Critical Essays The Use of Names in Vanity Fair


Some of the names have symbolic significance and some apparently are used for humor or irony's sake. For certain occupations the author chooses "killing" names: Lance, the surgeon; Mrs. Briefless, the barrister's wife; Sir Thomas Coffin, the celebrated hanging judge; Dr. Ramshorn, the preacher; Mr. Bawler, minister of the Darbyites. The Miss Scratchleys fight; Mary Box is always thumping her small brother; Mr. Hammerdown is the auctioneer; Quill is a cashier; Dipley is a candlemaker; Miss Grains is the brewer's daughter; Pestler is an apothecary; Mr. Quadroon writes on the slave question.

To portray characteristics there are names such as Mr. Smirk, Miss Toady, the Reverend Mr. Crisp, and the Reverend Mr. Flowerdew. Mrs. Flamingo dresses in a crimson silk gown. Lord Methuselah is an old man, and Mrs. Highflyer is a social climber. Lady Slingstone is a notorious gossip. Madame de St. Amour would be affectionate, while Madame de Belladonna might be quite deadly. Becky outwits the brilliant Lady Stunnington and the witty Mr. Wagg.

The situation, at the time the name is mentioned, frequently augments the satire. Becky is riding with Sir Pitt to Queen's Crawley. Rain is pouring. The towns along the way are Leakington, Mudbury and Squashmore.

Lord Steyne (stain is the symbolic meaning) lives in Gaunt House. Wealthy, honored, and bored, he fills his life with sensuous pleasure, but actually his existence is empty, as Gaunt indicates. Becky Sharp is not named Sharp by accident. Neither are the Crawleys, who use every means to crawl up the social and monetary ladder.

Some names are apparently just for fun: Lord Heehaw, Mrs. Hook Eagles, Swanky, Trotter, Lady Vere Vane, Mrs. Rougemont, Miss Hawky. Bowls is the butler; Heavytop, is the colonel; Knuckles is the private; Cackle is the assistant surgeon; Ensigns Spooney and Stubble are young officers; Mr. Chopper bandies the Osbornes' money; Deuceace is a gambler.

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