by William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The argument stands thus--Osborne, in love with Amelia, has asked an old friend to dinner and to Vauxhall--Jos Sedley is in love with Rebecca. Will he marry her? That is the great subject now in hand. We might have treated this subject in the genteel, or in the romantic, or in the facetious manner. Suppose we had laid the scene in Grosvenor Square, with the very same adventures--would not some people have listened? Suppose we had shown how Lord Joseph Sedley fell in love, and the Marquis of Osborne became attached to Lady Amelia, with the full consent of the Duke, her noble father: or instead of the supremely genteel, suppose we had resorted to the entirely low, and described what was going on in Mr. Sedley's kitchen--how black Sambo was in love with the cook (as indeed he was), and how he fought a battle with the coachman in her behalf; how the knife-boy was caught stealing a cold shoulder of mutton, and Miss Sedley's new femme de chambre refused to go to bed without a wax candle; such incidents might be made to provoke much delightful laughter, and be supposed to represent scenes of "life." Or if, on the contrary, we had taken a fancy for the terrible, and made the lover of the new femme de chambre a professional burglar, who bursts into the house with his band, slaughters black Sambo at the feet of his master, and carries off Amelia in her night-dress, not to be let loose again till the third volume, we should easily have constructed a tale of thrilling interest, through the fiery chapters of which the reader should hurry, panting. But my readers must hope for no such romance, only a homely story, and must be content with a chapter about Vauxhall. (6.1-2)
It's interesting that Thackeray is pretending that different literary genres would be set on different rungs of the social ladder. Of course, we know that this story actually will at some point feature lords and even a marquis and still will "provoke delightful laughter." At the same time, it will have moments of "thrilling interest" without being set in the servants' chambers. Why then this aside about how tone and rank have to go together?
"Why should I spare him?" Osborne said to his friend's remonstrances, when they quitted the invalid [Jos], leaving him under the hands of Doctor Gollop. "What the deuce right has he to give himself his patronizing airs, and make fools of us at Vauxhall? Who's this little schoolgirl that is ogling and making love to him? Hang it, the family's low enough already, without HER. A governess is all very well, but I'd rather have a lady for my sister-in-law. I'm a liberal man; but I've proper pride, and know my own station: let her know hers." (6.46)
Nice, right? This is our second sharp look at exactly who this George Osborne fellow is. First, Becky catches him looking at himself admiringly in the mirror, and now he's a little too high and mighty to have her for a relative.
But this did not alter Mrs. Blenkinsop's opinion of Miss Sharp. "I don't trust them governesses, Pinner," she remarked to the maid. "They give themselves the hairs and hupstarts of ladies, and their wages is no better than you nor me." (6.73)
This kind of becomes a universal theme in British literature – where do governesses fit in the social ladder? They're kind of like servants, but not really. They're not really moms or wives, but kind of. Check out Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, and Mary Poppins for some examples of this ambiguity.