Study Guide

Vanity Fair Language and Communications

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Language and Communications

In Vanity Fair, there are masters of one language, masters of many languages, and those whose lack of education puts them perilously close to illiteracy. Individuals who are able to find many different modes and styles of communicating, and can make themselves understood by as wide a variety of social, political, and economic ranks as possible will have an edge. Again, Thackeray's main protagonist shines in her ability to express herself in an almost unlimited number of ways.

Questions About Language and Communications

  1. What are methods of communication do characters use in the novel? Are some methods more effective than others? What makes communication effective from the point of view of the speaker? Of the recipient?
  2. Some characters are given accents or eccentric speech patterns, although not at all uniformly (for instance, Mrs. O'Dowd's Irish accent is reproduced while Major O'Dowd's is not). Whose speech gets marked in this way? Whose doesn't? What effect does this have on the reader?
  3. Find a passage where an indirect or nonverbal type of communication is used – for instance, Becky throwing the dictionary out the carriage window, or the Countess of Bareacres sending successively higher levels of people to bargain with Becky for horses. Recast the scene with a totally different method of communication. What happens to the scene? What does it say about the characters that they choose to speak or not speak?

Chew on This

It is important for a character not simply to be able to communicate in different styles, but to be able to interpret the looks, gestures, allusions, and jokes of others in the correct fashion. By stressing this skill, the novel allies itself with its readers, who are its interpreters.

The novel tries out different ways to use letters. There are letters of revelation (like Miss Pinkerton's bio of Becky for Mrs. Bute), letters of characterization (for example, Sir Pitt's note to Becky about meeting him), letters used to con their recipients (such as the letters from "Rawdon" that Becky sends to Miss Crawley), and letters used as narration for the novel (see Becky's long letter to Amelia about Queen's Crawley). So important is written communication that the resolution of the plot hinges on a note from George to Becky. Ultimately the novel favors writing over performing in its ranking of artistic or creative pursuits.

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