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A s the title sugests, this essay is an e#o'ovt to think about the relationshk between reading narrative and Eistenin'q to it. More particulariy, it is concerned with dweloping an understanding of "voice" and illustrating how voice functions as part of narrative discourse. Injuenced by Mikhail Bakhtin, I emphasize the connecfion between voice and ideology: to listen to narrative is, in part, to lisren to values associated m'th a given way $talking. Thackeray's Vanicy Fair provides a rich sitefar exploring voice because the Showman's vivtuoso perjomance is fascinating in itsegarzd revealing of nackeray's attitudes toward Victorian patriarchy. A s in the essay on The Waves, m y emphasis here is more on the textualphenomena and their shaping by an i q l i e d author than on readerly subjectivity, thou'qh once I move to evaluate the Showman's voices, m y ideological commitments as aJesh-and-blood reader become s&n$cant. llzejrst version o f this essay was wn'ttenfor a collection concerned with complicating our viavs of male writersJ relations to patriarcilzy, Out of Bounds: Male Voices and Gender(ed) Criticism, edited by Laura Claridge and Elizabeth Langland (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990). In that version I distinguished between m y rhetorical approach to Thackeray's discourse and what I called "one kind ofSeminist perspective." In this revision, I have eltmtnated that dflerenttatton because, for reasons I dtsctiss rn the rntroduction, rt now seems to me mrsleadtng. In looktv at vorce rhetorically, I am looking at tdeology, and m y evaluattons ofthat tdeology are vcry mlrch
let alone what makes one kind of voice more eEective than another. (1) Voice is ar much a social phenomenon as it is an that wherindividual one. style. no clear understanding of what constitutes voice. Consequently. VananifyFair provides fertile ground for investigating voice and its relation to ideolotjy as well as for exploring the role of voice in relation to other elements of narrative. My understanding of voice comprises four inte~elatedprinciples about language in use. leads him into numerous representations of and reflections on women in patriarchy. pluralism are others) that are frequently used but rarely defined with any precision. The Concept of Voice: Some Rheto~cal Pfinciples Voice is one of those critical terms ('?enre. m y rhetorical analysts and evaluatron t c ronststently t njomed by "one kind offemtarsf" rdeology. Just as there can be no utterance . something that interacts with other elements like character and action but that makes its own contribution to the communication oEered by the narrative. Thackeray's decision to survey the booths of Vanity Fair by charting the progress of Becky Sharp and Amelia Seaey. For these reasons. two very digerent women. irony.' I will extend the analysis by evaluating Thackeray's deployment of voice and by considering how my rhetorical and ideological commitments shape that evaluation. theme. I will ~~ndertake such an investigation and exploration here by first setting forth a rhetorical understanding of voice and then employing that understanding in the analysis oftwo passages whose gender politics seem to be significantly digerent from one another.tnJuenced by m y inferacttons unflzjmtntst theovy (and mnnyJlesh and blood Jemtnrstsj.' The understanding I propose here is dictated in large part by my purpose in defining it: I want to talk about voice as a distinct element ofnarrative. while his own virtuoso pedomance as the Showman of Vaniq Fair leads him to adopt many poses and to speak in many voices. The result is that we now have no commonly accepted meming for the term. This principle foUows from the observatior~ ever there is discourse there is voice.
