by William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The sight of the very great company of lords and ladies and fashionable persons who thronged the town, and appeared in every public place, filled George's truly British soul with intense delight. They flung off that happy frigidity and insolence of demeanour which occasionally characterises the great at home, and appearing in numberless public places, condescended to mingle with the rest of the company whom they met there. One night at a party given by the general of the division to which George's regiment belonged, he had the honour of dancing with Lady Blanche Thistlewood, Lord Bareacres' daughter; he bustled for ices and refreshments for the two noble ladies; he pushed and squeezed for Lady Bareacres' carriage; he bragged about the Countess when he got home, in a way which his own father could not have surpassed. He called upon the ladies the next day; he rode by their side in the Park; he asked their party to a great dinner at a restaurateur's, and was quite wild with exultation when they agreed to come. [...] "Well, my dear Blanche," said the mother, "I suppose, as Papa wants to go, we must go; but we needn't know them in England, you know." And so, determined to cut their new acquaintance in Bond Street, these great folks went to eat his dinner at Brussels, and condescending to make him pay for their pleasure, showed their dignity by making his wife uncomfortable, and carefully excluding her from the conversation. This is a species of dignity in which the high-bred British female reigns supreme. To watch the behaviour of a fine lady to other and humbler women, is a very good sport for a philosophical frequenter of Vanity Fair. (28.16-20)
Thackeray is at his best when he does these super-detailed analyses of how people act toward each other. Notice how many factors are at play here. 1) Place: the Bareacres family will speak to George in Brussels, though they are totally going to deny his existence in London. 2) Gender: Count Bareacres can hang out with a wider range of people than the women in the family without damaging his rep. His womenfolk go along because he goes. They in turn can talk to George but make sure to snub Amelia, who seems slightly lower class than he is. 3) Money: George must pay to even get them to speak to him, but they retain their ability to be condescending to prove their higher status. Such a crazily delicate balance!