austen hotspot e bronte hotspot e bronte hotspot dickens hotspot dickens hotspot dickens hotspot dickens hotspot eliot hotspot eliot hotspot eliot hotspot hardy hotspot novel page hotspot novel page hotspot novel page hotspot novel page hotspot syllabus hotspot syllabus hotspot


I have listed a number of passages about the role of women in Vanity Fair, for you to consider in deciding what Thackeray's attitude is, toward women in general and toward Amelia in particular, who fits the stereotypical image of woman and of the Angel in the House.

Passage 1

The narrator is discussing the jealousy and condescending attitude of women toward Amelia, who is greatly admired by men. He also discusses the intimidating treatment she receives from the Miss Osbornes and their governess Miss Wirt, who all wonder what George sees in her.

          How is this? some carping reader exclaims. How is it that Amelia, who had such a number of friends at school, and was so beloved there, comes out into the world and is spurned by her discriminating sex?  My dear sir, there were no men at Miss Pinkerton's establishment except the old dancing-master; and you would not have had the girls fall out about him? When George, their handsome brother, ran off directly after breakfast, and drifted from home half-a-dozen times a week, no wonder the neglected sisters felt a little vexation. When young Bullock (of the firm Hulker, Bullock & Co., Bankers, Lombard Street), who had been making up to Miss Maria the last two season, actually asked Amelia to dance the cotillion, could you expect that the former young lady should be pleased? (Chapter XII, page 130)

Passage 2

The narrator is describing the early days of Becky's marriage and her successful efforts in pleasing Rawdon and hiding her opinion of his abilities. What is Thackeray's attitude toward even the "best" women's hypocrisy? How does this passage apply to Becky and to Amelia as wives?

The best of women (I have heard my grandmother say) are hypocrites. We don't know how much they hide from us: how watchful they are when they seem most artless and confidential: how often those frank smiles which they wear so easily, are traps to cajole or elude or disarm–I don't mean in your mere coquettes, but your domestic models, and paragons of female virtue. Who has not seen a woman hide the dulness of a stupid husband, or coax the fury of a savage one? We accept this amiable slavishness, and praise a woman for it: we call this pretty treachery truth. A good housewife is of necessity a humbug; and Cornelia's husband was hoodwinked, as Potiphar was–only in a different way. (Chapter XVII, page 197)

Passage 3

The narrator is referring to Miss Briggs and Miss Crawley's abusive treatment of her,

all which attacks the poor companion bore with meekness, with cowardice, with a resignation that was half generous and half hypocritical–with the slaving submission, in a word, that women of her disposition and station are compelled to show. Who has not seen how women bully women? What tortures have men to endure, comparable to those daily repeated shafts of scorn and cruelty with which poor women are riddled by the tyrants of their sex? Poor victims! (ChapterXXXIII, page 354-5)

Passage 4

Amelia has been blaming herself for selfishness in not giving up Georgy to his grandfather and thereby denying him an education, pleasures, and luxuries. The narrator comments:

          I know few things more affecting than that timorous debasement and self-humiliation of a woman. How she owns that it is she and not the man who is guilty; how she takes all the faults on her side; how she courts in a manner punishment for the wrongs which she has not committed and persists in shielding the real culprit. It is those who injure women who get the most kindness from them–they are born timid and tyrants and maltreat those who are humblest before them. (Chapter L, pages 590-1)

Passage 5

Amelia's grief is submerged or lessened by her nursing her dying mother.

          The illness of that old lady had been the occupation and perhaps the safeguard of Amelia. What do men know about women's martyrdoms? We should go mad had we to endure the hundredth part of those daily pains which are meekly borne by many women. Ceaseless slavery meeting with no reward; constant gentleness and kindness met by cruelty as constant; love, labour, patience, watchfulness, without even so much as the acknowledgment of a good word; all this, how many of them have to bear in quiet, and appear abroad with cheerful faces as if they felt nothing. Tender slaves that they are, they must needs be hypocrites and weak. (Chapter LVI, page 674).

Passage 6

Amelia accepts money from Osborne, after giving up Georgy to his wealth. The narrator comments on her lack of pride, which stems from her being naturally simple and needing protection, her suffering, poverty, humility and privations since her marriage. Many women similarly sacrifice themselves.

O you poor secret martyrs and victims, whose life is a torture, who are stretched on racks in your bedrooms, and who lay your heads down on the block daily at the drawing-room table; every man who watches your pains, or peers into those dark places where the torture is administered to you, must pity you–and–and thank God that he has a beard.... if you properly tyrannize over a woman, you will find a h'p'orth of kindness act upon her and bring tears into her eyes, as though you were an angel benefiting her. (Chapter LVII, pages 678-9)

Passage 7

The narrator describes Amelia's routine of watching for Georgy and tending the sickbed,

to suffer the harassment and tyranny of querulous disappointed old age. How many thousands of people are there, women for the most part, who are doomed to endure this long slavery?–who are hospital nurses without wages–sisters of Charity, if you like, without the romance and the sentiment of sacrifice–who strive, fast, watch, and suffer, unpitied, and fade away ignobly and unknown.
          The hidden and awful Wisdom which apportions the destinies of mankind is pleased so to humiliate and cast down the gender, good, and wise, and to set up the selfish, the foolish, or the wicked. Oh, be humble, my brother, in your prosperity! Be gentle with those who are less lucky, if not more deserving. Think, what right have you to be scornful, whose virtue is a deficiency of temptation, whose success may be a mere change, whose rank may be an ancestor's accident, whose prosperity is very likely a satire. (Chapter LVII, pages 679-80)

Passage 8

The narrator describes Amelia's kindness to her father, her taking care of him, and her listening to the same stories over and over as "affectionate hypocrisy." (680)


 Day 1

Thackeray, Vanity Fair. pp. ix-170
Overview of Thackeray and Vanity Fair
The Narrator, the Reader, and Ambiguity
The Structure
Thackeray's Illustrations: A Discussion

 Day 2 Vanity Fair. pp. 171-326
Attitude Toward Women
 Day 3 Vanity Fair. pp. 326-488
 Day 4 Vanity Fair. pp. 489-662
Becky's Innocence
 Day 5 Vanity Fair. pp. 663-822
The Ending
Amelia: The Ending
Becky: The Ending
Dobbin: The Ending
The Gentleman and the Lady
Album of All the Vanity Fair Drawings

October 2, 2005