In the case of. But for inferences about personality and ideological values. just as some styles are more distinctive than others so too are some voices. Voice is the fusion of style. For example. and values. voice. in adopting this principle.. Austen uses the similar style to emphasize their different voices. In one sense. (2) Though mediated through style.Gender Politirs in the Showman's Discourse 45 without style. There are markers of voice in diction and syntax. We recognize that voice not because we recognize the author of the letter but because as social beings we have heard that voice speak to us on other occasions. but the perception of voice also depends on infererices that we make about a speaker's attitude toward subject rnatter and audience (i. Mrs. in the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice. I am postulating that although voice is a tern] that seems to privilege speech over writing. a letter from the university registrar to the faculq stipulating that grades must be submitted by a certain date. Bingley as "a single man of large fortune. is nrore than style and in a sense is finally transstylistic. Mrs. there can be no utterance without v o i c e d t h o u g h . this might be true: the discourse may not be at all expressive of the registrar himself or herself. Bennet's speech.e. of course. their digerent . that what speaks is some bureaucratic machine." The similar style is spoken with digerent tones-the narrator's voice is playfully ironic. say. one might be tempted to say that there is no voice in the discourse. The same sentence structure and diction may carry digerent tones and ideologies-and therefore different personalities-while the same personality and ideology may be revealed through diverse syntactic and semantic structures. tone) and about the speaker's values. style is a necessaw but not a suEcient condition: by itself style will not allow us to distinguish among possibilities. But that is just the point: the letter does not signal the absence of voice but rather the presence of one voice rather than another. Bennet's is serious and admiring-and cormunicates diEerent values: the namator nlocks the acquisitiveness behind Mrs."he exan~ple also indicates that. tone. Bennet echoes the dictiori of the narrator's famous opening remark that a "single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want: of a wife" by referring to Mr. it is a concept for identi@-ing a feature of both oral and written Ianguage. as Bakhtin suggests. Style will reveal the register of a voice and sometimes its location in space and in time relative to the things it describes and to its audience.
46 Chapter 2 values arid personality. the voice o f a rlanrator can be contained withi11 the voice of an author. a request and a command can be spoken in the sarne voice. Booth and Mikhail Bakhtin (among numerous others) have amply demonstrated. when directed to the secretary. Austen changes the tone of the narrator's voice. as Shakespeare shows us through Lady Macbeth: "Come. "Could you please give me the docunlentation on that?" The illocutionary force of the sentence." AIthough the change in tone indicates a diEererence in the voice. (In fact. (3) As Wayne C . one of the defining features of hornodiegetic narration is that all such discrepancies must be communicated indirectly. this speech behavior will influence our perception of her voice. the voice of each utterance will still be the same. the consistency of the values expressed enables us to regard the difference as a xnodulation in the voice rather than the adoption of a whole new one. Imagirle an eventernpered berievolexlt nliddle manager who would say first to his supervisor and then to his secretary. to put it another way. the presence ofthe author's voice necd not be signaled by any direct statements on his or herpart but through some device in the nawator's lan<quag+or indeed thrord<qhsuch nonliquistic cities as the stnrcture afthe actiowfor conveying a discrepancy in values orjudgments between author arid narrator. locutionary and illocutionary acts both contribute to but do not detemirie our sense of voice. and. Austen's style and tone allow her to communicate the way . is that of a request. creating what Bakhtixl calls the situation of "double-voiced" discourse. Significantly. the illocutionary force is that of a c o m a n d . ""The business of her life was to get her daughters married. Bennet at the end of the chapter. when directed to the supervisor. A corollary of the principle that voice is more than style is that voice is also Inore than speech act or. If a speaker typically gives commands rather than making requests or extending invitations. unsex me here!" and "Out! Out! Damned spot!" In sum. its solace was visiting and news. T w o comrnands can be spoken in two digerent voices.) In the first sentence of Pvide and Prejudice. Nevertheless. Later. Provided that the nriddle manager conveys the same respect to each and the sarne understanding of the power hierarchy in the organization. spirits. in describing Mrs. the relation between style and voice is sirnilar to the relation between voice and speech acts.
