Vanity Fair"the old gentleman pronounced these aristocratic names with the greatest gusto. Whenever he met a great man he groveled before him, and my-lorded him as only afree-born Briton can do. he...
"the old gentleman pronounced these aristocratic names with the greatest gusto.
Whenever he met a great man he groveled before him, and my-lorded him as only a
free-born Briton can do. he came home and looked up his history in the Peerage; he introduced his name into daily conversation; he bragged
about his Lordship to his daughters...
Before this chapter we've seen the well off and connected be given a pass, so to speak, despite their lack of intelligence.
Here we have a commoner fawning
over the high and mighty.
Is Thackeray's depiction of the old gentleman in line with his skewering of the privileged but dull witted?
In this scene, "the old gentleman" is Mr. Osborne, George's father. They are at supper and George is trying to placate him so as to be able to successfully ask for money. The old gentleman is uncommonly proud of having made a phenomenal success as a merchant and boasts that his son will never want and that a merchant's money is as good as an aristocrat's money.
The names he utters with such fawning respect are the names of George's aristocratic companions, and the old gentleman (i.e., George's father Mr. Osborne, also known as "the Eyebrows" ) is stating with pride that he has heard of some of their activities (but obviously not all since George becomes nervous for a moment).
Thackeray's objective in this very whimsical, humorous, satirical and ironic passage is to point out that the misguided nature of the new gentry--those in the new middle class the prosperous merchant Osborne now belongs to--is as thoroughly misguided and ridiculous and vainly proud as the misguided nature of the aristocratic class to whom was "given a pass, so to speak."
This quotation alludes to the pervasiveness of class-consciousness in British society of the 19th century. Class became, perhaps, an especially important consideration in that century for at least two reasons: (1) more and more of the wealthy or "privileged" ran the risk of losing substantial sums of money and thus losing their social rank; (2) more and more people of the "middling" classes were making the kind of money that allowed them to aspire to "upper-class" ranking. In other words, the 19th century, even more than the 17th and 18th, was a century of growing social mobility, and movement was possible both up and down the social scale. The 19th century was also a time when tensions between social classes were becoming increasingly visible and increasingly matters of discussion and dispute. This was due, in part, to the French Revolution, whose consequences the English could not ignore.
The quote suggests that the old gentlemen understands social class rank and the importance of associating and knowing who was who in society and understood full-well the expectations of each social class. If the old man hoped to make gains in society, he knew the importance of connections. That is why he "acted his part" of lowly man in his interactions and then made sure he learned everything he could about the person later. He did what he could to establish his own privilege above those around him. The quote clearly provided social commentary on the expected interactions of the privileged with the lowly, but it doesn't really address the type of people who are in the upper class.
There is deliberate irony in the description of how this old man treated those who are above him in society. Note the deliberate contrast with him as a "free-born Briton" who, in spite of his freedom, chooses to willingly subjugate himself under those who are above him. Thackeray thus mocks the class system in Britain and how the demands of society often lead us to sacrifice our freedom for other forms of slavery.
Ok, so I'll say something different. The fawning of the lower class citizens can be viewed as sophistry. They do not really care for the aristocrats, and may think them dull-witted. But because the aristocrats can give them something they want, they pretend to admire them.