Study Guide

Vanity Fair Jealousy

By William Makepeace Thackeray

Jealousy

Has the beloved reader, in his experience of society, never heard similar remarks by good-natured female friends; who always wonder what you CAN see in Miss Smith that is so fascinating; or what COULD induce Major Jones to propose for that silly insignificant simpering Miss Thompson, who has nothing but her wax-doll face to recommend her? What is there in a pair of pink cheeks and blue eyes forsooth? [...] It is quite edifying to hear women speculate upon the worthlessness and the duration of beauty. (12.2)

Another unkind moment about women and their innate jealousy of each other. But then again, if marriages are contracted in the manner of business arrangements, of course competing merchants are going to run each other down.

"What sort of a person is this Miss Sharp, Firkin? I little thought, while enjoying my Christmas revels in the elegant home of my firm friends, the Reverend Lionel Delamere and his amiable lady, to find a stranger had taken my place in the affections of my dearest, my still dearest Matilda!" (14.24)

Briggs is probably the novel's most pathetic character. She is employed as a companion – which is kind of like a governess, except for old people. She is abused, kicked around, and stepped on by Miss Crawley. And after all that, she has to sit back and watch Becky become Miss Crawley's favorite. Do we feel bad for laughing at the affected speech patterns that show signs of the terrible, terrible poetry she must have written and published?

Captain Rawdon got an extension of leave on his aunt's illness, and remained dutifully at home. He was always in her antechamber. (She lay sick in the state bedroom, into which you entered by the little blue saloon.) His father was always meeting him there; or if he came down the corridor ever so quietly, his father's door was sure to open, and the hyena face of the old gentleman to glare out. What was it set one to watch the other so? A generous rivalry, no doubt, as to which should be most attentive to the dear sufferer in the state bedroom. Rebecca used to come out and comfort both of them; or one or the other of them rather. Both of these worthy gentlemen were most anxious to have news of the invalid from her little confidential messenger. (14.32)

There are really no normal father-son relationships in the novel. Osborne is obsessed with and lives vicariously through his son. Sedley is ashamed of and then becomes pathetically dependent on his son. Here, Rawdon and Sir Pitt feel sexual jealousy toward each other, both with good reason, as they each know the other's reputation with the ladies. But still, ew.

When Sir Pitt Crawley heard that Rebecca was married to his son, he broke out into a fury of language, which it would do no good to repeat in this place, as indeed it sent poor Briggs shuddering out of the room; and with her we will shut the door upon the figure of the frenzied old man, wild with hatred and insane with baffled desire. (16.49)

The novel unsurprisingly values beauty and youth, so the idea of an old man being this crazed with lust is meant to be an unpleasant image.

[W]ith a purple choking face, [Mr. Osborne] then began. "How dare you, sir, mention that person's name before Miss Swartz to-day, in my drawing-room? I ask you, sir, how dare you do it?"

"Stop, sir," says George, "don't say dare, sir. Dare isn't a word to be used to a Captain in the British Army."

"I shall say what I like to my son, sir. I can cut him off with a shilling if I like. I can make him a beggar if I like. I WILL say what I like," the elder said.

"I'm a gentleman though I AM your son, sir," George answered haughtily. "Any communications which you have to make to me, or any orders which you may please to give, I beg may be couched in that kind of language which I am accustomed to hear."

Whenever the lad assumed his haughty manner, it always created either great awe or great irritation in the parent. Old Osborne stood in secret terror of his son as a better gentleman than himself; and perhaps my readers may have remarked in their experience of this Vanity Fair of ours, that there is no character which a low-minded man so much mistrusts as that of a gentleman. (21.35-39)

Osborne has worked all his life to make a gentleman of his son, but when George actually starts acting like one, he doesn't like what he sees. George takes on not just the outward qualities of a gentleman – good looks, good manners, and money – he also sometimes busts out the whole "honor" thing. This is extremely threatening to Osborne, most likely because honor and smart business practices don't really mix. When George talks about his gentlemanly honor, Osborne feels his son is overstepping him socially and cannot help but be envious of his creation.

"Talk about kenal boats; my dear! Ye should see the kenal boats between Dublin and Ballinasloe. It's there the rapid travelling is; and the beautiful cattle. Sure me fawther got a goold medal (and his Excellency himself eat a slice of it, and said never was finer mate in his loif) for a four-year-old heifer, the like of which ye never saw in this country any day." And Jos owned with a sigh, "that for good streaky beef, really mingled with fat and lean, there was no country like England."