like . "A11 right." he is using the style to bring two diR-erent social voices into conflict. also occur within the explicit syntax or semantics of arl utterance. consistency oft/oia is not necessaryfor its eflective use. That is. especially a narrating voice or a ""silent" author's voice. 1'11 go to hell. (2) Voice is qpically a part of narrative manner. providence was on our side. When Voltaire has a speaker say. When Huck Finn makes his famous declaration. our perception of the authorial voice may have less to do with style and tone than with the social values at work in the discrepancy between the voices. though niodulations withirl a voice will reveal more traits. "As luck would have it. The same holds true for the voices of characters in dialogue. but it need not have a mimetic function. In cases such as this one. we are moving voice away from the realm of style toward the realm of character. the voice of the narrator will be his or her only trait. part of the how of narrative rather than the what. voice exists as a trait of a speaker. the author's voice functions as a crucial third member ofthe chorus by establishing a hierarchy between these voices. of course. we thus place Huck's sincere resolution within a wider system of values that allows us to see his decision to accept damnation as a decision confirming his ethical superiority.Gender Pol~ticrE the Showman's Dtscaurst~ n she is undemining a literal reading. the rrarrator's voice is more likely to be one trait among many. then. but it need not be the basis for some full portrait of that speaker." there is lo thing in Huck's sincerely resolute voice to signal that Twain is double-voicing his utterance. In rrrany narratives. (1) Voice is an element of narrative that is subject to hequent change as a speaker alters tones or expresses different values. (4) Voice exists in the space between style and character. W e hear Twain's voice behind Muck's because we have heard and seen Twain's values earlier in the narrative. As we attribute social values and a personality to voice. can exist apart from character-as-actor. Whereas many nanratives require consistency of character for their egectiveness. In hornodiegetic narration. Two main consequences follow from these four principles. That is. The corollary of this point is that even as voice moves toward character. But voice. especially ones with heterodiegetic narrators. it rnaintaitls an i n portant diR-erence in its function. Voice has a mimetic dimension. In homodiegetic narratives. or as A author n double-voices a narrator's or character's speech. Double-voicirrg can.
The point again is that voice exists in the space bemeen style and character. This story is frequently (even ubiquitously) linked with gender issues: not only does the male nanrator comment on the careers of the women but those careers thenlselves expose the patriarchal structures as well as the vani~yof society. we cat1 see that Thackeray takes his two female characters. places them in the same setting but in digerent circumstances in the opening chapters. then sends them ofTitl digerent directions so that he might conduct a relatively comprehensive sumey of nineteenth-century society. Thus. it is typically a mechanism (sometimes a crucial one} for influencing its audience's responses to and understanding of the characters and events that are the nlain focus of r~arrative. voice could itselfbecome the focus of a specific narrative (arguably this situation obtains in Trirtram Shandy). Thackeray's purpose in the narrative is to expose the corldition of universal v a r l i ~ describes in the final paragraph: ""Ah! Vanitas be Vanitatem! Wihich of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his deT sire? or.48 Chapter 2 style. Me then reunites them at the end of the narrative as a way to achieve closure. though we shorrld expect that such an analysis will enrich significantly an understallding of the way any narrative achieves its egects. Thackeray illvents his dramatized male narrator and has hinl tell the story of the progress of two very diKerent women through a society that consistently reflects and reveals the ineradicable but multifarious vanity of its inhabitants. but more commonly it will be a means for achieving particular eEects. these two consequences of the principles move the concept back toward style. we need a fuller explanation of the context in which they are heard. Just as the first three principles in my account of voice move the coricept away from style and toward character. Broadly defined. Again speaking schematically.~ any other eleLike ment. having it. Some Functions o f the Sho an" Multiple Voices T o understand the functions of the Showman's voices. we cannot expect an analysis a/ voice to yield a comprehensive reading of most nawatives. is ~atisfied?"~o achieve this purpose. He uses Amelia to explore the workings of vaniq in the private .
