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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Ambition Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #7

What pride [Mr. Osborne] had in his boy! He was the handsomest child ever seen. Everybody said he was like a nobleman's son. A royal princess had remarked him, and kissed him, and asked his name in Kew Gardens. What City man could show such another? Could a prince have been better cared for? Anything that money could buy had been his son's [...] Had he ever refused a bill when George drew one? There they were--paid without a word. Many a general in the army couldn't ride the horses he had! He had the child before his eyes, on a hundred different days when he remembered George after dinner, when he used to come in as bold as a lord and drink off his glass by his father's side, at the head of the table--on the pony at Brighton, when he cleared the hedge and kept up with the huntsman--on the day when he was presented to the Prince Regent at the levee, when all Saint James's couldn't produce a finer young fellow. And this, this was the end of all!--to marry a bankrupt and fly in the face of duty and fortune! What humiliation and fury: what pangs of sickening rage, balked ambition and love; what wounds of outraged vanity, tenderness even, had this old worldling now to suffer under! (24.35)

One of the frequent criticisms of Thackeray is that his characters are two-dimensional and not presented in a psychologically developed way. But look at the list of emotions Mr. Osborne feels at the news of George's marriage. It's a pretty amazing set of contrasts: love mixed with rage, disappointment for George's ambitions and also pain because of his pride in his son, outrage at the fact that his money could not buy George a permanent place in the aristocracy and pleasure at the memory of how closely George could pass for a lord. That's a pretty complex emotional state – and it rings true to us.

Quote #8

[Amelia] wrote the most piteous accounts of the feast home to her mamma: how the Countess of Bareacres would not answer when spoken to; how Lady Blanche stared at her with her eye-glass; and what a rage Captain Dobbin was in at their behaviour; and how my lord, as they came away from the feast, asked to see the bill, and pronounced it a d---- bad dinner, and d---- dear. But though Amelia told all these stories, and wrote home regarding her guests' rudeness, and her own discomfiture, old Mrs. Sedley was mightily pleased nevertheless, and talked about Emmy's friend, the Countess of Bareacres, with such assiduity that the news how his son was entertaining peers and peeresses actually came to Osborne's ears in the City. (28.21)

Parents' ambitions for their children is a running theme in the novel. This is a pretty amazing bit of crossed communication wires. Amelia is in way over her head in George's social world in Brussels, but her mom can only hear the word "countess" and ignores the actual meaning of the letter because she is conditioned to think "nobility = super awesome."

Quote #9

Rebecca's wit, cleverness, and flippancy made her speedily the vogue in London among a certain class. You saw demure chariots at her door, out of which stepped very great people. You beheld her carriage in the park, surrounded by dandies of note. The little box in the third tier of the opera was crowded with heads constantly changing; but it must be confessed that the ladies held aloof from her, and that their doors were shut to our little adventurer [...] there are men (such as Rawdon Crawley, whose position we mentioned before) who cut a good figure to the eyes of the ignorant world and to the apprentices in the park, who behold them consorting with the most notorious dandies there, so there are ladies, who may be called men's women, being welcomed entirely by all the gentlemen and cut or slighted by all their wives [...] But while simple folks who are out of the world, or country people with a taste for the genteel, behold these ladies in their seeming glory in public places, or envy them from afar off, persons who are better instructed could inform them that these envied ladies have no more chance of establishing themselves in "society," than the benighted squire's wife in Somersetshire who reads of their doings in the Morning Post. Men living about London are aware of these awful truths. You hear how pitilessly many ladies of seeming rank and wealth are excluded from this "society." The frantic efforts which they make to enter this circle, the meannesses to which they submit, the insults which they undergo, are matters of wonder. (37.11-12)

Again, the gradations of social life are multiple and fine-grained. Notice that here again, gender plays a very distinct role in who can associate with whom: men are much freer to be around questionable women like Becky. Also, note that the narrator talks about the masochism necessary to be accepted into the society of women, but there is never much explanation of why this ambition exists in the first place. What is gained by being in this inner circle if no one from the outside can even tell the difference between "men's women" and women in "society"?

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