Kirsti's Reviews > Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
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Feb 13, 10

bookshelves: fiction, greed, anger
Read in February, 2010

Oh, Mr. Thackeray! If I had known how funny and gossipy you were, I would have read your book a long time ago!

This book is full of fantastical words: cockneyesses, mediatrix, blackamoors, trouvaille, blackguard, curvetted, eclaircissement, vilipending, highty-tighty, sarcastical, lazzaroni, promenaders, spunging-house, desponding, bathing-machine, yoke-mate, querist, under-waistcoats, choky, lorgnon, hob-and-nobbing, black-leg, dullard.

It has some remarkable phrases, too: "that raw-boned Vestal," "famous frontal development," "this dauntless worldling," "in an interesting situation" (meaning pregnant), "an insignificant little chit . . . a namby-pamby milk-and-water affected creature."

And here are some of my favorite quotations:

"Revenge may be wicked, but it's natural," answered Miss Rebecca. "I'm no angel." And, to say the truth, she certainly was not.

We have talked of Joseph Sedley being as vain as a girl. Heaven help us! the girls have only to turn the tables, and say of one of their own sex, "She is as vain as a man," and they will have perfect reason. The bearded creatures are quite as eager for praise, quite as finikin over their toilettes, quite as proud of their personal advantages, quite as conscious of their powers of fascination, as any coquette in the world.

And this I set down as a positive truth. A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry WHOM SHE LIKES. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.

. . . and as for the girls, they loved each other like sisters. Young unmarried girls always do, if they are in a house together for ten days.

I know that the tune I am piping is a very mild one (although there are some terrific chapters coming presently) . . .

Oh, ignorant young creatures! How little do you know the effect of rack punch! What is the rack in the punch, at night, to the rack in the head of a morning? To this truth I can vouch as a man; there is no headache in the world like that caused by Vauxhall punch.

I am going to tell a story of harrowing villainy and complicated--but, as I trust, intensely interesting--crime. My rascals are no milk-and-water rascals, I promise you. … The present Chapter is very mild. Others--But we will not anticipate THOSE.

a title and a coach and four are toys more precious than happiness in Vanity Fair: and if Harry the Eighth or Bluebeard were alive now, and wanted a tenth wife, do you suppose he could not get the prettiest girl that shall be presented this season?

What's the good of being in Parliament, he said, if you must pay your debts?

What a charming reconciler and peacemaker money is!

"That was the most beautiful part of dear Lord Nelson's character," Miss Crawley said. "He went to the deuce for a woman. There must be good in a man who will do that. I adore all impudent matches.-- What I like best, is for a nobleman to marry a miller's daughter, as Lord Flowerdale did--it makes all the women so angry--I wish some great man would run away with you, my dear; I'm sure you're pretty enough."

"he must succeed--he's so delightfully wicked."

I am tempted to think that to be despised by her sex is a very great compliment to a woman.

"Miss B., they are all infatyated about that young woman," Firkin replied. ". . . The Capting quite wild about her. Mr. Crawley mortial jealous. Since Miss C. was took ill, she won't have nobody near her but Miss Sharp, I can't tell for where nor for why; and I think somethink has bewidged everybody."

It must have often crossed Miss Crawley's mind that nobody does anything for nothing . . . and perhaps she reflected that it is the ordinary lot of people to have no friends if they themselves care for nobody.

Her heart was dead long before her body. She had sold it to become Sir Pitt Crawley's wife. Mothers and daughters are making the same bargain every day in Vanity Fair.

If people only made prudent marriages, what a stop to population there would be!

If success is rare and slow, everybody knows how quick and easy ruin is.

Be cautious then, young ladies; be wary how you engage. Be shy of loving frankly; never tell all you feel, or (a better way still), feel very little.

Who was the blundering idiot who said that "fine words butter no parsnips"? Half the parsnips of society are served and rendered palatable with no other sauce.

Praise everybody, I say to such: never be squeamish, but speak out your compliment both point-blank in a man's face, and behind his back, when you know there is a reasonable chance of his hearing it again. Never lose a chance of saying a kind word. As Collingwood never saw a vacant place in his estate but he took an acorn out of his pocket and popped it in; so deal with your compliments through life. An acorn costs nothing; but it may sprout into a prodigious bit of timber.

