by William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
If mere parsimony could have made a man rich, Sir Pitt Crawley might have become very wealthy--if he had been an attorney in a country town, with no capital but his brains, it is very possible that he would have turned them to good account, and might have achieved for himself a very considerable influence and competency. But he was unluckily endowed with a good name and a large though encumbered estate, both of which went rather to injure than to advance him. He had a taste for law, which cost him many thousands yearly; and being a great deal too clever to be robbed, as he said, by any single agent, allowed his affairs to be mismanaged by a dozen, whom he all equally mistrusted [...] He speculated in every possible way; he worked mines; bought canal-shares; horsed coaches; took government contracts, and was the busiest man and magistrate of his county. (9.15)
Just as Becky's innate intelligence is perverted into a kind of survival cunning, Sir Pitt's natural smarts are also diverted from being useful by his lifestyle. He is probably best labeled "too clever by half" since all of his various schemes tend to end badly.
But it was not only by playing at backgammon with the Baronet, that the little governess rendered herself agreeable to her employer. She found many different ways of being useful to him. She read over, with indefatigable patience, all those law papers, with which, before she came to Queen's Crawley, he had promised to entertain her. She volunteered to copy many of his letters, and adroitly altered the spelling of them so as to suit the usages of the present day. She became interested in everything appertaining to the estate, to the farm, the park, the garden, and the stables; and so delightful a companion was she, that the Baronet would seldom take his after-breakfast walk without her (and the children of course), when she would give her advice as to the trees which were to be lopped in the shrubberies, the garden-beds to be dug, the crops which were to be cut, the horses which were to go to cart or plough. Before she had been a year at Queen's Crawley she had quite won the Baronet's confidence; and the conversation at the dinner-table, which before used to be held between him and Mr. Horrocks the butler, was now almost exclusively between Sir Pitt and Miss Sharp. She was almost mistress of the house when Mr. Crawley was absent, but conducted herself in her new and exalted situation with such circumspection and modesty as not to offend the authorities of the kitchen and stable, among whom her behaviour was always exceedingly modest and affable. She was quite a different person from the haughty, shy, dissatisfied little girl whom we have known previously, and this change of temper proved great prudence, a sincere desire of amendment, or at any rate great moral courage on her part. Whether it was the heart which dictated this new system of complaisance and humility adopted by our Rebecca, is to be proved by her after-history. A system of hypocrisy, which lasts through whole years, is one seldom satisfactorily practised by a person of one-and-twenty; however, our readers will recollect, that, though young in years, our heroine was old in life and experience, and we have written to no purpose if they have not discovered that she was a very clever woman. (10.10)
Confession time – this is one of our favorite descriptions of Becky. Look at what she could have been! She's super-smart, an excellent planner and manager, and just generally on top of her game. Born at another time, free of this silly social-climbing world and all the restrictions the 19th century placed on women, she could have been a CEO!
Mrs. Bute has all of a sudden taken a great fancy to me. "My dear Miss Sharp," she says, "why not bring over your girls to the Rectory?--their cousins will be so happy to see them." I know what she means. Signor Clementi did not teach us the piano for nothing; at which price Mrs. Bute hopes to get a professor for her children. I can see through her schemes, as though she told them to me; but I shall go, as I am determined to make myself agreeable--is it not a poor governess's duty, who has not a friend or protector in the world? (11.33)
This is written in Becky's voice; it's from her letter to Amelia about Queen's Crawley. It's always fun to watch Mrs. Bute and Becky square off. Both are clever women, and neither has the edge over the other. Here, for instance, Becky thinks that Mrs. Bute wants to wring some free music lessons out of her, but Mrs. Bute is actually playing a much longer-term game. She keeps inviting Becky and Rawdon to her house in order to set them up, and thus ruin both of them. Becky doesn't catch on to this gambit until much later.