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Money And Matrimony In Vanity Fair

1987 words - 8 pages

Money and Matrimony in Vanity Fair 

In his novel Vanity Fair, William Thackeray exposes and examines the vanities of 19th century England. His characters pursue wealth, power, and social standing, often through marriage or matrimony. The present essay looks at Thackeray's use of the institution of marriage in Vanity Fair to comment on how these vanities often come at the expense of the true emotions of passion, devotion, and love. Parental Ambitions

In Vanity Fair, money is central to nearly all of the characters' relationships. Thackeray connects England's merchant families, the lesser nobility, and the high aristocracy through money and matrimony, and parents are frequently the chief negotiators in these business transactions. Mr. Osborne is perhaps the novel's most avaricious parent; money and social eminence are all-important to Mr. Osborne, and he is willing to sacrifice his children's happiness to connect his family name with these vanities. He forbids his daughter Jane to marry an artist with whom she has fallen in love with, swearing to her "that she should not have a shilling of his money if she made a match without his concurrence" (p416). For Mr. Osborne love has little to do with matrimony, and marriage is simply a transaction that should increase family wealth and prestige. This concept was by no means uncommon during the 19th century: the rise of industrialism and colonialism meant an influx of wealth into England, and marriage was seen by many as a way of either rising in station or cementing business ties. This latter theme is seen in Mr. Osborne's interference in his son George's relationship with Amelia. Their courtship is arranged, the "two young people [having] been bred up by their parents" (p38) for love and marriage. George and Amelia's relationship is encouraged because of the business connection between Mr. Sedley and Mr. Osborne, and their feelings are not really an issue to be considered. As Mr. Sedley's fortunes fall, Mr. Osborne questions George if the match is not now beneath the Osborne family's station: "Why shouldn't you marry higher than a stockbroker's daughter, George, that's what I want to know?" (p124). George replies that it is a "family business," and that "you and Mrs. Sedley made the match a hundred years ago" (p 124). The terminology of business is frequent in discussions of marriage in Vanity Fair, and money, not love, is the motive for matrimony. Mr. Osborne states these feelings very clearly to his son: "Unless I see Amelia's ten thousand down you don't marry her" (p 126). Mr. Sedley's misfortunes are a convenient way for Mr. Osborne to force the cancellation of the engagement, for he sees an opportunity to marry his wealth (which was only acquired through Mr. Sedley's facilitation) through George to Miss Swartz, a young heiress with connections to the aristocracy. It is important to notice that these aspirations are Mr. Osborne's and not George's, for George ignores his father's order to...

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