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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Morality and Ethics Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

[V]ery soon, Miss Crawley was so well that she sat up and laughed heartily at a perfect imitation of Miss Briggs and her grief, which Rebecca described to her. Briggs' weeping snuffle, and her manner of using the handkerchief, were so completely rendered that Miss Crawley became quite cheerful, to the admiration of the doctors when they visited her, who usually found this worthy woman of the world, when the least sickness attacked her, under the most abject depression and terror of death. (14.26)

Miss Crawley is quite the hypocrite, isn't she? She's the novel's version of "there are no atheists in foxholes." Brain Snack: this expression means that in a life or death situation, even people who don't believe in God pray, just in case. It comes from World War I, when soldiers at the front would sit in dug-out trenches ("foxholes"), exchanging fire with the enemy and not knowing whether they would survive to the next day.

Quote #5

Of all Sedley's opponents in his debates with his creditors which now ensued, and harassed the feelings of the humiliated old gentleman so severely, that in six weeks he oldened more than he had done for fifteen years before--the most determined and obstinate seemed to be John Osborne, his old friend and neighbour--John Osborne, whom he had set up in life--who was under a hundred obligations to him--and whose son was to marry Sedley's daughter. Any one of these circumstances would account for the bitterness of Osborne's opposition.

When one man has been under very remarkable obligations to another, with whom he subsequently quarrels, a common sense of decency, as it were, makes of the former a much severer enemy than a mere stranger would be. To account for your own hard-heartedness and ingratitude in such a case, you are bound to prove the other party's crime. It is not that you are selfish, brutal, and angry at the failure of a speculation--no, no--it is that your partner has led you into it by the basest treachery and with the most sinister motives. From a mere sense of consistency, a persecutor is bound to show that the fallen man is a villain--otherwise he, the persecutor, is a wretch himself. (18.13-14)

We throw this out there as a bit of psychological astuteness on Thackeray's part. The feeling of guilt over his friend's financial ruin is so strong that Osborne needs desperately to start to hate him to feel better. Brain Snack: nowadays this kind of thinking is called "cognitive dissonance" – the idea that your brain will always be able to create some excuses and valid-sounding reasons for why you act the way you do (however wrong or strange your action).

Quote #6

And, as the hatred of vice is always a progress towards virtue, Mrs. Bute Crawley endeavoured to instill her sister-in-law a proper abhorrence for all Rawdon Crawley's manifold sins [...] Mrs. Bute showed a perfect family interest and knowledge of Rawdon's history. She had all the particulars of that ugly quarrel with Captain Marker, in which Rawdon, wrong from the beginning, ended in shooting the Captain. She knew how the unhappy Lord Dovedale, whose mamma had taken a house at Oxford, so that he might be educated there, and who had never touched a card in his life till he came to London, was perverted by Rawdon at the Cocoa-Tree, made helplessly tipsy by this abominable seducer and perverter of youth, and fleeced of four thousand pounds. She described with the most vivid minuteness the agonies of the country families whom he had ruined--the sons whom he had plunged into dishonour and poverty--the daughters whom he had inveigled into perdition. She knew the poor tradesmen who were bankrupt by his extravagance [Mrs. Bute] had not the smallest remorse or compunction for the victim whom her tongue was immolating; nay, very likely thought her act was quite meritorious, and plumed herself upon her resolute manner of performing it. (19.10)

The novel is always very good about layering the moral questions and asking readers to think about who is doing what to whom – and who is most in the wrong. Here we have the following bad ethics: 1) Rawdon's exploits. Clearly bad stuff. Seriously – he killed a guy! 2) Mrs. Bute is purposely digging up all of the dirt on Rawdon to make Miss Crawley hate him. She even exaggerates and lies a little. 3) Mrs. Bute is telling herself that she is doing this out of familial and Christian virtue, and doesn't even feel any "remorse" about her actions. 4) In reality, Mrs. Bute is doing this so that Miss Crawley won't leave Rawdon her money and will instead leave it to the Bute side of the family. 5) Miss Crawley is suddenly horrified by behavior that she was all along endorsing and supporting in her nephew. OK, so who is most in the wrong?

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