by William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair Ambition Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
[Sir Pitt] selected for a second wife Miss Rose Dawson, daughter of Mr. John Thomas Dawson, ironmonger, of Mudbury. What a happy woman was Rose to be my Lady Crawley! Let us set down the items of her happiness. In the first place, she gave up Peter Butt, a young man who kept company with her, and in consequence of his disappointment in love, took to smuggling, poaching, and a thousand other bad courses. Then she quarrelled, as in duty bound, with all the friends and intimates of her youth, who, of course, could not be received by my Lady at Queen's Crawley--nor did she find in her new rank and abode any persons who were willing to welcome her [...] O Vanity Fair--Vanity Fair! This might have been, but for you, a cheery lass--Peter Butt and Rose a happy man and wife, in a snug farm, with a hearty family; and an honest portion of pleasures, cares, hopes and struggles--but 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? (9.1-4)
You got to love that Lady Crawley (formerly Rose Dawson), gets this little mini-novel, don't you? Is she the only one that trades happiness for the fruits of ambition?
At college [Pitt Crawley's] career was of course highly creditable. And here he prepared himself for public life, into which he was to be introduced by the patronage of his grandfather, Lord Binkie, by studying the ancient and modern orators with great assiduity, and by speaking unceasingly at the debating societies. But though he had a fine flux of words, and delivered his little voice with great pomposity and pleasure to himself, and never advanced any sentiment or opinion which was not perfectly trite and stale, and supported by a Latin quotation; yet he failed somehow, in spite of a mediocrity which ought to have insured any man a success. He did not even get the prize poem, which all his friends said he was sure of.
After leaving college he became Private Secretary to Lord Binkie, and was then appointed Attache to the Legation at Pumpernickel, which post he filled with perfect honour, and brought home dispatches, consisting of Strasburg pie, to the Foreign Minister of the day. After remaining ten years Attache (several years after the lamented Lord Binkie's demise), and finding the advancement slow, he at length gave up the diplomatic service in some disgust, and began to turn country gentleman.
He wrote a pamphlet on Malt on returning to England (for he was an ambitious man, and always liked to be before the public), and took a strong part in the Negro Emancipation question. Then he became a friend of Mr. Wilberforce's, whose politics he admired, and had that famous correspondence with the Reverend Silas Hornblower, on the Ashantee Mission. He was in London, if not for the Parliament session, at least in May, for the religious meetings. In the country he was a magistrate, and an active visitor and speaker among those destitute of religious instruction. (9.9-11)
Sure he's boring and self-satisfied, but Pitt is one of the only characters in the novel whose ambition has very little to do with marriage. He is purely career minded throughout the book, and as we learn, he does actually have quite a bit of diplomatic and managerial skills. He ends up being a very successful estate owner, improving Queen's Crawley and getting ahead in parliament.
And now, being received as a member of the amiable family whose portraits we have sketched in the foregoing pages, it became naturally Rebecca's duty to make herself, as she said, agreeable to her benefactors, and to gain their confidence to the utmost of her power. Who can but admire this quality of gratitude in an unprotected orphan; and, if there entered some degree of selfishness into her calculations, who can say but that her prudence was perfectly justifiable? [...] "let us see if my wits cannot provide me with an honourable maintenance, and if some day or the other I cannot show Miss Amelia my real superiority over her. Not that I dislike poor Amelia: who can dislike such a harmless, good-natured creature?--only it will be a fine day when I can take my place above her in the world, as why, indeed, should I not?" Thus it was that our little romantic friend formed visions of the future for herself--nor must we be scandalised that, in all her castles in the air, a husband was the principal inhabitant. Of what else have young ladies to think, but husbands? Of what else do their dear mammas think? "I must be my own mamma," said Rebecca; not without a tingling consciousness of defeat, as she thought over her little misadventure with Jos Sedley. (10.1)
Becky's choice here seems to be to either accept her place as a pathetic, powerless hanger-on and dependent or to break with socially acceptable female behavior and snag herself a husband by being "her own mamma." Even though her thoughts are described as "romantic," she's actually all pragmatism and cold, hard reality as she figures out that no one else is going to go to bat for her. Convention and Victorian ideals would have her pick the first option, but our sympathy lies purely with the second one.