In the case of Becky. although the characters move from an initial situation to a final one. thematic. Sometimes they appear to be autonomous beings for whom he wants us to feel deeply. and dependence on George first as a way to expose the vanity of George and those like him. from treating the . sometimes they are obvious artificial devices for making his thematic points. That is. however. and sometimes they are largely inciderital to the Showman's disquisitions about the workings of society.Wne consequence of this broad design is that it allows Thackeray to vary the way in which he treats his characters. Iater Thackeray tries to expose the rlegative side of these very same qualities as he shows how they ultinlately undemline Dobbin's estimation of her worthand the chance for their happiness together when he firially succeeds in n i a q i n g her. for the tnost part.Gender Polifrcs in rhe Showman's Discourse 49 spher-the realm of the home and the heart-and he uses Becky to realm of social explore those workitlgs in the public sphere-the climbing and social status. &om formality to informality. the principle controlling the linking of episodes is. One consequence of this narrative design is that it allows the Showman great freedom in his use and selection of voice: he can move from intinlacy to distance. unlike a novel by Jane Austen in which the significance of each episode derives from its consequerices for and interaction with later episodes. Although the stories of Becky and Amelia have clear beginnings. and ends. he takes the license away and emphasizes what has never been far Gom the foreground of the narrative: Becky's own vanity-driven life. In the case ofAmelia. and synthetic componerlts ofthe narrative. the situation (though not her character) is more complicated: he uses her constancy. Thackeray's narrative fluctuates the audience's attention between the mimetic. In other words. Thackeray uses Amelia and Becky to expose the vaniry of others and to exemplify certain vain behaviors. the procedure is efrective and straightfoward: he gives her a temporary license to succeed in her vain pursuits by playing on the greater vanity of others. nsiddles. and then once she has exposed that vanity in creatures rarlging from Miss Pinkerton to Lord Steyne. additive rather than integrative. love. Vanity Fair is built upon episodes that typically derive their sipificance from their contribution to the overriding theme of ubiquitous vanity. In keeping with his overriding thematic purpose.
Thackeray. Indeed. because of the additive structure and the length of the whole narrative. m a t causes young people to "come out. but that they may bring down some ""desirable" young man with those kding bows and arrows of theirs? What causes respectable parents to take up their carpets. and to wear Lincoln Green toxophilite hats and feathers. the Showman is the knowing source of the numerous ironies of the narrative discourse. does not comrnunicate to his audience behind the Showman's back. we have any right to blame her." but the noble ambition ofmatrimony? What sends them trooping to watering-places? What keeps them dancing till Gve o'clock in the morning through a whole mofial season?What causes them to labor at piano-forte sonatas. and to play the harp if they have handsome arms and neat elbows. it is almost incumbent upon Thackeray to take full advantage of that freedom and make the narrator's performance one source of our sustained interest in the narrative. I see the Showrnan as Thackeray's mouthpiece: the only distance between author and narrator is created by the audience's knowledge that the narrator is created. lades. illustrate rnany other transactions that go on bemeen Thackeray and his audience. in other words. but rather uses the protean Showman as the orchestrator of virtually all the narrative's eKects. set their houses topsy-tunry.50 Chapter 2 characters as puppets to treating them as people provided that the movement remains in the sewice of the thematic end.' The performances I will focus on here. As this way of talking about the narrative performances indicates. while not fully representative.' In chapter 3. and to learn four songs from a fashionable master at a guinea a lesson. for though the task of husband-hunting is generally. the Showman comments o n Becky's interest in Jos Sedley: d If Miss Rebecca Sharp had d e t e ~ n e in her heart upon making the conquest ofthis big beau. there was no one else in the wide world who would cake the trouble oEher hands. and that ifshe did not get a husband for herself. I don't think. recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her. and with becoming modesty. entrusted by young persons to their as. O n this reading. and spend a fihh oftheir year's income in baiI suppers .
