by William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Rebecca Sharp looked like a child. But she had the dismal precocity of poverty. Many a dun had she talked to, and turned away from her father's door; many a tradesman had she coaxed and wheedled into good-humour, and into the granting of one meal more. She sate commonly with her father, who was very proud of her wit, and heard the talk of many of his wild companions--often but ill-suited for a girl to hear. But she never had been a girl, she said; she had been a woman since she was eight years old. (2.15)
Becky is obviously naturally very intelligent – but her childhood nightmare forces her to learn to transform this intelligence (which could have been developed into intellectual achievement) into cunning in order to survive.
If Miss Rebecca can get the better of [Jos], and at her first entrance into life, she is a young person of no ordinary cleverness. The first move showed considerable skill. When she called Sedley a very handsome man, she knew that Amelia would tell her mother, who would probably tell Joseph, or who, at any rate, would be pleased by the compliment paid to her son [...] Perhaps, too, Joseph Sedley would overhear the compliment--Rebecca spoke loud enough--and he did hear, and (thinking in his heart that he was a very fine man) the praise thrilled through every fibre of his big body, and made it tingle with pleasure. (3.30-31)
Becky's ability to read people and use their weaknesses against them starts to be revealed here. She is always shown to be very strategic in the way she acts. Check out the language here: "the first move" implies some kind of board game being played.
And before he had time to ask how, Mr. Joseph Sedley, of the East India Company's service, was actually seated tete-a-tete with a young lady, looking at her with a most killing expression; his arms stretched out before her in an imploring attitude, and his hands bound in a web of green silk, which she was unwinding.(4.88)
Symbolism alert, with a flashing neon sign hanging above it! Becky is tying Jos up in a silk web here – like she's a spider and he is the fly!