Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 23–25 | Summary



Chapter 23: Captain Dobbin Proceeds on His Canvass

The narrator observes that even the most reserved person may become "wise, active, and resolute" when acting on behalf of someone he cares about. So, William Dobbin brings all his wits to bear on the problem of informing the Osbornes about George Osborne and Amelia Sedley's marriage. He approaches George's sisters, Miss Jane Osborne and Miss Maria Osborne, because "no woman ever was really angry at a romantic marriage." Cleverly, he drops in at a ball they're attending, dances with them, and politely asks Miss Jane if he can visit Russell Square the next day.

By the time he arrives the following day, Miss Jane is sure he intends to propose, and Miss Maria and Miss Wirt (the governess) eavesdrop by the door. William Dobbin tells Miss Jane the most charming man in his regiment has just married, and he is certain she will like his wife when they meet. Miss Jane thinks Dobbin is easing his way toward a proposal by bringing up marriage, especially as Dobbin's nervousness increases. The regiment will travel to Europe any day, he says, and surely Mr. John Osborne will want a friendly parting with his son—who knows what may happen during war? And surely Miss Maria and Miss Jane admire their brother's faithful love for Amelia, who has done nothing wrong. Miss Jane does feel sorry for Amelia, but her father will never relent on the subject, she warns, and after all, good daughters and sons obey their fathers. Finally, Dobbin blurts out the details of George and Amelia's wedding, bows, and leaves. He knows Miss Jane and Miss Maria will get the news out. Right away, Miss Jane, Miss Maria, and Miss Wirt exclaim over the marriage, admiring Amelia's pluck. Soon, Frederick Bullock, Miss Maria's beau, arrives to hear the news. He mocks George for giving up a fortune, and points out that Miss Maria and Miss Jane now stand to inherit larger shares of the family's wealth—a thought that, to their credit, hadn't crossed their minds.

Chapter 24: In Which Mr. Osborne Takes Down the Family Bible

Burdened by guilt, Dobbin heads to Mr. Osborne's office in the city to face the harder task—delivering the news and observing George's father's reaction so he can report back to George. Mr. Osborne greets Dobbin warmly, convinced he is bringing George's obedient apologies. He imagines how his son's marriage to Miss Swartz will increase the family's wealth and prestige, as he looks at the uncouth "bumpkin" seated across from him. Dobbin deflates Osborne's triumphant mood, however, with news of the regiment's imminent departure for "a tussle which may be fatal to many of us." He urges Osborne to reconcile with his son before the soldiers deploy. But Osborne maintains he is in the right. He has spent his life working for his son's benefit and has given him more than he needs or deserves, as everyone knows, and he asked for only one thing—that George marry Miss Swartz. Dobbin counters that George, as a gentleman, won't marry merely for money and won't abandon the woman to whom he had long been engaged, by Osborne and Sedley's doing. The mere mention of Sedley's name enrages Osborne, whose attack on his enemy and then on Amelia, "a beggar's girl out of a gutter," rouses Dobbin to defend her. When Osborne threatens to call for "pistols for two," Dobbin blurts out the truth: Amelia is Osborne's daughter-in-law now.

That evening at dinner with his family, Mr. Osborne's foul mood silences everyone. He orders the place set for George removed and locks himself in his study, signaling a family crisis. Rarely does anyone set foot in this room, other than servants doing his bidding. Osborne takes out boxes containing papers and mementos from George's childhood—from early schoolwork and a lock of hair, to receipts and military paperwork. As Osborne reviews these items, his sense of outraged betrayal swells. He seals the lot in a storage box and takes down the family Bible, in which births, christenings, and deaths have been recorded over the years, and strikes out George's name. Then he retrieves his will, crumples it, and burns it. By the time Osborne dispatches a servant with a letter and goes to bed, it's nearly dawn.

The next day, Dobbin dines with a former commander of the regiment and other soldiers. The general urges the men to get their affairs in order and say their farewells, and though Dobbin immediately thinks of how the deployment will affect Amelia, he also writes a quick note to Mr. Osborne, passing on the general's advice. Dobbin comforts some fellow soldiers who are writing "letters full of love and heartiness, and pluck and bad spelling" to their mothers, as soldiers and sailors are doing across England. He thinks of writing to George to let him know deployment is imminent, but decides to give the newlyweds one last happy night. The narrator closes this somber chapter by noting that Miss Jane expects Dobbin to return to Russell Park and propose to her, but he has his own affairs and familial farewells to tend to before deployment. Had he proposed, the narrator suggests, Osborne might have relented, but instead, Osborne bars Dobbin from his home, and Miss Jane's hopes are dashed. That evening, Frederick visits Miss Maria but finds himself instead comforting Osborne, now a "visibly shattered" man.

Chapter 25: In Which All the Principal Personages Think Fit to Leave Brighton

When Dobbin returns to Brighton, his love for Amelia forces him to pretend that all is well, and to withhold the truth about the danger the regiment faces. But he levels with George, who has never been tried in combat. As Becky observes Dobbin around Amelia, she sees not only that he loves her but that she thinks little of him, especially compared to gentlemanly George, and speaks kindly to him only because he has helped George. Becky also realizes honest and devoted Dobbin is immune to her charms, and she is fearful of someone she cannot manipulate, but of course she feigns friendship.