in the depths of 11er kind heart.C ~ n t l e P o l i t i ~ the Shorvrnan's Discourse r in 51 and iced champagne? Is it sheer love oftheir species. as honest Mrs. the Shownlan speaks here in the sociolect of the g ~ i t e eupper middle class. already arranged a score oflittle schemes for the setdernent of her Amelia. For the most part. His diction is gellerally forntal. and. in "four songs from a fashionable master at a guinea a lesson. . more dramatically. and an unadulterated wish to see young people happy and dancing?Pslia! they want to many their daughters. in fact. the Shownlan offers a powerfrll indictment of courtship behavior in this maie-controlled society. One major consequence of this strategy is that while making his apologia for Becky. but one that he is i~lterested as much for what it generally illustrates. as. the Showinan also positions Ilimself at a considerable distance &om Becky: be calk her 'Miss Rebecca Sharp" at the outset. the voice appears to be considering her as a "case. there are signiricant modulations--." his sympathy does not overpower the distance. who was even rnare necessary for her tlmn for her f ~ e n d(28) . SecUey has.enter the genteel voice and. one that the Showman puts on to expose the lirnitations of the values associated with it. and even later when be speaks of her as "our beloved but unprotected Rebecca." In adopting his air of knowing gentility. He is someorre who knows and feels coml fortable in the social circuit of that class: the well-informed gentleman speaking politely but fimly-and with a certain air ofsuperiori'cy-to a group of women from the class. the genteel and fomal qualities of the voice are reinforced by the parallel structure of the rhetorical questions and their well-chosen concreteness. in Within this general sociolect.so significant. The Showman's strategy is twofold: he occasionally lets a certain aggressive element. so also had our beloved but unprotected Rebecca determined to do her very best to secure the husband. he temporarily shifis to a voice that is critical of the domiriarlt one and then lets this voice invade and subvert the dominant. that ever1 as we read we conre to see the domiriant voice as a pretense. As a result of the genteel stance and the cool distalice from Becky. for example." one that he is finally sympathetic to." Furthennore. but be will occasionally drop the register to something more familiar: ""mammas" or "take the trouble offher hands.
ant"igentee1voice strongly ironizes the new modulationand indeed. has arranged a score of little schemes for the settlement of her Amella. When he tells us that modthe task of husband-hunting is ""generally. his When the Showman ~nodulates voice fiom genteel to infonnal and atrectionate with his reference to "nmammas." The initid reference to husband-hunting as a "task" is echoed in the aggressive note that repeatedly creeps into the Showman's use of the genteel voice: ""what sends them trooping to watering-places?" " m a t keeps them dancing?" "What causes them to labour?" (It is worth noting here. in addition. When the genteel voice calls the business of the hunt ""dlicate matters. Sedley . men the prey." the earlier presence of the frank. In short. if only in passing. the whole clause in which it appears. that the real predators are those we usually call 'hammas. that the grarnmar of the passage suggests that "them" refers to "young people" but "young people" ac- .52 Chapter 2 The Showman adopts the genteel voice right away. but in the second half of the first sentence the voice momentarily drops into a different. franker register as the Showmarl nlentions "the task of husband-hunting. and with becom~ng esty. whether the daughters w ~ s h them to or not." Thrs realization in tum adds another layer of irony to the phrase "kind parent to anange these delicate matters. antigenteel voice of the earlier phrase. Moreover. . as we learn later when we are told that ""Mrs." We see." we register the discrepancy between this descriptio~land "the task of husband-hunting" and the corresponding conflict between the vdues associated with each. we infer that the "young persons" have no choice about ""entrusting" the hunt to their "nmammas": the m a m a s manage. everything he says in the rest of the sentence is now dotlbIe-voiced. entrusted by yourig persons to their mammas. " The phrase not only calls to mind the image of the social circuit as a jungle where women are the predators." we recognize the dispariq between the image of the hunt and the alleged modesty of those in the hunting party. . Although the Showman quickly regains his genteel voice. the rrse of "'delicate matters" privileges the antigenteel voice: his reference to "the task of husbandhunting" rnakes the phrase "delicate matters" an ironic euphemism. but also insists on the hunt as work rather than sport. undermined by the candid.
