War in Vanity Fair

The narrator clearly criticizes the characters for their uncaring, flippant attitude towards the looming war. The first time he mentions the war he says, “and about the war that was ensuing… people were going not so much to a war as to a fashionable tour” (263). However, he later dismisses the war, and the characters going to it, as easily as the characters do. The narrator mocks the characters’ vanity since they only care about what is happening in their own lives and not in the greater world. So, why does he do the exact same thing?

The narrator could be bringing both himself and the reader down to the level of the characters. We, like the main characters, don’t care about what is happening in the war. We care about what is happening with the characters and their unimportant lives. The readers are more interested in the day-to-day lives of others, rather than a war with important consequences.

The narrator could also just be criticizing the characters further. Since the characters did not go “farther with the [soldiers] than to the city gate” (293), neither will we. The characters are so wrapped up in themselves that they completely forget the combatants after they have left (except Amelia). The narrator, as the “Manager of the Performers,” has to stay with them in Vanity Fair, instead of pursuing worthier subjects.



Source: Thackeray, W.M. Vanity Fair. 1st. New York: WW Norton& CO., 1994. 1-689. Print.

The Importance of War In Vanity Fair

Thackeray’s tale about the private lives of English families mingles with details of the war occurring at the same time, but why? Why would he go into such detail about events that aren’t central to the story? He is obviously mirroring the two plots, encouraging the reader to make a comparison, but to what conclusion? I believe that he either wants the one to parody and mock the other conflict or he uses one as a foil to increase the value of the other. In chapter thirty-eight, Thackeray goes from discussing the trifles of his characters, to the history of the war, and directly back into the “business of life” (277). It could be mocking the concerns of the characters, as the characters treat their private lives and love “as if these were the great topics of the world” (277). Yet, the actual description of the war could be seen as much more trifling, since it is only selfish greed: “he had jobbed to himself Poland, and was determined to keep it: another had robbed half Saxony, and was bent upon maintaining his acquisition.” (277). Maybe Thackeray jests at the self importance of his characters, but perhaps he is commenting on human nature, that even our “biggest” conflicts are simply manifestations of the same nature with which we live every aspect of life, and therefore of the same importance.

Source: Thackeray, W.M. Vanity Fair. 1st. New York: WW Norton& CO., 1994. 1-689. Print.

Should the reader prefer George or his father?

On whose side is the narrator – George or his father? Earlier in the novel, it seems that the narrator mocks George for complaining after his father disowns him. However, in chapter thirty-five, the narrator’s tone becomes a bit more ambiguous. Either the mocking is redirected toward George’s father or the narrator is sincerely supporting the father’s actions and still picking on George. Statements like, “No father in all England could have behaved more generously to a son, who had rebelled against him wickedly”, complicate the issue greatly (357). With whom should we, as readers, sympathize? Who is more noble – George or his father? The narrator may actually be mocking the father in this section based on a later passage that describes him refusing to help Amelia because he is “a man of his word” and “he had sworn never to speak to that woman or to recognize her as his son’s wife” (358).  Consequently, the reader immediately sees the father as a ridged, pompous man whose pride is so great that he is unwilling to help Amelia even when informed of her pregnancy. In this passage, the narrator may be praising George’s father for his honor even when under immense emotional pressure or he is mocking the fathers’ pride in thinking of his own interests above even those of his unborn grandchild. Ultimately, both conclusions can be rationalized.

Amelia and Becky

What purpose does the conflict between Becky and Amelia serve throughout the novel? Is it merely to highlight the differences between the two, to paint Amelia as the nice, lovely girl that everyone wants and Becky as the heartless cruel wretch willing to do anything to climb the social ladder? Or, does it serve a literary purpose of plot advancement? The relationship between Becky and Amelia is complex and even malicious at times but the two of them continue to be friends, or rather acquaintances, despite the conflict and tension between them.

In Chapter XXXI, the conflict between Becky and Amelia seems to come to a climax when Amelia is nearly worried to death about the safety of George and Becky is contemplating how she could climb the ladder further if Rawdon died. The climax occurs when Amelia lashes out at Becky and says “His (George) love was everything to me. You knew it, and wanted to rob me of it. For shame, Rebecca; bad and wicked woman – false friend and false wife” (309). This quote blatantly shows Becky as the person she is and points out that Amelia has been hurt by her actions. This seems to show that the relationship between Becky and Amelia serves as a contrasting marker by which to judge their morality.

Connections between Carlyle and Marx–the Plight of the Working Class

What are the similarities and differences between Thomas Carlyle’s “Past and Present” and Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto”?

