When People Still Knew Their Bunyan

Thackeray writes that Miss Maria Osborne was “attached” to Mr. Frederick Augustus Bullock; “but hers was a most respectable attachment, and she would have taken Bullock Senior just the same, her mind being fixed – as that of a well-bred young woman should be – upon a house in Park Lane, a country house at Wimbledon, a handsome chariot, and two prodigious tall horses and footmen, and a fourth of the annual profits of the eminent firm of Hulker & Bullock; all of which advantages were represented in the person of Frederick Augustus.” The reasonable assumption that the modern, emotional sense of the word “attached” postdates Vanity Fair gives us a threefold emphasis on the respectability of these mercenary proceedings – with an implicit claim that only slightly different mercenary proceedings were not after all “respectable”.

The respectability of being attached to Frederick purely as a means to an end seems to be contrasted with the digging implement that Thackeray cannot call a spade; to count as “well-bred”, one’s fixation of mind on wealth and fortune must follow certain rules of procedure, transmitted by family example. It may not, for example, seek remuneration by the hour or from multiple sources simultaneously. Thackeray’s implication is that it is the style in which one sells oneself that makes all the difference between good and bad breeding. The “should be” is surely the same kind of half-irony as we find in Austen.

What, we may wonder, would this author make of our modern world? He would see people making twenty times as much fuss about this thing called “love” and at the same time trying twenty times as hard to pretend that money is not on anyone’s mind at all – not even in a well-bred fashion. Even the aristocracy has to pretend to be “in love”, lest the brutish readers of the tabloids become upset, while relationships between entertainers are organised by publicists. Translate this into the language of Thackeray’s period who can.

Posted on January 7, 2011 at 18:47 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, What Is This Thing Called Love?

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