Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 12–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 12: Quite a Sentimental Chapter

The narrator takes leave of Becky Sharp's story and brings the narrative back to Amelia Sedley in London. He acknowledges that many readers don't find Amelia's story as compelling as Becky's, but believes there is interest to be found in the way she is treated by others on the merits of her looks and personality. George Osborne's sisters treat Amelia with condescension because they believe she is stupid, which, in turn, causes Amelia to act accordingly, out of boredom. Amelia, for her part, finds George's sisters dull and dreary. The narrator reveals that their treatment of Amelia stems from resentment for stealing their brother's attention away from them. William Dobbin decides not to tell George's sisters that Amelia is often waiting around for George forlornly while he plays billiards with his friends, and that as a consequence her life is full of loneliness and waiting. When Amelia visits George's sisters, she can't bring herself to tell them of her troubles. Soon it is revealed that George's army regiment will not be ordered to service, because peace has been declared, and Amelia is ecstatic. Her ideas about love and marriage are idealistic and impractical, and she thinks of nothing but how marvelous, handsome, and clever her fiancé is. For his part, when George is off duty he spends his time socializing with his family and friends, and frequently brushes Amelia off. His responses to Amelia's voluminous letters are "short and soldierlike," but she doesn't seem to notice or care.

Chapter 13: Sentimental and Otherwise

George could not care less about Amelia's fawning, lengthy love letters, going so far as to light his cigar with one of them. He tries to keep their relationship a secret from his friends—he has a reputation as a ladies' man, and because he is revered and respected, he wants to keep it that way. His secrecy causes much speculation around who is sending him all the letters, until one day Dobbin accidentally reveals that Amelia is the one George is engaged to, waxing on about her wonderful qualities to the incredulous men. When George finds out, he and Dobbin get into an argument, and Dobbin asks if he is ashamed to be engaged to Amelia. He encourages George not to take her for granted. George admits he does love Amelia but wants to have more fun before he must settle down and be married. Dobbin tells him to go and comfort her, or at the very least write her a long letter. He offers George some money to buy her a gift, but George gets distracted and buys himself a diamond shirt pin instead. When he finally visits Amelia, all is forgiven, because she only wants his company and attention. The narrator notes that George still has some wild oats to sow and that Amelia would not do well as a soldier's wife.

Once again, George abandons Amelia to his sisters' company, while he spends his one free day in town with his friends. Amelia is forced to eat dinner alone with George's sisters and their coarse, intimidating father. When George finally shows up, he neglects Amelia yet again in favor of spending time with his father. The senior Osborne quizzes George on his feelings for Amelia, and encourages him to aim higher in marriage than a stockbroker's daughter, despite the fact he arranged the marriage with Amelia's father years ago. Mr. John Osborne reveals that Amelia's father may not be doing well financially, which is the basis of his concern. He tells George that he'll "have no lame duck's daughter in my family." Strangely enough, this conversation causes George to become considerably more tender toward Amelia, although the narrator is uncertain whether this is because he feels bad for her, or because the idea of losing her has made him value her more.

Chapter 14: Miss Crawley at Home

Miss Matilda Crawley arrives at Park Lane, feeling unwell. Rawdon Crawley rides up from the Knightsbridge Barracks where he is stationed to check in on her. He catches a glimpse of Becky in an upstairs window while he is outside, and wonders who she is. That evening Becky eats her dinner with Miss Briggs, a good friend and companion of Miss Crawley. Miss Briggs is upset by Miss Crawley's illness, and despondent that Miss Crawley refuses to see her. Becky hints she is able to take better care of Miss Crawley herself, but she very much wants to be Miss Briggs's friend. Later, Miss Briggs laments to Mrs. Firkin that she has been replaced by Becky in Miss Crawley's affections. Mrs. Firkin is certain Becky has bewitched everyone. For her part, Becky makes light of Miss Briggs' grief to Miss Crawley, who finds it funny. The doctors and her family are shocked at her abrupt recovery—Rawdon Crawley and other family members were beginning to suspect she might die.

Rawdon takes leave in order to stay with Miss Crawley, and soon finds himself smitten with Becky. He confides his feelings to Miss Crawley who teases him about it but warns him not to lead Becky on. He soon realizes that his father has also developed feelings for Becky. He tells Becky what he has learned, and she scoffs at him for thinking she didn't already know, and that she doesn't know how to handle herself. The narrator ponders whether or not Miss Crawley has realized Becky might have ulterior motives—that she isn't nursing her back to health out of the kindness of her heart. Regardless, Miss Crawley lavishes Becky with gifts and intimate confidences.

