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By Clyde De L. Ryals

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It was the genius of Thackeray to dramatize the irony of becoming in very Victorian terms—by showing us Vanity Fair as the theater of social mobility, replete with both meaning and meaninglessness. 3 LEVITY'S RAINBOW The Way of Browning's "Christmas-Eve" The chief question posed by Robert Browning's poetry is that of adequacy: what will suffice? Behind this question lies the meta­ phor of growth, development, metamorphosis—Bildung—that is at the heart of the poet's thinking. Conceiving of the universe in Heraclitean terms of energy, motion, and change, Browning be­ lieved that for the individual and for humanity as a whole becom­ ing is the perennial process of development whereby, first, contra­ dictions are felt to be momentarily resolved and the limitations of an outmoded form of consciousness temporarily overcome, and, secondly, this stage is perceived as deficient, so that, thirdly, a new stage of consciousness is attained.

7 For after the curtain rises, the narrator appears in two roles: as a detached, seemingly objective, third-person omniscient narrator looking down on his creation and comment­ ing upon its characters and events and, at the same time, as a character in his work who suffers the same limitations of knowl­ edge as the other actors. Thus while we find him proclaiming himself "the novelist, who knows everything" (pp. 318, 351), we also see him admitting to ignorance: "I don't know in the least" (p. 35); "I think' (p.

Siddons in Lady Macbeth" (p. 397), while Lady Steyne constantly assumed "tragedy airs" (p. 469). Al­ though the younger Pitt Crawley disapproved of some of Becky's roles and "reprobated in strong terms the habit of play-acting" (pp. 508-9), he is not, in fact, averse to acting roles in which he "had got every word by heart" (p. 398). The narrator con­ tinually reminds us that we are witnessing scenes, tableaux, and acts (for example, pp. 66, 143) in "the drama" of Vanity Fair. Acting is tiring, and from time to time the actors express a desire to leave the stage.

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