the Showman is overtly setting himself above his genteel audience to reject their pretense and speak a truth that they also know but don't usually adnlit. the purpose of which no one has even mentioned yet-nor has anyone apparently given any thought to what happens once the huriter has bagged her game. His interjection. The critique of "courtship" in the Fair reaches its high point in the final sentences of this passage as the Showman turns to answer his own questions about the motives for the behavior he describes. significantly. set their houses topsy-tuny. when the Showman slides smoothly from the genteel voice to the Ganker. 'Tsha!" followed by the direct asseaion. This shift then sets up the final statement as an apologia for Becky's behavior." marks the entrance into the passage of a third voice-a more honest. and spend a Gfih of their year's income?" The aggessive rlote is given more emphasis toward the end of this series of questions.") ""What causes respectable parents to take up their carpets.Gender Politics in the Showman's Discourse tualy means " " y o q women. antigenteel one of the first sentence. more direct voice than the genteel one that has been speaking so far. Sedley" and her . " h e y want to marry their daughters. with the new superior voice: "who was even more necessary for her than for her friend. With this third voice." Because the new voice is clearly superior to the dominaxlt one and because it is not ironized the way that the genteel one is (note dl the undercutting in the description of "honest Mrs. His reference to the young people wearing "Lincoln Green toxophilite hats and feathers" is parallel to the previous phrases about their Ieaming musical instruments. one that is convincing accordir~g the values associated both with the to genteel language he once again adopts-"so also had our beloved but unprotected Rebecca detemined to do her very best to secure the husbandw-and. But once the topic of archery is introduced through this description of their clothes. the Showman quickly appropriates the earlier hunting metaphor: what keeps them doing all these things "but that they may bring down some 'desirable' young man with those killing bows and anro\vs of theirs?'" The result is that the Showman strongly reinforces the subversion of el the social values inlplied in the dominant voice: These g e ~ ~ t e"yooug persons" and their ""mamas" are no better than prisoners of their patriarchally i q o s e d task.
then.""skemes"). position throughout the novel By rnsisting 011 both the hmitat~onsof and the constrairlts on Beckv's behamor. though it drops the pretences of the genteel voice. precrsely because she has "no kind parents. about whether the rhetorrcal setup of the passage works . the Showman I et me n o w probe that conclusion. the Showman oEers a crltlque without oEering an alternative I he power ofthe Fair 1s snch thdt vrrtrraily no orie can get oritslcle ~t T h e corollaq of this point has been well illustrated by the malysis of the passage the power of the patriar~hyis also often such that no one carr get outside least tentatively-that Thackeray's it It seems farr to conclude-at arialysrs of Vanity Fair 1r In part a crltique a f t h e pdtriarrlsy by one ofits own. by the light of t h e values aqsoc~atedwith the ii-ankest volce o f the passage. rnamn~a'srole) has bee11 exposed as itself ~oirstrained patnarchy Consequently." a husband is nlnre iieLessary for fser than for Amella Vet the presence o f t h e earlrer sr~bversior~ of the doml~lantvolLe and its values complicates thls apologia T h e case for Becky works oniy in terms of the values that w e have been made to question by the earlier irlteraction between the voices. the case does riot recognize how the very role that Becky "justifiably" by adopts (I e . what Becky 1s doing is n o dr@erent from what every other worngin In this jungle does. yes. the apologia has real force Yes. the superior vorce of the last few sentence5 of the passage IS ~tself tindercut. the apo1og1.r is uncon. it does not question the basrc assulnptiorrs and value5 of the uppermiddle-class social clrcuit Evaluating the Showman" Voices T h e interaction between thts superlor voice and the eariier. first by looking at some other elernentc of the chosen pasage. and at one more passage (albelt not w ~ t h s a r ~ ~ e the degree of attention to detall) T h e very posrtiorring o f the male voice 111 relation to the "ladies" addressed in the passage rarses a questron about the thorougi~rressof the critique. anttgentee1 one hlgl1ligl1ts an txllportarlt eEect of the passage that 1s characterirtlc of Thackeray'. at the novel more generally.cTlncing In thzs sense.
