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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Philosophical Viewpoints: Life as a Theater Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

As the Manager of the Performance sits before the curtain on the boards and looks into the Fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him in his survey of the bustling place. There is a great quantity of eating and drinking, making love and jilting, laughing and the contrary, smoking, cheating, fighting, dancing and fiddling; there are bullies pushing about, bucks ogling the women, knaves picking pockets, policemen on the look-out, quacks (OTHER quacks, plague take them!) bawling in front of their booths, and yokels looking up at the tinselled dancers and poor old rouged tumblers, while the light-fingered folk are operating upon their pockets behind [...] What more has the Manager of the Performance to say?--To acknowledge the kindness with which it has been received in all the principal towns of England through which the Show has passed, and where it has been most favourably noticed by the respected conductors of the public Press, and by the Nobility and Gentry. He is proud to think that his Puppets have given satisfaction to the very best company in this empire. The famous little Becky Puppet has been pronounced to be uncommonly flexible in the joints, and lively on the wire; the Amelia Doll, though it has had a smaller circle of admirers, has yet been carved and dressed with the greatest care by the artist; the Dobbin Figure, though apparently clumsy, yet dances in a very amusing and natural manner; the Little Boys' Dance has been liked by some; and please to remark the richly dressed figure of the Wicked Nobleman, on which no expense has been spared, and which Old Nick will fetch away at the end of this singular performance. (Introduction.1-4)

Why does the novel begin this way? What happens to our sense that the characters are real if they are dismissed as puppets and dolls? Is the narrator of a novel like the stage manager of a play?

Quote #2

At the little Paris theatres, on the other hand, you will not only hear the people yelling out "Ah gredin! Ah monstre:" and cursing the tyrant of the play from the boxes; but the actors themselves positively refuse to play the wicked parts, such as those of infames Anglais, brutal Cossacks, and what not, and prefer to appear at a smaller salary, in their real characters as loyal Frenchmen.
(8.58)

There is a theme running through the novel having to do with the distinction between real life and performance, and how the two often blend together. Here there is literally no difference, as the French actors are afraid that by playing negative characters, their own personalities will be somehow tainted. Is it odd that the audience doesn't seem to realize that putting on a persona is not the same thing as adopting that persona in real life?

Quote #3

"If [Rawdon] had but a little more brains," [Becky] thought to herself, "I might make something of him"; but she never let him perceive the opinion she had of him; listened with indefatigable complacency to his stories of the stable and the mess; laughed at all his jokes; felt the greatest interest in Jack Spatterdash, whose cab-horse had come down, and Bob Martingale, who had been taken up in a gambling-house, and Tom Cinqbars, who was going to ride the steeplechase. When he came home she was alert and happy: when he went out she pressed him to go: when he stayed at home, she played and sang for him, made him good drinks, superintended his dinner, warmed his slippers, and steeped his soul in comfort. The best of women (I have heard my grandmother say) are hypocrites. We don't know how much they hide from us: how watchful they are when they seem most artless and confidential: how often those frank smiles which they wear so easily, are traps to cajole or elude or disarm--I don't mean in your mere coquettes, but your domestic models, and paragons of female virtue. Who has not seen a woman hide the dulness of a stupid husband, or coax the fury of a savage one? We accept this amiable slavishness, and praise a woman for it: we call this pretty treachery truth. A good housewife is of necessity a humbug; (17.23)

Wow. What makes for a good wife is being totally fake all the time and making sure her husband never finds out the truth? Talk about "life as theater."

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