by William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair Philosophical Viewpoints: Life as a Theater Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Be cautious then, young ladies; be wary how you engage. Be shy of loving frankly; never tell all you feel, or (a better way still), feel very little. See the consequences of being prematurely honest and confiding, and mistrust yourselves and everybody. Get yourselves married as they do in France, where the lawyers are the bridesmaids and confidantes. At any rate, never have any feelings which may make you uncomfortable, or make any promises which you cannot at any required moment command and withdraw. That is the way to get on, and be respected, and have a virtuous character in Vanity Fair. (18.23)
In the universe of the novel, real feelings and authentic lives are to be as hidden and repressed as possible, because showing anyone what's really going on in your psyche will leave you vulnerable. But of course, this is also meant to be a funny, outrageous aside from the narrator, who is throwing up his hands at the universe he is describing and drawing whatever sad morals from it he can for our amusement.
Sick-bed homilies and pious reflections are, to be sure, out of place in mere story-books, and we are not going (after the fashion of some novelists of the present day) to cajole the public into a sermon, when it is only a comedy that the reader pays his money to witness. But, without preaching, the truth may surely be borne in mind, that the bustle, and triumph, and laughter, and gaiety which Vanity Fair exhibits in public, do not always pursue the performer into private life, and that the most dreary depression of spirits and dismal repentances sometimes overcome him. Recollection of the best ordained banquets will scarcely cheer sick epicures. Reminiscences of the most becoming dresses and brilliant ball triumphs will go very little way to console faded beauties. Perhaps statesmen, at a particular period of existence, are not much gratified at thinking over the most triumphant divisions; and the success or the pleasure of yesterday becomes of very small account when a certain (albeit uncertain) morrow is in view, about which all of us must some day or other be speculating. O brother wearers of motley! Are there not moments when one grows sick of grinning and tumbling, and the jingling of cap and bells? (19.8)
There is something about the theatricality of the novel that causes the narrator to go off on these rants and raves, which are themselves very theatrical, no? Can't you just picture him throwing his hands up and rolling his eyes? It seems hard to take these warnings seriously because, after all, they are coming from a world that is not entirely like our own. Or does that somehow make the narrator's asides all the more meaningful?
There is little doubt that old Osborne believed all he said, and that the girls were quite earnest in their protestations of affection for Miss Swartz. People in Vanity Fair fasten on to rich folks quite naturally [...] Their affections rush out to meet and welcome money. Their kind sentiments awaken spontaneously towards the interesting possessors of it [...] And the proof is, that the major part of the Osborne family, who had not, in fifteen years, been able to get up a hearty regard for Amelia Sedley, became as fond of Miss Swartz in the course of a single evening as the most romantic advocate of friendship at first sight could desire. (21.3)
What is fascinating here is that the Osbornes are actually making friends with money but are able to convince themselves that they are befriending a person. Whom are we meant to pity most in this sad little drama? Mr. Osborne, who wants his son to marry this woman only because she's rich? His daughters, who have been brought up to only look at the size of someone's bank account as a measure of character? Or Miss Swartz, who is being conned into some kind of relationship?