Critical Essays Irony in Vanity Fair


Thackeray's irony takes a wide range — sometimes biting, sometimes playful, but always pertinent. A sample of comment on money follows: "I for my part, have known a five-pound note to interpose and knock up a half-century's attachment between two brethren; and can't but admire, as I think what a fine and durable thing Love is among worldly people." "What a charming reconciler and peacemaker money is!" "The good quality of this old lady has been mentioned . . . She had a balance at her banker's which would have made her beloved anywhere."

When Becky and Rawdon look for George in order for Rawdon to gamble with him, the author remarks, "I hope the reader has much too good an opinion of Captain and Mrs. Crawley to suppose that they ever would have dreamed of paying a visit to so remote a district as Bloomsbury, if they thought the family whom they proposed to honour with a visit were not merely out of fashion, but out of money, and could be serviceable to them in no possible manner."

Women come in for a good share of Thackeray's sarcasm. He has his tongue-in-cheek as he describes Becky's need of a mother. "All she wanted was the proposal, and ah! how Rebecca now felt the want of a mother! — a dear, tender mother, who would have managed the business in ten minutes . . ." — "All old women were beauties once, we very well know."

Miss Pinkerton writes Mrs. Bute that Miss Tuffin is sweet, young, eighteen, and therefore, probably not suitable. She illustrates Thackeray's idea that "natural jealousy . . . is one of the main principles of every honest woman." Mrs. Bute is reluctant to forgive the begging Miss Horrocks. "But those who know a really good woman are aware that she is not in a hurry to forgive, and that the humiliation of an enemy is a triumph to her soul." Mrs. Bute, in her treatment of Miss Crawley ". . . ground down the old lady in her convalescence in such a way as only belongs to your proper-managing, motherly, moral woman."

Becky's friendship with Lady Jane is such that ". . . these two ladies did not see much of each other except upon those occasions when the younger brother's wife, having an object to gain from the other, frequented her. They my-loved and my-deared each other assiduously, but kept apart generally . . ."

In ironical comments on society and life in general, Thackeray lets the reader know that even those in modest circumstances love their children. Dobbin writes his mother ". . . who was fond of him, although she was a grocer's wife and lived in a back parlour in Thames St."

Captain Dobbin makes conversation ". . . like a consummate man of the world . . . some topic of general interest such as the opera . . . or the weather — that blessing to society."

Gossips have not changed since Vanity Fair — "The tartwoman hints to somebody, who took an affidavit of the fact to somebody else, that there was a great deal more than was made public regarding Mr. Crisp and Miss Sharp . . ."

Of deaths and funerals, Thackery comments, "Could the best and kindest of us who depart from the earth, have an opportunity of revisiting it, I suppose he or she . . . would have a pang of mortification at finding how soon our survivors were consoled . . ."

Of weddings, he says, "After three or four ceremonies, you get accustomed to it, no doubt; but the first dip, everybody allows, is awful." And of the fighting in Belgium, he says, "For a long period of history they have let other people fight there."

Thackeray's characterizations are often ironic. The rich Miss Crawley says of herself, Rebecca, and Rawdon: "'We're the only three Christians in the county my love,' in which case it must be confessed that religion was at a very low ebb in the county of Hants." George broke up Becky's marriage to Joseph and "she loved George Osborne accordingly." Miss Crawley "showed her friendship by abusing all her intimate acquaintances to her new confidante (than which there can't be a more touching proof of regard)."

Joseph's eating is "the delightful exercise of gobbling." As an invalid, he takes two-thirds of the bottle of champagne. Mr. Sedley says that if Joseph should receive word of the death of the rest of the family, he would say "Good Gad!" and go on with his dinner.

Mr. Osborne's disposition has suffered because ". . . he has not been allowed to have his own way. To be thwarted in this reasonable desire was always very injurious to the old gentleman . . . " Maria Osborne Bullock ". . . felt it her duty to see her father and sister as little as possible."

Mr. Osborne called kicking a footman downstairs a "hint" to leave. Lord Steyne says his wife is as gay as Lady Macbeth and calls his home a "temple of virtue." Lady Fits-Willis is of the "best people." Her patronage helps Becky. The lady "asked her to her own mansion, and spoke to her twice in the most public and condescending manner . . . The important fact was known all over London that night . . ." At Vauxhall "our young people made the most solemn promises to keep together . . . and separated in ten minutes afterwards."

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