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Editor: D. A. Jeremy Telman
Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mutual Mistake in Vanity Fair?

William_Makepeace_Thackeray In Chapter 32 of William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Jos Sedley, whom Thakeray describes as a "very stout, puffy man, in buckskins and Hessian boots," panics that the allied forces had been overrun in Belgium and that Napoleon's army will give no quarter to British men, even if, like Jos, they happen to be civilians.  He therefore rambles around Brussels in search of a horse that can carry his portly frame out of the city.  He thus falls prey once again to Thackeray's leading character, not to say heroine, Rebecca Sharp, who just happens to be in possession of two fine horses to sell. 

Jos seldom spent a half-hour in his life which cost him so much money. Rebecca, measuring the value of the goods which she had for sale by Jos's eagerness to purchase, as well as by the scarcity of the article, put upon her horses a price so prodigious as to make even the civilian draw back.

As it turns out, the allies had not been overrun and the need for flight was not what either Jos or Rebecca took it to be.  Could Jos escape his promise to pay Rebecca in reliance on the doctrine of mutual mistake?

[Jeremy Telman]

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