Jones at h ~ Cl~ib. the narrator-aus drence relatior~ship reinforces rather than undercuts the mesage conveyed throiiglr the vorces The passage. to be sure. In acldition to the qualities of wit. the mammas. and a willingt~ess to criticize. Dobbin. Jos. or whoever else George. thlt the address to "ladies" 1 nlade 111 the Showman's gens teel voice. the Showman" virtuosiq here itlvolves a fondrless for ironic one-upmansh~p his communlcatrcrn to us conres at the expense of his addressed audterzce of "l~dics We-male and fenkale readers al~ke--" are lnvlted to stand with him. even as the analyw ~nd~cates Thackeray'q cons~derable virtuosiv in the nlaniprllatio~lof voice. learning. first. lrke Becky. Becky. does not suggest that the ""ladies" see the hill crittque. this assumptior] 1 Itself called Into question In that respect. it takes on the assuinptlorl that the inan cdri tell the ""ld~ec"the tr~lth about thelr behav~orWhen we \ee that this voice doesn't have the tntth. to what we might call the nretavoice of the Showmarr. presupposes that they will agree with the supeit ~t rior voice of the final sentence5 But t l ~ presupposition does not mean that tire Showmarl rs talking down to then1 as rni1~i-i ~t suggests as that these ""ladles" ofgenteel society. brq frequently displayed penchallt for one-upnlanshtp at the expense of hrs cbaracten and hrs addressed audiences creates a problem for many flesh-arldblood readers who seek to join the aiitllor~al audrence The Invrtatlon to ~ t a n dw ~ t hthe Showrnan looklrig cIown on Amella. to cornplrnlent him and ourselves oil our superlor krlowledge as we look down on the Farr and those caught rn ~t Mthough there are places in the narratrve when the Sbownlarl indicates that he too can't escape the traps ofvanrty. it also suggests a potentially negative--or at Ieast rhetorically risky-side to that virtuosiy. Jre caught 111 the trap ofpatrlarchy Nevertheless.~stectd.against the ~rressage conveyed through the modulat~onof the vorces Note. s genteel ladles. the one t h ~ is tnost ui~cfercut the whole passage As that t In volce taker on arid reflect5 the values of the genteel soclety." This feature of the nletavoice obviously has . and the superlor male volce. The complex iriterplay of voices and their eEects leads us back to their source. the Showmars rrarrles rnakes such readers uncoinfortable: we feel that we're asked to participate in the metavoice's stxlugrless or snideness or superciliousness. intelligence. ri.
asks his readers all round. They look pretty g enough when they sit upon a rock. and it is labor lost to Iook into it ever so cun'ously. . ~ a n g i n their harps and combing their hair. Many instances could be cited to make these points. and beckon to you to come and hold the looking-glass. and sing. His most obvious limitations are that he does not follow through on his insights into the patriarchy's shaping of women's behavior and that he sotnetimes reveals his own complicity with the patriarchy. agreeable. And so. has he once forgotten the laws of politeness. flapping amongst bones. when Becky is out ofthe way. especially his ambivalent treatment of Amelia. and that the less that is said about her doings is in Fact the better. I ask. as the Showman gives the very picture he is praising himself for having suppressed. but above the water line. the author. down among the dead men. but it has an especially noteworof thy role in our efforts to assess Thackeray's attitude toward Victorian patriarchy. and we had best not examine the fiendish man'ne cannibals. who has certainly some vices. the syren &sappears and dives below. diabolically hideous and slirny. we soon see that the Showman is hardly Jane Eyre's brother under the skin. almost prissy voice to compliment himself for his decorum. and has any the most squeamish inmlordist in Vanity Fair a right to cry fie? When. revelling and feasdng on their wretched pickled victims. In describing t h s syren. has not everything been proper. or curling round corpses. and see it writhing and avirling. coaxing and cajoling. He uses a refined. (617) The interplay among voices is characteristically corliplex here. but when they sink into their native element." I defy any one to say that our Becky. and then.Chapter 2 consequences for any evaluatior~ it. the water of course grows turbid over her. but perhaps the clearest evidence is in the famous passage in chapter 64 describing Becky as "syren. with modest pride. depend on it those memaids are about no good. whet1 talking about what he has not done. and decorous. has not been presented to the public in a pedecdy genteel and inoirensive rnanner. sinGng and smiling. When we Iook at the novel more broadly than we have so far. however. arid showed the monster's hideous tail above water? No! Those who like nray peep down under waves that are pretty transparent. be sure that she is not particularly well employed.
