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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair


by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair Morality and Ethics Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist [Becky Sharp], and we may be pretty certain that persons whom all the world treats ill, deserve entirely the treatment they get. The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice. (2.11)

Another way to put this? Instant karmic retribution. The novel sometimes seems deeply committed to this kind of "eye for an eye" approach. Then again, when you consider the lack of standard punishment/reward at the end, you have to question how seriously the novel takes the idea.

Quote #2

Well, William Dobbin had for once forgotten the world, and was away with Sindbad the Sailor in the Valley of Diamonds, or with Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peribanou in that delightful cavern where the Prince found her, and whither we should all like to make a tour; when shrill cries, as of a little fellow weeping, woke up his pleasant reverie; and looking up, he saw Cuff before him, belabouring a little boy [...] The Fairy Peribanou had fled into the inmost cavern with Prince Ahmed: the Roc had whisked away Sindbad the Sailor out of the Valley of Diamonds out of sight, far into the clouds: and there was everyday life before honest William; and a big boy beating a little one without cause. (5.16-20)

The use of the fairytales is interesting here. Dobbin is learning how to act like a man/hero/gentleman from the way Sinbad goes about his adventures – and gets an immediate chance to apply this knowledge to real life. It's the perfect way to define his moral character: Dobbin is someone who lives his life by as strict a code as heroes in fairy tales do.

Quote #3

Besides being such a fine religionist, Miss Crawley was, as we have said, an Ultra-liberal in opinions, and always took occasion to express these in the most candid manner.
"What is birth, my dear!" she would say to Rebecca--"Look at my brother Pitt; look at the Huddlestons, who have been here since Henry II; look at poor Bute at the parsonage--is any one of them equal to you in intelligence or breeding? Equal to you--they are not even equal to poor dear Briggs, my companion, or Bowls, my butler. You, my love, are a little paragon--positively a little jewel--You have more brains than half the shire--if merit had its reward you ought to be a Duchess--no, there ought to be no duchesses at all--but you ought to have no superior, and I consider you, my love, as my equal in every respect; and--will you put some coals on the fire, my dear; and will you pick this dress of mine, and alter it, you who can do it so well?" So this old philanthropist used to make her equal run of her errands, execute her millinery, and read her to sleep with French novels, every night. (11.61-62)

It's a little heavy-handed, but the point about Miss Crawley not practicing what she preaches is a good one. This little description about how she talks a good game about considering Becky her "equal in every respect," while still treating her like a servant (not to mention the way she kicks Briggs around), is a good indicator of what Miss Crawley will do when she finds out about Rawdon and Becky's unequal marriage. This passage brings up the larger question of abstract values and ethics and the more immediate way in which we live our lives. Dobbin, for instance, sees no distinction between lofty ethical ideals and everyday existence. For Miss Crawley, though, there is a wide gulf between the two.

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