Study Guide

Miss Swartz in Vanity Fair

By William Makepeace Thackeray

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Miss Swartz

Miss Swartz is a rich, orphaned, Jewish-Jamaican heiress who falls into the clutches of the Osborne family. Her portrayal is pretty hard to stomach. We are meant to find her innate vulgarity – and the fact that this non-white person wants to be a part of English society – really funny, because that's how racism and anti-Semitism rolled back in the day. Still, Thackeray was actually much more progressive about these issues than most of his peers. The girl is definitely ludicrous, but she is never presented without empathy or digs at the surrounding society that is happy to take her money without actually accepting her. In a way, she is transformed into a kind of barometer of bigotry for everyone who comes into contact with her.

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