We’ve started watching the ITV adaptation of Vanity Fair on BBC First.
The lead protagonist, Becky Sharp, is described as the daughter of an ‘opera girl’, a term clearly designed to be redolent of illicit sex and debauchery.
It’s the sort of term that, when reading nineteenth century books, you immediately realise means something sleazy and disreputable, even if you don’t exactly know what it means, and move on.
Well, maybe it means something something more.
Thackeray, as we know, was born in Calcutta and had East Indian connections, and if you look up ‘opera girl’ on the free dictionary, it come up with opera girl being used as the name for a species of ginger, Mantisia saltatoria (http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/kew-253041).
Given Becky Sharp’s character, I wonder if Thackeray had this plant in mind when choosing to describe Becky Sharp as the daughter of an opera girl, rather than some other declassé profession ….