The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly, kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.
The narrator makes this remark in the context of introducing the reader to Becky Sharp. He discusses that she is a difficult, unkind young woman. In turn, the world treats her unkindly. His perspective is that in life, one gets what one gives, and thus, it is Becky's fault that she has a hard life. This plays out for the entire novel. She schemes constantly, but every time she schemes, she is either caught or her plan fails. The novel ends with her depending on funds she acquired from someone else and scorned by her friends and family.
Are not there little chapters in everybody's life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?
The narrator discusses the importance of the visit to Vauxhall. He remarks that despite its brevity and seeming triviality, important events will happen in this chapter that have an effect on the rest of the story. He is specifically referring to Joseph's drunken display, which inevitably prevents the marriage between Jos and Becky, and which incites Becky's hatred of George.
This quote is especially representative of Thackeray's style of writing. The book was written in serial format, which meant that chapters were published separately in sections, and so each section had to contain important, suspenseful, plot-changing elements in order to hold a reader's attention. In some ways, each element of the series would have to stand on its own as a piece of literature.
But my kind reader will please to remember that this history has "Vanity Fair" for a title, and that Vanity Fair is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions. And while the moralist, who is holding forth on the cover (an accurate portrait of your humble servant), professes to wear neither gown nor bands, but only the very same long-eared livery in which his congregation is arrayed: yet, look you, one is bound to speak the truth as far as one knows it, whether one mounts a cap and bells or a shovel-hat; and a deal of disagreeable matter must come out in the course of such an undertaking.
This passage follows Rebecca's letter to Amelia. It reveals the author's intent in writing Vanity Fair. He promises the unadulterated truth, even if that truth is unpleasant. And he does promise that his revelations will be unpleasant. His title is revealing, and Rebecca's letter, in which she focuses on silly, petty and generally insignificant criticisms, is also revealing.
Vanity Fair--Vanity Fair! Here was a man, who could not spell, and did not care to read--who had the habits and the cunning of a boor: whose aim in life was pettifogging: who never had a taste, or emotion, or enjoyment, but what was sordid and foul; and yet he had rank, and honours, and power, somehow: and was a dignitary of the land, and a pillar of the state. He was high sheriff, and rode in a golden coach. Great ministers and statesmen courted him; and in Vanity Fair he had a higher place than the most brilliant genius or spotless virtue.
This quote characterizes Sir Pitt Crawley, Rebecca's employer. Because he is of the nobility, the author warns that people will hold him in high regard in Vanity Fair, even though he possesses absolutely no virtues outside of his social rank. This is just another passage that condemns the society Thackeray ruthlessly satirizes in Vanity Fair.
These money transactions--these speculations in life and death--these silent battles for reversionary spoil--make brothers very loving towards each other in Vanity Fair.
Money is one of the primary motivators in Vanity Fair. Becky's manipulations all inevitably aim at achieving wealth for herself. The Crawleys' dealings with Aunt Matilda all focus on her abundant estate. George and Rawdon, the novel's playboys, both suffer from the vice of gambling. The quest for material gain inevitably leads many of the characters to engage in shameful activity, such as showing false affection for those disliked.
I am very fond of Amelia; I adore her, and that sort of thing. Don't look angry. She's faultless; I know she is. But you see there's no fun in winning a thing unless you play for it.
George discusses his relationship to Amelia with Dobbin. The reader can tell from this passage that George cares only for the chase when it comes to women, and that he is not interested in a serious, settled marriage with Amelia. This section also highlights the great distance between George's expectations and Amelia's.
Oh, thou poor panting little soul! The very finest tree in the whole forest, with the straightest stem and the strongest arms, and the thickest foliage, wherein you choose to build and coo, may be marked for what you know, and may be down with a crash ere long. What an old, old simile that is, between man and timber.
This section emphasizes Amelia's infatuation with George and how short-sighted it is, considering that George does not have the same feelings for Amelia. The danger of nesting in a tree that only seems sturdy is an apt metaphor for Amelia's investment in George, since he does not intend to stay faithful to her. He seems the sturdy tree because on the surface he is handsome, well-off, charming, and acts as if he adores her. He further deceives her by returning to her and spontaneously marrying her, merely because he feels good about himself for doing it and because it angers his father.
