In the fourth chapter of Vanity Fair, Thackeray’s narrator reflects on the affection Amelia displays for Becky Sharp, in whom she now discovers ‘virtues and amiable qualities’ which she had not appreciated when they were at Chiswick together:

For the affection of young ladies is of as rapid growth as Jack’s bean-stalk, and reaches up to the sky in a night. It is no blame to them that after marriage this Sehnsucht nach der Liebe subsides. It is what sentimentalists, who deal in very big words, call a yearning after the Ideal, and simply means that women are commonly not satisfied until they have husbands and children on whom they may centre affections, which are spent elsewhere, as it were, in small change, (xi. 41)

It is significant that the phrase indicating a yearning for love is in German; for Germany was for Thackeray the country of Goethe’s Werther, the archetypal yearning lover, who is actually mentioned in a later chapter of Vanity Fair. The phrase had also been used by Mrs Catherine Gore as an epigraph; she may well be among the ‘sentimentalists’ ‘who use very big words’, though this label fits the younger Thackeray’s favourite butt, Bulwer Lytton, rather better. In Miss Pinkerton’s old-fashioned academy for young ladies, however, which both Becky and Amelia had attended when they were at Chiswick together, German is not taught; pupils are sent out into the world, in Miss Pinkerton’s words, ‘perfectly qualified to instruct in Greek, Latin, and the rudiments of Hebrew… Spanish, French, Italian, and geography’ (xi. 117). For the devotee of Dr Johnson, German is still too outlandish to figure in the curriculum. That even her best pupils are as ‘perfectly qualified’ as the headmistress claims, the reader is, of course, invited to disbelieve. The ‘music, vocal and instrumental’, 269which these young ladies are taught, in the early years of the nineteenth century, will include the ability to rattle sonatas ‘in the Herz manner’ on the fortepiano—an accomplishment that educated young women are said to employ, along with ‘the knack of making poetry’ and a ‘ladylike knowledge of botany and geology’, to fascinate and ensnare suitable marriage-partners (xi. 131). Heinrich (later Henri) Herz, born in Austria and settled in Paris, was a fashionable pianist and composer whose showy compositions invited the ‘rattling’ style here imputed to his young devotees.