An orphan in her position--with her money--so interesting! the Misses Osborne said.

The girls Christian-named each other at once.

"I wish they would have loved me," said Emmy, wistfully. "They were always very cold to me."
"My dear child, they would have loved you if you had had two hundred thousand pounds," George replied. "That is the way in which they have been brought up. Ours is a ready-money society.”

"Who told me to love her? It was your doing."

he generally succeeded in making her husband share all her opinions, whether melancholy or cheerful.

Nor did Dobbin try and convince him that Amelia's happiness was not centred in turtle-soup.

When don't ladies weep?

And in determining to make everybody else happy, she found herself so. . . .

Nor was Mrs. Amelia at all above the pleasure of shopping, and bargaining, and seeing and buying pretty things. (Would any man, the most philosophic, give twopence for a woman who was?)

The miserable poor devils knew all about his affairs. They talked about them over their pints of beer at their public-house clubs to other clerks of a night. Ye gods, what do not attorneys and attorneys' clerks know in London! Nothing is hidden from their inquisition, and their families mutely rule our city.

"Pooh, jealousy!" answered George, "all women are jealous."
"And all men too.”

It is a shame, he owned to himself; but hang it, if a pretty woman WILL throw herself in your way, why, what can a fellow do, you know?

“. . . how could one love a man with feet of such size?”

We do not claim to rank among the military novelists. Our place is with the non-combatants. When the decks are cleared for action we go below and wait meekly.

"Don't cry, little woman; I may live to vex you yet.”

. . . the great game of war was going to be played, and he one of the players. What a fierce excitement of doubt, hope, and pleasure! What tremendous hazards of loss or gain! What were all the games of chance he had ever played compared to this one?

"I'm an honest man," he said, "and if I have a feeling I show it, as an honest
man will. How the deuce, my dear, would you have me behave respectfully to such a fool as your brother?"
What our servants think of us!--Did we know what our intimates and dear relations thought of us, we should live in a world that we should be glad to quit, and in a frame of mind and a constant terror, that would be perfectly unbearable.

But success or defeat was a minor matter to them, who had only thought for the safety of those they loved.

"Poor wretch," she said, twirling round the little bit of paper in her fingers, "how I could crush her with this!--and it is for a thing like this that she must break her heart, forsooth--for a man who is stupid--a coxcomb--and who does not care for her. My poor good Rawdon is worth ten of this creature."

. . . there is no end to the so-called glory and shame, and to the alternations of successful and unsuccessful murder, in which two high-spirited nations might engage. Centuries hence, we Frenchmen and Englishmen might be boasting and killing each other still, carrying out bravely the Devil's code of honour.

Who has not seen how women bully women? What tortures have men to endure, comparable to those daily repeated shafts of scorn and cruelty with which poor women are riddled by the tyrants of their sex? Poor victims!

. . . and regarded her with that amiable pity, of which your really superior woman always has such a share to give away. Her mamma ordered her dresses, her books, her bonnets, and her ideas for her.

The old spinster told her a thousand anecdotes about her youth, talking to her in a very different strain from that in which she had been accustomed to converse with the godless little Rebecca; for there was that in Lady Jane's innocence which rendered light talking impertinence before her, and Miss Crawley was too much of a gentlewoman to offend such purity. The young lady herself had never received kindness except from this old spinster, and her brother and father: and she repaid Miss Crawley's engoument by artless sweetness and friendship.

"What the deuce can she find in that spooney of a Pitt Crawley?" he continued.

Those unfortunate and well-educated women made themselves heard from the neighbouring drawing-room, where they were thrumming away, with hard fingers, an elaborate music-piece on the piano-forte, as their mother spoke; and indeed, they were at music, or at backboard, or at geography, or at history, the whole day long. But what avail all these accomplishments, in Vanity Fair, to girls who are short, poor, plain, and have a bad complexion?

. . . a dull husband at Paris is always a point in a lady's favour.