"Except Ireland, where all your best mate comes from," said the Major's lady; proceeding, as is not unusual with patriots of her nation, to make comparisons greatly in favour of her own country. (28.11-12)

Mrs. O'Dowd is a wonderful character, and her reverse jealousy of England is one of the hilarious stand-bys in the novel. No matter what comes up in conversation, she is bound to insist that its Irish counterpart is bigger, faster, and generally better in every way. But she does all of this so calmly and unemotionally that she is kind of the antithesis of jealousy.

She gave George the queerest, knowingest look, when they were together, a look which might have been interpreted, "Don't you see the state of affairs, and what a fool I'm making of him?" But he did not perceive it. He was thinking of his own plans, and lost in pompous admiration of his own irresistible powers of pleasing.

The curses to which the General gave a low utterance, as soon as Rebecca and her conqueror had quitted him, were so deep, that I am sure no compositor would venture to print them were they written down. They came from the General's heart; and a wonderful thing it is to think that the human heart is capable of generating such produce, and can throw out, as occasion demands, such a supply of lust and fury, rage and hatred. (29.35-36)

Here yet again is George not understanding what's happening around him. He doesn't notice General Tufto's crush on Becky, and he doesn't catch her hinting about what's going on either. Meanwhile, Becky knows how to play the General's jealousy like a finely tuned instrument (nowadays she'd be called a tease). The novel is full of these sexually frustrated old men.

It must not be imagined that Mr. Pitt Crawley's artifices escaped the attention of his dear relations at the Rectory at Queen's Crawley. Hampshire and Sussex lie very close together, and Mrs. Bute had friends in the latter county who took care to inform her of all, and a great deal more than all, that passed at Miss Crawley's house at Brighton. (34.15)

Thackeray's power of understatement, the double negative ("must not be imagined" that Pitt's doings "escaped" notice), and the "dear" make this really funny. He's basically saying, "Did you think Mrs. Bute had written off the money? Think again. She's crazy and has spies everywhere."

Pitt was in the room with Miss Crawley when the lad [James Crawley] was announced, and looked very blank when his name was mentioned. The old lady had plenty of humour, and enjoyed her correct nephew's perplexity. She asked after all the people at the Rectory with great interest; and said she was thinking of paying them a visit. She praised the lad to his face, and said he was well-grown and very much improved, and that it was a pity his sisters had not some of his good looks; and finding, on inquiry, that he had taken up his quarters at an hotel, would not hear of his stopping there, but bade Mr. Bowls send for Mr. James Crawley's things instantly; "and hark ye, Bowls," she added, with great graciousness, "you will have the goodness to pay Mr. James's bill."

She flung Pitt a look of arch triumph, which caused that diplomatist almost to choke with envy. Much as he had ingratiated himself with his aunt, she had never yet invited him to stay under her roof, and here was a young whipper-snapper, who at first sight was made welcome there. (34.28-29)

Like Becky, Miss Crawley enjoys toying with men's jealousy. Obviously she has no sex appeal to exploit, so she has to rely on her fat bank account instead. It ends up amounting to the same kind of thing, though – the pleasure of seeing someone squirm with envy.

[Amelia's] sensibilities were so weak and tremulous that perhaps they ought not to be talked about in a book. I was told by Dr. Pestler (now a most flourishing lady's physician, with a sumptuous dark green carriage, a prospect of speedy knighthood, and a house in Manchester Square) that her grief at weaning the child was a sight that would have unmanned a Herod. He was very soft-hearted many years ago, and his wife was mortally jealous of Mrs. Amelia, then and long afterwards.

Perhaps the doctor's lady had good reason for her jealousy: most women shared it, of those who formed the small circle of Amelia's acquaintance, and were quite angry at the enthusiasm with which the other sex regarded her. For almost all men who came near her loved her; though no doubt they would be at a loss to tell you why. She was not brilliant, nor witty, nor wise over much, nor extraordinarily handsome. But wherever she went she touched and charmed every one of the male sex, as invariably as she awakened the scorn and incredulity of her own sisterhood. I think it was her weakness which was her principal charm--a kind of sweet submission and softness, which seemed to appeal to each man she met for his sympathy and protection. (38.17-18)

Amelia creates jealousy of a different sort. She is the permanent damsel in distress whom men tend to want to save, much to their wives' chagrin. Sadly, though (or maybe not?), Amelia doesn't really understand her powers and so can't benefit from their effects. In this, she is not very well-equipped for the world of Vanity Fair.