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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Cunning and Cleverness Quotes Page 3

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #7

Sharp watched this graceless bedside [Miss Crawley's] with indomitable patience. Nothing escaped her; and, like a prudent steward, she found a use for everything. She told many a good story about Miss Crawley's illness in after days--stories which made the lady blush through her artificial carnations. During the illness she was never out of temper; always alert; she slept light, having a perfectly clear conscience; and could take that refreshment at almost any minute's warning. And so you saw very few traces of fatigue in her appearance. Her face might be a trifle paler, and the circles round her eyes a little blacker than usual; but whenever she came out from the sick-room she was always smiling, fresh, and neat, and looked as trim in her little dressing-gown and cap, as in her smartest evening suit. (14.35)

Again, Becky's work ethic shines through here. It's too bad it usually has to be put to such nefarious purposes! The idea that she finds "a use for everything" (here meaning the quirks of Miss Crawley's behavior that she can later use for funny anecdotes) is an excellent detail. She's like a person who lived through the Great Depression who doesn't throw anything away.

Quote #8

We have seen how Mrs. Firkin, the lady's maid, as soon as any event of importance to the Crawley family came to her knowledge, felt bound to communicate it to Mrs. Bute Crawley, at the Rectory; and have before mentioned how particularly kind and attentive that good-natured lady was to Miss Crawley's confidential servant. She had been a gracious friend to Miss Briggs, the companion, also; and had secured the latter's good-will by a number of those attentions and promises, which cost so little in the making, and are yet so valuable and agreeable to the recipient [...] Mrs. Bute had told Briggs and Firkin so often of the depth of her affection for them; and what she would do, if she had Miss Crawley's fortune, for friends so excellent and attached, that the ladies in question had the deepest regard for her; and felt as much gratitude and confidence as if Mrs. Bute had loaded them with the most expensive favours. Rawdon Crawley, on the other hand, like a selfish heavy dragoon as he was, never took the least trouble to conciliate his aunt's aides-de-camp, showed his contempt for the pair with entire frankness [...] Whereas, Mrs. Bute consulted her in matters of taste or difficulty, admired her poetry, and by a thousand acts of kindness and politeness, showed her appreciation of Briggs; and if she made Firkin a twopenny-halfpenny present, accompanied it with so many compliments, that the twopence-half-penny was transmuted into gold in the heart of the grateful waiting-maid, who, besides, was looking forwards quite contentedly to some prodigious benefit which must happen to her on the day when Mrs. Bute came into her fortune.

The different conduct of these two people is pointed out respectfully to the attention of persons commencing the world. 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. (19.1-3)

In the novel's world, there is no reason to do anything nice for niceness's sake because everything you do can be done for profit. So the narrator here points out that it's good policy to just go ahead and butter up every single person you meet because you never know when they'll become useful to you. How does that compare with what we normally consider moral behavior? Is this totally cynical or just clear-sighted?

Quote #9

Rebecca had her revenge now upon these insolent enemies [the haughty Bareacres family.] Lady Bareacres condescended to send her maid to the Captain's wife with her Ladyship's compliments, and a desire to know the price of Mrs. Crawley's horses. Mrs. Crawley returned a note with her compliments, and an intimation that it was not her custom to transact bargains with ladies' maids.
This curt reply brought the Earl in person to Becky's apartment; but he could get no more success than the first ambassador [...] What will not necessity do? The Countess herself actually came to wait upon Mrs. Crawley on the failure of her second envoy. She entreated her to name her own price; she even offered to invite Becky to Bareacres House [...] Rebecca laughed in her face [...] It was while enjoying the humiliation of her enemy that Rebecca caught sight of Jos [...] He too wanted to fly, and was on the look-out for the means of escape. "HE shall buy my horses," thought Rebecca, "and I'll ride the mare." [...] Rebecca asked him to come into her room, whither he followed her quite breathless to conclude the bargain. Jos seldom spent a half-hour in his life which cost him so much money. Rebecca, measuring the value of the goods which she had for sale by Jos's eagerness to purchase, as well as by the scarcity of the article, put upon her horses a price so prodigious as to make even the civilian draw back [...] Jos ended by agreeing, as might be supposed of him. The sum he had to give her was so large that he was obliged to ask for time; so large as to be a little fortune to Rebecca. (32.34-54)

This is pure capitalism, a neat little lesson on the laws of supply and demand. When supply runs low (there aren't enough horses for everyone to get the heck out of Dodge), and the demand is high (but everyone really wants to escape Napoleon's marauding army), then the price will keep going up and up and up. Here, the price of horses is first offered in social currency: an ever-higher-ranked assortment of people coming to bargain with Becky and then finally an invitation to the Bareacres' house. Then the price switches to actual money and ends up securing a nice little nest egg for business-headed Becky. How do capitalist ethics work in the private world here? And why does social status as currency not really work in this case?

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