There is a great deal of dramatic irony where George is concerned, because the reader knows all along that he is one of those trees that looks sturdy but is surely one that will soon crash beneath her. Amelia believes until almost the very end of the book that he loved her and that he is a good man, while the reader discovers his true nature as early as the scene involving George in his barracks, embarrassed by Amelia's emotional letters.
Be cautious then, young ladies; be wary how you engage. Be shy of loving frankly; never tell all you feel, or (a better way still), feel very little. See the consequences of being prematurely honest and confiding, and mistrust yourselves and everybody. Get yourselves married as they do in France, where the lawyers are the bridesmaids and confidantes. At any rate, never have any feelings which may make you uncomfortable, or make any promises which you cannot at any required moment command and withdraw. This is the way to get on, and be respected, and have a virtuous character in Vanity Fair.
The employment of "virtuous" in this section is peculiar, because Thackeray uses the word in a way that seems opposite to how we would normally perceive it. The author implies that in this book, values are turned on their heads.
What had happened? Was she guilty or not? She said not; but who could tell what was truth which came from those lips; or if that corrupt heart was in this case pure? All her lies and her schemes, all her selfishness and her wiles, all her wit and genius had come to this bankruptcy.
Rawdon has just left Becky after discovering all of the money she has been hording over the past ten years. She realizes that all of her schemes have come to nothing, and that she has only a few trinkets to her name. This can probably be considered the climax of the book, because Rawdon finally sees her for who she is, and Becky is forced to come to terms with her crimes.
But instead of feeling remorse for what she's done, the reader finds Becky insisting upon her innocence. The author asks his readers to consider whether this is a sincere belief, or whether Becky is simply being herself and perpetuating the lies upon which she has built her life.
Which of us is there can tell how much vanity lurks in our warmest regard for others, and how selfish our love is? Old Osborne did not speculate much on the mingled nature of his feelings, and how his instinct and selfishness were combating together. He firmly believed that everything he did was right, that he ought on all occasions, to have his own way--and like the sting of a wasp or serpent his hatred rushed out armed and poisonous against anything like opposition. He was proud of his hatred as of everything else. Always to be right, always to trample forward, and never to doubt, are not these the great qualities with which dullness takes the lead in the world?
Old Osborne is angry because his son is buried in a common cemetery, even though Dobbin arranged to have him buried at that location because George had mentioned it as a nice place. John Osborne, as usual, thinks of nothing but pride. He does not mourn the state of his relationship with his son when he died. He does not mourn the widowed wife and fatherless son.
Perhaps, it is his pride that acts as a defense in such a trying situation. The narrator mentions that feelings were combating one another. Perhaps John Osborne successfully distracts and consoles himself by being ruthlessly and aggressively righteous and particular. The narrator remarks that these are qualities with which he has made something of himself in the world. Indeed, he dismissed his friend without a thought because it challenged his reputation. It makes sense that he would dismiss his son in a similar context.
I wonder is it because men are cowards in heart that they admire bravery so much, and place military valour so far beyond every other quality for reward and worship?
George is excited about going to war. Thackeray implicitly calls George a coward for his treatment of Amelia. Yet he is recklessly enthusiastic about risking his life to fight in battle. Here, the author emphasizes the great cost it is to these characters to engage honestly with one another, by contrasting it with what should be the greater cost, sacrificing one's life in war.
It became the fashion, indeed, among all the honest young fellows of the --th, to adore and admire Mrs. Osborne. Her simple, artless behaviour, and modest kindness of demeanour, won all of their unsophisticated hearts; all which simplicity and sweetness are quite impossible to describe in print. But who has not beheld these among women, and recognised the presence of all sorts of qualities in them, even thought they say no more to you than that they are engaged to dance the next quadrille, or that it is very hot weather?
This is yet another of the author's subtle jabs at Amelia's personality. Although she is framed as one of the kindest and sincerest characters in the novel, the author criticizes her for her innocent simplicity and paints her in striking contrast to the witty and artful Becky. He also criticizes the men of the regiment for their unquestioned acceptance of this young woman, who is immediately met with approval because of George's reputation.
Vanity Fair Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Vanity Fair is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.