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[Source: Line 32, Ch 7, Jane Eyre]: Miss Temple seemed to remonstrate.
"Madam," he pursued, "I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven; these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of----"

How do you determine/deduce the apt definition of vanity here? Please explain the steps, thought processes; I’d like to try to resolve this myself in the future? Which of the following?

1. [mass noun] Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements:

This implies that narcissism wove those plaits, but reveals nothing about the worthiness of the plaits? .

2.[mass noun] The quality of being worthless or futile

This implies that futility wove those plaits?

3. Also, what does kingdom refer to? The United Kingdom?

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The Master whose Kingdom is not of this world is Christ:

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world - John, 18:36

Both meanings of vanity are intended. Mr. Brocklehurst is a Christian minister, and he employs vanity in its theological sense of the “emptiness” and worthlessness of the things of this world. The ordinary secular sense of “excessive pride” in one’s personal appearance and attainments derives from the theological sense: it is one manifestation of the “lusts of the flesh”, which does not mean, as you may think, specifically erotic desires but all desires for worldly objects and objectives, as opposed to spiritual values and the achievement of salvation.

So to say “vanity itself might have woven” these plaits means that the ultimate motivation for the plaits is a sinful desire to be admired rather than a virtuous desire to please God.

  • And by suggesting that parallelism between himself and Jesus, the minister reveals himself to be among the vainest of men. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 26 '14 at 14:06
  • @TRomano Brocklehurst is indeed a piece of work. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 26 '14 at 14:38
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It is the first meaning for 'vanity' that is intended here, and the implication is that the plaits have been very carefully woven in order to look as good as possible.

A being which is 'vanity itself' would display the absolute pinnacle of 'pride in ... [its] own appearance', and would only be satisfied with the best-looking plaits that could possibly exist. Therefore, any plaits which it 'might have woven' must be perfect.

A kingdom 'not of this world' is a reference to heaven, and implies that the speaker's master is God.

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