Good morning and welcome! This week's guest diarist, Sally Foster, had a little trouble with her computer so she asked me to upload this diary for her. Everything that follows this introduction is Sally's authorship. So take another sip of coffee, wander past the squiggle, and enjoy!
William Makepeace Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair almost two hundred years ago. I first read it when I was in my twenties. I've always loved books and reading and often find a book that I read over and over. Vanity Fair was that book for a long time. In fact, my friends were so impressed by my devotion to it that they bought me a fancy leather copy with gold-rimmed edges and satin endpapers (this book suffered some damage at the hands of my two-year-old years later, but I still have it). As a result of said damage, one of my favorite quotes is missing, but I remember most of it:
[Paraphrasing]..."and so I say to you, young people just starting out in the world, 'Compliment everyone, and if you can't compliment them in person, compliment them to those who will repeat your words.' As (a great man) never walked his estate without pushing acorns in the earth with his stick: An acorn costs nothing, but it may grow into a prodigious bit of timber."
These are indeed words to live by. And how about this:
"By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, son, what good you may do. I knew once a gentleman and very worthy practitioner in Vanity Fair (that is, society), who used to do little wrongs to his neighbors on purpose, and in order to apologise for them in an open and manly way afterwards--and what ensued? My friend Crocky Doyle was liked everywhere, and deemed to be rather impetuous--but the honestest fellow."
And, "Who was the blundering idiot who said that 'fine words butter no parsnips?' Half the parsnips of society are served and rendered palatable with no other sauce...Nay, we know that substantial benefits often sicken some stomachs; whereas, most will digest any amount of fine words, and be always eager for more of the same food."
While Thackeray is often cynical, sending up the hypocrisies of "polite society" or "vanity fair" (which is, I believe, a reference to The Pilgrim's Progress), his advice is very good and worth adhering to.
So, as a young person starting out, I tried to exercise these habits (not always successfully), but it was very helpful to me.
Vanity Fair follows the progress of two young ladies, one blonde and one dark. This was a common plot in the fiction of the times, and the blonde was always the "good" one. Thackeray made his blonde the "bad" one, the scheming Becky Sharp, later Crawley, who rises and falls in the book. Her counterpart, Amelia Sedley, later Osborne, is dark and a little tragic. Neither is of a piece, however, and their stories are compelling. For those who like stories (and all you "Downton Abbey" freaks), I recommend Mira Nair's excellent and beautiful movie version. Somehow, she manages to get in nearly all the characters (and there are a bunch) and the clothes and locations are magnificent. It's even pretty sexy for a nineteenth-century story.
But, you ask, how did this book change my life? Well, Becky and her husband are returning from Europe, where he lately fought at Waterloo and, in order to return to England, they have to settle their debts. Becky offers them ready cash at $.50 on the dollar. At twenty-five, this was a stratagem that I had never heard of and it served me well in my lean years (and when I practiced law.) Ready cash at $.50 on the dollar will settle nearly any debt.