He was the heir of the rich and spirituelle Miss Crawley, whose house had been open to so many of the French noblesse during the emigration.

Which of us is there can tell how much vanity lurks in our warmest regard for others, and how selfish our love is?

How to Live Well on Nothing a Year

She was content to lie on the shore where fortune had stranded her--and you could see that the career of this old couple was over.
For almost all men who came near her loved her; though no doubt they would be at a loss to tell you why. She was not brilliant, nor witty, nor wise over much, nor extraordinarily handsome. But wherever she went she touched and charmed every one of the male sex, as invariably as she awakened the scorn and incredulity of her own sisterhood. I think it was her weakness which was her principal charm--a kind of sweet submission and softness, which seemed
to appeal to each man she met for his sympathy and protection.

It IS the pretty face which creates sympathy in the hearts of men, those wicked rogues. A woman may possess the wisdom and chastity of Minerva, and we give no heed to her, if she has a plain face. What folly will not a pair of bright eyes make pardonable? What dulness may not red lips and sweet accents render pleasant? And so, with their usual sense of justice, ladies argue that because a woman is handsome, therefore she is a fool. O ladies, ladies! there are some of you who are neither handsome nor wise.

A Cynical Chapter

"Jane, I forbid you to put pen to paper!" cried the Countess.

"I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year.” . . . And who knows but Rebecca was right in her speculations--and that it was only a question of money and fortune which made the difference between her and an honest woman?

Her father swore to her that she should not have a shilling of his money if she made any match without his concurrence; and as he wanted a woman to keep his house, he did not choose that she should marry, so that she was obliged to give up all projects with which Cupid had any share. During her papa's life, then, she resigned herself to the manner of existence here described, and was content to be an old maid.

. . . the hearts of all women warm towards young children, and the sourest spinster is kind to them.

Time has dealt kindly with that stout officer, as it does ordinarily with men who have good stomachs and good tempers and are not perplexed over much by fatigue of the brain.

. . . in adversity she was the best of comforters, in good fortune the most troublesome of friends, having a perfectly good opinion of herself always and an indomitable resolution to have her own way.

But the truth is, neither beauty nor fashion could conquer him.

. . . this dashing young woman was not bent upon loving the Major, but rather on making the Major admire HER . . .

So these two were each exemplifying the Vanity of this life, and each longing for what he or she could not get.

It is all vanity to be sure, but who will not own to liking a little of it?

Her success excited, elated, and then bored her.

She was a very good woman: good to the poor; stupid, blameless, unsuspicious. It is not her ladyship's fault that she fancies herself better than you and me. The skirts of her ancestors' garments have been kissed for centuries. . . .

. . . this aide-de-camp of the Marquis never showed any sort of hostility to the new favourite, but pursued her with stealthy kindnesses and a sly and deferential politeness which somehow made Becky more uneasy than other people's overt hostilities.

"She is unsurpassable in lies." His lordship's admiration for Becky rose immeasurably at this proof of her cleverness.

My lord had bought so many men during his life that he was surely to be pardoned for supposing that he had found the price of this one.

"Good Heavens! was ever such ill luck as mine?" she said; "to be so near, and to lose all. Is it all too late?" No; there was one chance more.

"Shut your mouth, you old stoopid," the Captain said good-naturedly. "Mr. Wenham ain't a fighting man; and quite right, too."

. . . if she never said brilliant things, she never spoke or thought unkind ones; guileless and artless, loving and pure, indeed how could our poor little Amelia be other than a real gentlewoman!

Little boys who cry when they are going to school cry because they are going to a very uncomfortable place. It is only a few who weep from sheer affection. When you think that the eyes of your childhood dried at the sight of a piece of
gingerbread, and that a plum cake was a compensation for the agony of parting with your mamma and sisters, oh my friend and brother, you need
not be too confident of your own fine feelings.

A small kindness from those she loved made that timid heart grateful.

It is difficult to say what good the old man saw in these combats; he had a vague notion that quarrelling made boys hardy, and that tyranny was a useful accomplishment for them to learn. English youth have been so educated time out of mind, and we have hundreds of thousands of apologists and admirers of injustice, misery, and brutality, as perpetrated among children.