As I was reading this chapter of Carlyle’s work, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Marx’s “Manifesto” and could not help but to draw some connections. While I don’t think Carlyle was a communist by any means, I think it is very interesting to note his similarity to great and famous authors of his time, and after doing a quick google search, I discovered that Carlyle’s “Past and Present” was published in 1843, while Karl’s “Manifesto” was published in 1848, meaning the authors were writing about the exact same time period and probably saw the same problems with society and the working conditions of the people around them. One thing that both authors seem to be concerned with (other than the conditions of the working poor) is the idea of isolation in the workplace, Carlyle states that “Isolation is the sum-total wretchedness to man” and Marx explains in his “Manifesto” that people are being isolated in the workplace, and are thus becoming sub-human. Another similarity between the two works is the idea that workers need to rebell against the harsh working conditions they’re experiencing, when Carlyle addresses the workers in his work he states “ye noble Workers, warriors in the one true war,” by likening their plight to war it is clear that he implies the need for a revolution, and of course Marx’s “Manifesto” strongly encouraged a complete and total revolution.

The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844- Friedrich Engels

After reading chapter three of Engels’ The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844, the question of the interpretation of division between the bourgeoisie and the working class came to mind.  Does Engels want us to interpret the division between these two classes as more of a physical divide, as in the division of the neighborhoods, living conditions, and behaviors?  Or is this more of a mental divide- a division that is only made available by attitudes and beliefs?  On the one hand, the majority of this chapter is purely description of the horrible living conditions of the working class.  Also, the chapter begins with descriptions of the neighborhood and says that “the town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working people’s quarter or even with workers….”  These descriptions may make readers begin to think that there is no real divide between the bourgeoisie and the working class; only that of a difference in living conditions and areas.  Conversely, that same quote could be interpreted as meaning that the upper class needs to be separated from the working class because of their attitudes and beliefs.  Furthermore, Engels’ says that money and making profits are more important to the upper class.  In discussing the upper class, Engels says “…with sole reference to the highest possible profit…and with this reflection the bourgeoisie is comforted.”  So the question is: do attitudes and beliefs or simply living conditions form the true divide between the upper class and the working class?  Or could it be a combination of both?  These are questions to ponder when reading and interpreting The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844.

Thomas Carlyle, Victorian Era

In Thomas Carlyle’s writing of “Captains of Industry,” he muses on the English working middle class’s power in creating their own future, their own government and ultimately their driving of the fate of the world. This claim seems lofty, but Carlyle makes many large connections in this pattern of thought.

Carlyle uses passionate talk to vividly illustrate the middle class working man as a noble “warrior” and as a “Captain of the World” through his influence in industry, which everyone depends on. After following the rabbit trails of his claim, one must ask, can this really be done? Is the simple workingman really only a few steps away from controlling the way the world turns economically and socially? Carlyle attempts to lay out the path to controlling one’s own destiny by setting up the following simple path of logic: government is run and made of the people it represents, who better understands the “immense Problem of Organizing Labour” than those in the middle of it; therefore, those working in the industries of the mid 19th century are the leaders of industry, which affects every person universally, and ultimately it is the industry workers (the middle class) who will lead the world through government. Giant leap, huh?

Carlyle makes a comment meant to inspire his readers, but it also gives some insight to the unreality of such a magnanimous dream:

“The Leaders of Industry, if Industry is ever to be led, are virtually the Captains of the World…”

He states, “…if Industry is ever to be led…” This can be read to mean that he is prodding his readers on as if to say, “the reigns are open, someone grab hold and lead the way.” But could this quote not simultaneously reveal that there is no single group or person who could guide universal Industry? What person or work force could lead all of industry? He encourages his readers by affirming them as fierce “warriors,” “fighters,” and men of “nobleness” that can save the country. Carlyle’s flowery flatteries are filled with too much smooth talk with a lot of promise, but provide no plan to promote the middle class working man up the social ladder.

Characterization in Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor

Why does Henry Mayhew compare the sweeper-boy’s features to that of an Indian? Describing the young sweeper he interviews, Henry Mayhew writes, “his face, from a roundness of feature and the complexion of dirt, had an almost Indian look about it; the colour of his hands, too, was such that you could imagine he had been shelling walnuts.” What does Mayhew accomplish (or endeavor to accomplish) with this description? If Mayhew wrote the piece to bring awareness to the plight of poor children in London, the description seems almost glamorous—exotic. The Indian reference highlights the boys “otherness” and associates it with the “good-looking lad”. It gives the boy a sort of earthy quality. The “roundness” of his features takes away from the preconceived notion of poor boys as malnourished. This association with Indian features could be used to highlight the poor boy’s wildness—he is uncivilized, migrant, tumbling to make a living. Or, rather, his Indian features could be used to highlight his separation from middle-class culture. The boys have created a distinct subculture complete with slang, a particular argot, and hierarchy. Mayhew could be characterizing the boy’s life as something completely foreign with different ways of living and surviving. I suppose a more pertinent question is do these depictions do justice to the plight of the chimney-sweepers? Or does it further separate them from middle-class culture and decrease liability?

