance was there to improve one’s place in society?
It is hard to imagine, by today’s standards, that life in Britain before Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837, was totally rigid. It was a time when “high society” was essentially closed to all not born into the upper class.
The rarefied world of money and privilege existed only for those born into it. But for women, even in that strata of society, “privilege” was a relative term. Economic opportunities were controlled by husbands while sophisticated career opportunities, outside the home, were filled by men.
With the shallowness of society in mind, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote his indictment of British life. He called his book Vanity Fair. He named his lead character Rebecca (Becky) Sharp.