Emmy laughed. "Shall I wear the family diamonds, Jos?" she said.
"I wish you would let me buy you some," thought the Major. "I should like to see any that were too good for you."

And it must be remembered that this poor lady had never met a gentleman in her life until this present moment. Perhaps these are rarer personages than some of us think for. Which of us can point out many such in his circle--men whose aims are generous, whose truth is constant, and not only constant in its kind but elevated in its degree; whose want of meanness makes them simple; who can look the world honestly in the face with an equal manly sympathy for the great and the small? We all know a hundred whose coats are very well made, and a score who have excellent manners, and one or two happy beings who are what they call in the inner circles, and have shot into the very centre and bull's-eye of the fashion; but of gentlemen how many? Let us take a little scrap of paper and each make out his list.

Perhaps it was the happiest time of both their lives, indeed, if they did but know it--and who does?

. . . the marriage of the Hereditary Prince of Pumpernickel with the lovely Princess Amelia of Humbourg-Schlippenschloppen . . .

. . . talking that easy, fashionable slip-slop which has so much effect upon certain folks of small breeding.

She saw people avoiding her, and still laboriously smiled upon them; you never could suppose from her countenance what pangs of humiliation she might be enduring inwardly.

Whenever Becky made a little circle for herself with incredible toils and labour, somebody came and swept it down rudely, and she had all her work to begin over again. It was very hard; very hard; lonely and disheartening.

Those who know the English Colonies abroad know that we carry with us us our pride, pills, prejudices, Harvey-sauces, cayenne-peppers, and other Lares, making a little Britain wherever we settle down.

. . . shabby bullies, penniless bucks, . . . The alternations of splendour and misery which these people undergo are very queer to view. Their life must be one of great excitement.

. . . Becky saw a number of old faces which she remembered in happier days, when she was not innocent, but not found out.

“We know everything and have friends everywhere.”

. . . and old Steyne stretched at her side with a livid face and ghastly eyes. Hate, or anger, or desire caused them to brighten now and then still, but ordinarily, they gave no light, and seemed tired of looking out on a world of which almost all the pleasure and all the best beauty had palled upon the worn-out wicked old man.

She was not worse now than she had been in the days of her prosperity--only a little down on her luck.

I doubt whether that practice of piety inculcated upon us by our womankind in early youth, namely, to be thankful because we are better off than somebody else, be a very rational religious exercise.

"Have I not learned in that time to read all your feelings and look into your thoughts? I know what your heart is capable of: it can cling faithfully to a recollection and cherish a fancy, but it can't feel such an attachment as mine deserves to mate with, and such as I would have won from a woman more generous than you. No, you are not worthy of the love which I have devoted to you. I knew all along that the prize I had set my life on was not worth the winning; that I was a fool, with fond fancies, too, bartering away my all of truth and ardour against your little feeble remnant of love. I will bargain no more: I withdraw. I find no fault with you. You are very good-natured, and have done your best, but you couldn't—you couldn't reach up to the height of the attachment which I bore you, and which a loftier soul than yours might have been proud to share. Good-bye, Amelia! I have watched your struggle. Let it end. We are both weary of it."

"What a noble heart that man has," she thought, "and how shamefully that woman plays with it!" She admired Dobbin; she bore him no rancour for the part he had taken against her. It was an open move in the game, and played fairly. "Ah!" she thought, "if I could have had such a husband as that--a man with a heart and brains too! I would not have minded his large feet.”

The Major was adored by all people with whom he had to do.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Kelly Thanks for reminding me once again how much I loved this book, and why! Now I want to pick up the book and read the rest of the book between these awesome quotes again.


Kirsti Kelly wrote: "Thanks for reminding me once again how much I loved this book, and why! Now I want to pick up the book and read the rest of the book between these awesome quotes again."

Thanks so much, Kelly! It's a great book, isn't it?


Kelly Absolutely! I need to re-read it.


Kirsti And you'll have soooo much time for that now that you're in grad school. :-D


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