Henry Mayhew – London Labour and the London Poor

How important was the role of parents in Victorian times, according to Mayhew’s article? At the time, if one found themselves in a wealthy family, parents provided many different roles in the children’s lives. For a female, the parent helped choose who the girl was to marry, as well as introduce her to the society that she would soon become a part of. For a son, parents provided the source of their money through inheritance, as well as helped connect him to a job through the networking that was used at the time. If one was not in an upper class family, the role of the parent changed drastically. Parents still were the heads of the household, especially the man, and while the father was away working the mother stayed and raised the children by herself. But as seen in the article, if something was to happen to one parent, a wholly negative change could happen to the family. The reason that this child, who’s story is being told, is forced to be a chimney sweep was that his father began beating him and his sister told him to leave and make something of himself. Even though the example is a negative effect of the parent, it is seen that the role of parents was important in Victorian England.

The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844–Friedrich Engels

Society’s Secret

After perusing Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, modern readers will inevitably ask: why is the working class treated in such terrible ways?

“the working people’s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle class…”

What is it about the working class that brings such disdain to upper class?  The working class is, indeed, like society’s secret.  Engels gives readers insightful observations about their conditions.  The neighborhoods of the working class are shoddy and filthy; streets are filled with muck and garbage, and the air is scented with obscene odors and fumes.  It is quite obvious that the conditions of the working class are greatly disjointed from the elevated conditions of the upper classes.

“…they suffice to conceal from the eyes of the wealthy men and women of strong stomachs and weak nerves the misery and grime which form the complement to their wealth.”

It is the latter part of Engels’s sentence which reveals a possible answer to the treatment of the working class.  The wealthy are not unaware of these conditions; often does man choose ignorance over action in a situation that makes him uncomfortable.  The pursuit of wealth is more attractive to the wealthy than to admit the conditions of the working class, and it is the working class, ironically, that “complements” the riches of the upper classes.  Admitting the conditions also means acknowledging their own attitudes and lifestyles: a gluttonous and selfish quest for money.  Society is not prepared for such a realization.


A Chimney Sweep’s Lot- Victorian England’s Stratified Society

In Henry Mayhew’s “Boy Crossing-Sweepers and Tumblers,” we see an interesting relationship between the young, “remarkably intelligent” chimney sweep and the rest of society. This lad has developed code names for when different people walk by with the tiniest hope that perhaps they’ll give him money. How is it that people in that society are so desensitized to seeing a poor child begging on the street? Even the couples with children appear to stroll past the chimney sweep without a second glance. However, and most alarming, is the relationship between the chimney sweeps and the police officers. “If there’s a police coming, [they] musn’t ask for money” and one of the officers is even “up” to them. Are the police so removed from society that they are opposed to the innocent, those who need them most? Do the police represent authority, so distant and detached, and the children represent the innocence of society, neglected and abused? It seems to me that those who are supposed to be protectors are only working to protect one type of person and one type of life- the upper class. The rest, like the young chimney sweep, are left to fend for themselves and fight against the existing system. And, on another note, why is this child able to speak of his abuse and sorrows in such an eloquent, rational way? It seems that the lot of the poor comes as no surprise to them. Through the chimney sweep, Mayhew presents a severely stratified society in which one class is either ignorant or bothered by another and where people are of less value than money.

Morality in the Victorian Period-Henry Mayhew

Times have progressed since William Blake published The Chimney Sweeper, but has morality not? In “Boy Crossing-Sweepers and Tumblers” by Henry Mayhew (London Labour and the London Poor), the pathetic predicament of the urban poor is exemplified through the profile of an “intelligent lad.” The text describes an isolated society formed by these child laborers, complete with “forms of trial…law…and a kind of language.” Although this lowly sphere of humanity regularly comes into contact with that of the upper class, those of good fortune view them with disdain, at best throwing them some change if their antics are deemed amusing.  Does the text suggest that the wealthy feel any sympathies for boys forced into begging because of misfortune outside of their control? Unlike Blake’s portrayal of the urban poor, which indicated that upper-class churchgoers tried to use the promise of eventual salvation to satisfy any moral discomfort, Mayhew’s account implies that any such unease has been abandoned in favor of simply ignoring the crossing-sweepers’ squalid conditions. This is solidified in Vanity Fair by Mr. Osborne’s reaction to the sudden misfortune of the Sedleys, to whom he should feel forever indebted. Instead of repaying debts and trying to help the family, or at the very least extending sympathies, he orders his family to cut off all communication with them. Are his actions unique in Victorian society? Unfortunately, the novel suggests they are not; his desire to distance himself from those who have slipped into a lower class accurately mirrors the blatant absence of morals swirling in the society around him. Perhaps even those who do have a sense of decency shove it aside in a desire to echo the values deemed acceptable by the majority.