When Dobbin and George talk alone, Dobbin delivers a letter from Mr. Osborne's lawyer, which explains the "final and irrevocable" decision not only to disinherit George, but also to cut him from the family entirely. Osborne won't require George to repay his extravagant expenses out of the inheritance he received from his late mother, so he still has a small allowance. George's response is anger—at Dobbin, for managing things poorly. It's Dobbin's fault that George is "married and ruined," and George refuses to lower his living standards. Dobbin insists George is "only a dethroned prince" for a while. Mr. Osborne will likely relent when his son earns honor in battle.

Meanwhile, Becky and Rawdon talk as they dress for dinner. Amelia's already crying over George's departure, but Becky is not sad because she will still be with Rawdon, who, as aide-de-camp (military aide) to General Tufto, won't be in much danger. She suggests he collect the gambling debts George owes him before they leave Brighton. She has worked hard to flatter and tease George to keep him playing cards with Rawdon, who wins often. Poor Amelia feels the contrast between her demure demeanor and Becky's attractive sparkle—only a week into their marriage, she thinks, George already finds her boring. Amelia feels secretly proud to share George's misfortune with him, but assures him his father will relent. Vainglorious as ever, George claims poverty's fine for him, but he worries how she will bear it. She will have to live in the barracks with common soldiers' wives! But Amelia accepts it all. Having experienced bankruptcy, Amelia thinks £2,000 a year is plenty to live on, but George scoffs at her naïveté.

The young people are lively at dinner until Amelia pieces together bits of conversation and realizes George is about to be deployed. To Dobbin's dismay, Amelia insists she will go, and George says Mrs. O'Dowd can act as her chaperone. Acting on Becky's orders, Rawdon asks George to pay his gambling debts to him. Jos Sedley, Dobbin, and George decide to return to London the next day, but Becky and Rawdon stay in Brighton because Becky has important news about Miss Matilda Crawley who, with Miss Briggs, is convalescing seaside. Mrs. Bute Crawley's medical reign of terror over Miss Crawley has ended because Reverend Bute Crawley fell from his horse and broke his collarbone. Mrs. Bute has returned to the Rectory to care for him.

Immediately, Miss Crawley's mood, health, and daily life improve, and Becky knows the time is right for reconciliation. She meets Miss Briggs on the beach, happy to see her dear old friend, and shares juicy gossip about the hated Mrs. Bute. She praises Miss Briggs and Mrs. Firkin's kind care of Miss Crawley to the skies and takes her leave, assured that Miss Briggs will tell Miss Crawley everything. She dictates a letter from Rawdon to Miss Crawley, asking to see her before he leaves for war, using short sentences so it will sound like Rawdon wrote it. But Miss Crawley isn't fooled—Rawdon's actual writing is replete with "bad spelling, and dashes," and requests for money. She sends Miss Briggs with a note saying she is willing to meet with Rawdon, but not with Becky. The meeting takes place outdoors, and Rawdon finds himself moved by signs of his aunt's recent ill health. He is pleased to see her again, but doesn't accompany her back to her lodgings. Becky, scheming to become a baronet's wife after all, screams over this missed opportunity. Rawdon is not easily angered, but he appears dangerous as he angrily tells his wife not to call him a fool.

Miss Crawley is not pleased with Rawdon's appearance. He seems heavier, aged, and "vulgarized." She dictates a note to Miss Briggs that addresses Rawdon as "Dear Sir," and pleads Miss Crawley's poor health as an excuse for not meeting again. It's a polite lie, yet it's not far from the truth, the narrator says. She is not long for this world, and knows those who attend her do so only in hopes of inheriting her fortune. The letter ends with instructions for Rawdon to stop by Miss Crawley's clerk in London to pick up a check, a goodbye gesture. When Becky sees the check is for only £20, she laughs, knowing she has met her match in conniving.


William Dobbin, who seems eternally tasked with performing actions that bring him total anguish, is the one to have to tell Mr. John Osborne of George Osborne and Amelia Sedley's marriage. Mr. Osborne's stubborn and harsh reactions show him to be someone who cares little about emotions, even when it comes to his family. Dobbin, for his part, resembles Amelia as an outlier with no ulterior motives, only a pure heart with innocent tendencies. When Dobbin and Amelia are contrasted with the other characters in Vanity Fair, their innocence seems almost painful to bear, as they are guided by their emotions and altruism. However, unlike Amelia, Dobbin sees people as they really are—with the possible exception of Amelia, whom he idolizes.

William Makepeace Thackeray only digs the knife deeper when Amelia doesn't return Dobbin's feelings for her—despite the fact that their dispositions seem more suited to each other than to any other couple in the novel. The narrator at times portrays both Dobbin and Amelia as nearly masochistic in their ability to succumb to the pain inflicted on them by others—even offering themselves up, like the role Dobbin plays for George as his messenger and caretaker of affairs. Through Dobbin and Amelia, Thackeray highlights the apparent selfishness of nearly every other character in the novel, making it all the more apparent.

The mounting military actions against Napoleon serve as a tense and anticipatory historical backdrop for the characters in Vanity Fair. Concerns about money are also heightened, and Becky takes charge with Rawdon in order to avoid their debts, and worm their way back into Miss Matilda Crawley's good graces. Yet she seems to have met her match in Miss Crawley, who sees through her manipulations, down to the letter she dictates to Rawdon to send. As ever, she is constantly and vigilantly scanning the horizon for a way to get ahead, financially and socially. One such instance is her insisting that Rawdon collect on the bets George has lost to him before they go off to war, despite knowing George is in dire financial straits himself. The narrator constantly wavers between portraying Becky as winningly clever and disturbingly manipulative—the two seem to coexist within her.

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