are there good-or at least plausible-reasons. within the working of the narrative itself. In linking Becky this way. sometimes he uses Becky and Amelia as instruments for exposing vanicy in others or in the structures goveming the . Thackeray's early understanding of how Becky's behavior can be seen as shaped and constrained by the patriarchy seenls to have va~lished. F u ~ h e m o r ethe snideness with which the whole maneuver is carried out makes the Showman's voice not sinlply one that is conlplicit with the values of patriarchy but one that is actively perpetuating them. one that ought to be kept in mind as a severe limit on any unqualified claim that Thackeray's critique of . the Showman is perfomirlg an all-toofamiliar misogynist maneuver.Gender Pofrtlrs itz the S h o w a n ' s Discourse 57 he adopts a melodramatic voice that likes to dwell on the seamier side of things. The melodramatic voice is privileged here: the chief egectct of the passage is to convey the Showman's clear condernnation of Becky as a hideous female creature. and murderous. Since his aim is to show the multifarious and ubicluitous operations of vaniq. to put the question another way.Instead. Thackeray's sliding away from the critique ofpatriarchy in his represerltation of his female characters is worthy of further thought. At the same time. why his attitude toward the patriarchy would seem to shift from one point in the ~larrative allother? to Thackeray is a moralist as well as a social analyst. liendish. Why should his represerltation be inconsistent in this way? Or. The alternation bemeen these voices is clear and striking throughout but perhaps riowhere more so than when it occurs within he the same sentence: &'has once hrgotten the laws of politeness. the Showman enjoys himself at Becky's expense and asks us to do the same as be links her with a whole group of creatures whose evil derives in part from their femaleness and especially from their female sexuality. Vanity Fair is also a critique of patriarchy.'" The refined voice acts as a cover under which the Showman asserts that Becky is ugly. and be insists on locating some instances of vanity and its related sins-as well as its opposite virtues-in i~ldividuals themselves: corlsider his treatment ofJos Sedley on the one side and of Dobbin (for most of the narrative) on the other. and showed the monster's hideous tail above the water?" The hierarchy established between the voices brings the snideness ofthe Showman's metavoice into play.
we need to be clear about the nature of our evaluative claims. of course. More generally. If Thackeray used his female protagonists only as instruments of exposure. the andysis suggests that listening to the SI-rowman'svoices deepens our engagenlerit with Thackeray's rranative to the point that we must talk back to it-and that talkirig sho~lld turn provoke more in listening. that in the execution of his critique of the operations of vanity in Victorian society. If condenlnirlg the entire book for the misogyny of the Becky-assyrerl passage (and some others) would be a rash judpment. At the same time. then overlooking or dismissing that ideoloffy would be an evasion of the evaluative task. there is no necessary link between his location of vanity within individual women and the kind of misogyny that enlerges in the passage we have just examined. Furthemore. an assessment ofa text's value to us now. then his critique of patriarchy would be stronger t workand more consistent. It is sensible and important to relnenlber that we canrlot expect Thackeray or any other author to escape entirely the i d e o l o ~ of his or her time and place and that. on this last point. we ought not to evaluate voices and ideologies solely accordirlg to their confonniry with our own. an act ofevaluatiorl is. and at other times as exenlplars of certain manifestations of the problem. as I have done here. . b ~ i his demonstration of the onlniprese~lt ings of vanity would be weakened. I thirik that a defense based on an appeal to historical and cultural digerence is only partially successful. It is one thirig to object to Thackeray's larger narrative project as we might do if we concluded that he should have written a consistent critique of patriarchy. he hinnself sometimes critiques patriarchy. At the same time. to some extent at least. therefore. It is quite another thing to say. At the same time. sometimes trades in misogynistic stereotypes.58 Chapter 2 society. so our own values do matter.