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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Philosophical Viewpoints: Life as a Theater Quotes

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Quote #7

George meanwhile, with his hat on one side, his elbows squared, and his swaggering martial air, made for Bedford Row, and stalked into the attorney's offices as if he was lord of every pale-faced clerk who was scribbling there. He ordered somebody to inform Mr. Higgs that Captain Osborne was waiting, in a fierce and patronizing way, as if the pekin of an attorney, who had thrice his brains, fifty times his money, and a thousand times his experience, was a wretched underling who should instantly leave all his business in life to attend on the Captain's pleasure. He did not see the sneer of contempt which passed all round the room, from the first clerk to the articled gents, from the articled gents to the ragged writers and white-faced runners, in clothes too tight for them, as he sate there tapping his boot with his cane, and thinking what a parcel of miserable poor devils these were. The miserable poor devils knew all about his affairs. They talked about them over their pints of beer at their public-house clubs to other clerks of a night. Ye gods, what do not attorneys and attorneys' clerks know in London! Nothing is hidden from their inquisition, and their families mutely rule our city. (26.19)

George's gentleman act only works on those who want to be fooled by him. Here, inside the machinery of capitalism (where the sausage is actually made), everyone sees right through him. Notice, though, how George is frequently unaware of the people around him and unable to read their expressions. Here it's the sneers, elsewhere it's General Tufto. For a guy who looks in the mirror so much, he's not very good with human faces.

Quote #8

"What a humbug that woman is!" honest old Dobbin mumbled to George, when he came back from Rebecca's box, whither he had conducted her in perfect silence, and with a countenance as glum as an undertaker's. "She writhes and twists about like a snake. All the time she was here, didn't you see, George, how she was acting at the General over the way?"

"Humbug--acting! Hang it, she's the nicest little woman in England," George replied, showing his white teeth, and giving his ambrosial whiskers a twirl. (29.38-39)

Dobbin is the only character who is immune to Becky's charms and her appealing performance. To him, she is acting like a snake, both because he can see her fakeness and because he is attracted to passive, inert women like Amelia. Think about the way he responds to the equally aggressive Glorvina O'Dowd later.

Quote #9

So Mrs. Bute, after the first shock of rage and disappointment, began to accommodate herself as best she could to her altered fortunes and to save and retrench with all her might. She instructed her daughters how to bear poverty cheerfully, and invented a thousand notable methods to conceal or evade it. She took them about to balls and public places in the neighbourhood, with praiseworthy energy; nay, she entertained her friends in a hospitable comfortable manner at the Rectory, and much more frequently than before dear Miss Crawley's legacy had fallen in. From her outward bearing nobody would have supposed that the family had been disappointed in their expectations, or have guessed from her frequent appearance in public how she pinched and starved at home. Her girls had more milliners' furniture than they had ever enjoyed before. They appeared perseveringly at the Winchester and Southampton assemblies; they penetrated to Cowes for the race-balls and regatta-gaieties there; and their carriage, with the horses taken from the plough, was at work perpetually, until it began almost to be believed that the four sisters had had fortunes left them by their aunt, whose name the family never mentioned in public but with the most tender gratitude and regard. I know no sort of lying which is more frequent in Vanity Fair than this, and it may be remarked how people who practise it take credit to themselves for their hypocrisy, and fancy that they are exceedingly virtuous and praiseworthy, because they are able to deceive the world with regard to the extent of their means. (39.2)

It's interesting that Mrs. Bute does pretty much the same thing as Becky after Miss Crawley dies. Both women do their best to act like they got a bunch of money in the will. Becky does this overseas, so that Rawdon's credit doesn't run out, and Mrs. Bute does it in the country, so that people will think her daughters have a dowry. Mrs. Bute is frequently a shadow of Becky. Why make a middle-aged married woman an echo of our anti-heroine?

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