Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 26–29 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 26: Between London and Chatham

George Osborne, Amelia Sedley, Jos Sedley, and William Dobbin stay in a lavish hotel on their way back from Brighton, causing George to grow nervous about the amount of money they are spending. He turns down Amelia's invitation to visit her mother nearby, which puts her in a sad mood. Mrs. Sedley is delighted to see Amelia. It's only been nine days since Amelia left, but "what a gulf lay between her and that past life." Amelia feels some guilt over taking her parents' kindness for granted before she was married. The narrator notes that even though most novelists close the curtain on a couple once they are married, Amelia can be seen feeling anxious about her past and uncertain about her future. The narrator also wonders when she will be able to see the difference between the real man she married and the "young hero whom she had worshipped."

George goes to visit his attorneys in the hopes of withdrawing the last of his inheritance, although he is confident his father will relent and forgive him before long. Amelia goes shopping with her mother in anticipation of her travels with George, and does not seem alarmed that the reason they are going is because of the war. The narrator notes, "People were going not so much to a war as to a fashionable tour."

Chapter 27: In Which Amelia Joins Her Regiment

The first face Amelia sees when she arrives at their destination, Chatham, is Dobbin. Amelia charms the men in George's regiment, thus raising George's status among them. Amelia receives an invitation to a small party that evening from Mrs. O'Dowd, the motherly, genial Irish wife of the regiment leader, Major O'Dowd, who pays them a visit beforehand. Mrs. O'Dowd tells Amelia her entire background and family history, and welcomes her as a kind of honorary sister. She also gives Amelia information about the other wives in the regiment, whom Amelia meets that evening at the party. The men's admiration of Amelia causes many of the wives to try to find fault with her.

Chapter 28: In Which Amelia Invades the Low Countries

Jos Sedley agrees to escort Amelia with the regiment's move abroad to France, and then to Belgium. Their army arrives with a great deal of confidence, causing Jos and Amelia to feel at ease—Jos scoffs at the notion that Napoleon will try to attack them. George grows increasingly ashamed of the rough, low-society company he must keep in his regiment, but Amelia is merely amused and unruffled by them. Despite the increasing political tensions, "the business of life and living and the pursuits of pleasure" carry on without much concern given to their end, or to the enemy. Amelia in particular is delighted by her arrival in Brussels, because she has never seen a foreign country before, and George spoils her with attention and trinkets. One day George spots General Tufto, whom Rawdon Crawley serves as an aide-de-camp—which means, Amelia exclaims, that Rawdon and Becky will soon appear. This makes her feel uneasy, although she doesn't know why.

Chapter 29: Brussels

Rawdon and Becky arrive in Brussels, where they run into Amelia and George. Rawdon inquires about George's relationship with his father, which is still strained. For his part, Rawdon also reveals that Miss Matilda Crawley has not forgiven him, either. George goes to pay his respects to Becky when they attend the same opera, his ulterior motive being to meet General Tufto. The general is dismissive of him and seems jealous of George and Becky's friendship. George escorts her back to his box to visit with Amelia, and the general watches them through his opera glasses. After Dobbin finally escorts Becky back, he mentions to George what a "humbug" he finds her to be—it wasn't lost on him how she was behaving with the general to get his attention. George defends Becky as "the nicest little woman in England."

George and Rawdon continue to get together to gamble and socialize, despite Dobbin's warning that George is losing too much money to Rawdon. George and Amelia also quarrel about her reluctance to visit Rawdon and Becky. For her part, Becky doubles down on being affectionate toward Amelia, but speculates to George that she must be jealous of her situation. George allows Becky to belittle Amelia in her criticism, because it appeals to his self-image that he is a "woman-killer," and that somehow Becky is attracted to him. George begins to increase the amount of time he spends with the Crawleys, leaving Amelia alone at home. Meanwhile, he continues to lose money to Rawdon in their gambling, and the narrator speculates that perhaps Rawdon and Becky have an unspoken agreement to allow George to believe she is flirting with him in order for Rawdon to continue winning his money.

A much-anticipated ball takes place, and there is a frenzy to acquire an invitation because it is a high-society event. George brings Amelia, but quickly leaves her to herself to socialize with others. When Becky arrives, she impresses everyone with her entrance. Becky makes her way over to Amelia and begins to undermine her dress and hairstyle. She also admonishes Amelia for allowing George to gamble and lose so much money. To add insult to injury, when George makes his way over to them, he takes Becky away to dance. When Becky leaves, she sends George back to Amelia to collect her shawl and flowers, and he places a note in them for her. Amelia has Dobbin take her home, while George, feeling lucky, goes to the betting tables. Dobbin goes back to find George, and reveals that their regiment is to march on the front lines in three hours. That night, George is fitful, wondering why he disobeyed his father and got married, and why he has been so reckless with his money. He writes a letter to his father, and checks in on a sleeping Amelia, where he is overcome with guilt at how pure and gentle she is. He feels "black with crime" before her loyalty and innocence, and when he bends over her, she wraps her arms around him, in a moment of reconciliation. Suddenly the bugle sounds, signaling that the men must begin their march.

Analysis

The purity of Amelia Sedley and William Dobbin's nature is contrasted yet again in the way that the single motivation for both seems to be love—not money or society. This doesn't make them wise, or shelter them from the nastier aspects of Vanity Fair: the narrator frequently hints that this drive is what causes both of them to be hurt over and over again by others. However, this section finds Amelia growing suspicious of the one friend she believed was on her side, when Becky Sharp uses her charm and tactics on George Osborne. The fact that Becky is willing to carelessly risk wounding Amelia—both emotionally and financially—portrays her at her most callous yet. George, for his part, reveals that his desire for Amelia wasn't spurred by love but by the possibility of losing her. Becky also continues her manipulations in order to live for free with General Tufto, despite the social oddity and even potential scandal of it.

Amelia seems to have a foreboding sense regarding the future of her marriage, for when she returns home to visit her parents she is struck by a sense of "looking anxiously back towards the sad friendly figures waving farewell to her across the stream, from the other distant shore." The narrator uses this analogy to show that marriage is not a blissful new country she can disappear into. Instead, she anxiously looks back on her past as something that felt safer and more certain. Dobbin, for his part, seems to be the only one entirely aware of Becky's motives, warning George that "she writhes and twists about like a snake." He sees Becky for who she is, which makes him the most dangerous person in the novel to her.

This section highlights how selfishness drives many characters in Vanity Fair. Manipulation is a constant undercurrent in everyone's interactions—from rich heirs, to social climbing, to love affairs. The actions of Becky and George in this section only serve to highlight Amelia's double-edged sword of innocence and denial. Yet when the characters of Major O'Dowd and Mrs. O'Dowd are introduced, they blow in some fresh and honest air. While they are represented as a little bit vulgar and unrefined, what you see is what you get with them. It's reassuring to encounter, and a bit jarring due to the lack of it elsewhere. It is telling that George finds Mrs. O'Dowd so repellent, as she seems to represent an attitude and outlook on life that is completely foreign to him. However, he tolerates her just enough so that she might befriend Amelia and keep her preoccupied while he pursues his affair with Becky. Yet in the moments before he leaves for war, George seems to be struck with regret for his actions. The narrator makes it uncertain if this shift in George's worldview is permanent or borne out of a new sense of mortality, but the possibility is dangled that perhaps George will return from war with a new sense of gratitude for what he already has.

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