When Miss Crawley feels well enough to go on drives, she takes Becky with her to Mr. John Sedley's house. The narrator notes that in the passing months Becky and Amelia's friendship has withered, while each has gone on with their lives. When they see each other again it's as though something has shifted, despite outward appearances. Later, Rawdon recalls that he knows Amelia's fiancé, George Osborne, as a social-climbing dupe who loses large sums at gambling, and plans to invite him over. Becky invites Amelia over on the same day, even though the dinner is just for the men. When George sees Becky, he attempts to make a patronizing, grand gesture of being her friend, but Becky beats him to the punch by offering him nothing other than her right forefinger, and a "cool and killing" nod. She also manages to insult George's patronizing behavior, and his sisters for never having acknowledged her as Amelia's friend. George is shocked by what a fool Becky makes of him, and flees so that Amelia will not witness it. George confides in Rawdon that he believes Becky is dangerous and "a desperate flirt," accusations Becky finds out quickly, which only deepen her disregard for George. George tells Amelia he has warned Rawdon about Becky, and Amelia, who has noticed something secretive between Becky and Rawdon, is horrified. Meanwhile, Sir Pitt Crawley is widowed once more when his wife dies, and the narrator claims, "Her heart was dead long before her body." Sir Pitt visits Becky at Miss Crawley's and begs her to return, telling her that everything is in disarray without her and he wants her to be his new wife—he doesn't care about her background. Becky, uncharacteristically agitated and in tears, confesses that she is already married.

Analysis

Chapters 12–14 begin to amplify some of the quiet tensions between Amelia Sedley and the Osbornes. George Osborne's sisters treat Amelia with disdain, and it is clear George is not as invested in Amelia as she is in him. Their treatment of Amelia only serves to highlight her sweet, innocent nature, contrasting her yet again to Becky Sharp's manipulative tendencies. Amelia's strong feelings for George also demonstrate the tension between marrying for love and marrying for financial reasons. Although Amelia and George's marriage is arranged, Amelia seems to be the only one unaware of the financial motives behind it, and so her sentiments surrounding George seem amplified. Her idolization of George reveals her to be incredibly naive, and the narrator does his best to cause the reader to wince whenever she defends his behavior. Through Amelia, it is clear that romantic, unselfish love is not a viable solution to the problems of status-obsessed Vanity Fair. Amelia comes across as gullible, not noble.

The narrator hints that one reason the Osborne sisters treat Amelia with such disdain is because the purity of her feelings for George makes them uncomfortable, and makes them all-too-aware that their own marriages will likely be for financial gain. Here, the narrator highlights yet again the "business transaction quality" of marriage in the novel. For his part, George shows himself to fall on the callous side of the equation, taking Amelia for granted and treating her attention as something he is entitled to ignore. He even tells Dobbin in Chapter 13 regarding Amelia: "There's no fun in winning a thing unless you play for it." George's feelings for Amelia are only stoked when he realizes he might lose her. The narrator ponders whether "the idea of losing the dear little prize made him value it more?" If this is the case, then George's deepening feelings for Amelia aren't sincere. William Makepeace Thackeray teases out yet another contrast between George and Dobbin, who is as tenderhearted and attentive as Amelia. Sadly, Amelia doesn't care for Dobbin at all romantically. Many of Thackeray's characters serve as foils to one another, highlighting their extreme contrasts in a way that exaggerates their good and bad qualities. With the possible exception of Dobbin, the narrator leaves no character unscathed in showing their unflattering side.

When the financial ruin of the Sedleys is brought to light, Thackeray highlights that despite any romantic feelings, financial motivations are never too far from the heart of any marriage "transaction." Mr. Osborne cares little for how his son or Amelia might feel when he insists that George break off the engagement. The complicated relationship between George and his father is echoed in the Crawleys' relationships, in which a thin facade of civility masks the financial concerns of everyone involved. None of the Crawleys seems to like each other very much unless they are maneuvering their way into Miss Crawley's good graces to get a piece of her inheritance when she dies.

Becky's maneuvering to get herself close to Miss Crawley is seen at once by the reader—and also by a few of the characters around her—although she always seems to be able to outsmart them. And although Becky's manipulation of the situation is clear, her cleverness and agile maneuvering are, in their way, admirable and winning—perhaps especially because the people she manipulates aren't particularly worthy or good. When Sir Pitt Crawley proposes to her, her upset over the situation seems to be valid; while the narrator doesn't explain why in this scene, we will soon learn that she was bitterly disappointed to miss the opportunity for such an advantageous marriage. Becky also establishes herself as a formidable opponent to George in Chapter 14, and the two seem to be the only characters who see each other for who they are—something that only causes their suspicion of one another to be raised.

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