Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 33–35 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33: In Which Miss Crawley's Relations Are Very Anxious About Her

Back in Brighton, Miss Matilda Crawley follows the news of the war and continues to lament that Rawdon Crawley, who earned distinction in battle and has been promoted, didn't marry someone from the upper classes. Meanwhile, her other relatives continue to shower her with presents and affection in the hopes of being remembered in her will. Rawdon himself has continued to send her letters, which Miss Matilda Crawley encourages him to continue doing despite knowing full well Becky Sharp is the one dictating them. He also sends her relics from supposed opponents in battle—"the novelist, who knows everything," also knows that Becky buys these from peddlers. Meanwhile, Rawdon's brother, Pitt Crawley, is still engaged to Miss Crawley's young neighbor, Lady Jane Crawley. He tries to convince her family that—now that Rawdon has fallen from Miss Crawley's good graces—a closer relationship between them and Miss Crawley would be beneficial, because he stands to inherit the most. Lady Jane Crawley's mother, Lady Southdown, inquires into Miss Matilda Crawley's spiritual state, intending to strengthen her religiosity before she dies. Pitt Crawley cautions her against it, telling her that any attempts will only "frighten and annoy her."

Chapter 34: James Crawley's Pipe Is Put Out

Miss Crawley finds herself growing restless for company again, so she welcomes Pitt Crawley, Lady Southdown, and Lady Jane Crawley as visitors. Although she receives them pleasantly and asks Lady Jane to visit her again, Miss Crawley tells Pitt privately to never bring Lady Southdown again, as she finds her "stupid and pompous." Meanwhile, Mrs. Bute Crawley laments that she has fallen out of Miss Matilda Crawley's favor, and therefore has a hard time getting information about the events at her home. She and Mr. Bute devise a plan to have their son James Crawley visit Miss Crawley in the hopes of getting back in her good graces. After his arrival, Miss Crawley fawns over James and delights in Pitt's obvious jealousy of the attention she pays to him. They stay up late after dinner, drinking together and discussing their respective lives and goals. The next day, James's favor quickly diminishes in Miss Crawley's eyes after she looks over the bill from his hotel that she paid for—which includes a great deal of alcohol he purchased for other guests. He also leaves a poor impression at dinner, and then makes a fatal decision to smoke a pipe in his bedroom, which stinks up the house and offends Miss Crawley. The next morning, she sends him back to his hotel.

Meanwhile, Becky and Rawdon are reunited after the Battle of Waterloo, and are living well in Paris thanks to the amount of money she earned selling their horses to Jos Sedley. The high-society women in Paris admire Becky and receive her warmly. One of Miss Crawley's Parisian friends writes her a letter praising Becky, which only serves to infuriate Miss Crawley, as Becky uses the Crawley name to further herself in society. Miss Crawley dictates a letter back, warning the friend against Becky's dangerous reputation, but Miss Briggs writes it down in English, which the Parisian lady cannot read. Early in spring, Miss Crawley discovers the announcement that Becky has given birth to a son. This discovery propels Miss Crawley into encouraging the marriage of Pitt Crawley and Lady Jane, with the promise that she will bestow upon them a thousand pounds a year while she is alive, and they will inherit the rest of her money when she dies.

Chapter 35: Widow and Mother

Lists of the deceased soldiers are released in each day's newspapers following the two great battles—and the Osbornes finally receive word of George Osborne's death. George's father is tormented and angered over the news, because now they will never have a chance to make amends. A few weeks later a letter from George finally reaches his father, written the day before he went to battle. Mr. John Osborne reads it, but George remains "beloved and unforgiven." A few months later Mr. Osborne departs for Brussels in order to speak with the surviving soldiers from George's regiment. The sergeant takes him on a tour of the battlefields, and tells him how William Dobbin was responsible for taking George's body back to Brussels.

On his way home, Mr. Osborne runs into Amelia's carriage. He is startled by the pale, sad sight of her—and is stricken with feelings of hatred. Dobbin, who is riding in her carriage, sees Mr. Osborne, although Amelia doesn't recognize him. Dobbin disembarks to find him, and tells him he has a message from George. He pleads for Mr. Osborne to take pity on Amelia's widowed circumstances—and the fact that she is pregnant. Dobbin asks Mr. Osborne to forgive George and Amelia on his future grandchild's behalf. Mr. Osborne doesn't relent, and Amelia soon gives birth to a boy. The baby reawakens Amelia's sense of hope and delight, and Dobbin brings them both back to her mother's house in England. Although Dobbin stays and dotes on them, he also realizes she will never love him and decides to leave.

Analysis

After the abrupt shock of George Osborne's death, William Makepeace Thackeray teases out the suspense of its aftermath—and provides a sharp change of tempo from the intensity of the previous chapter—by returning the reader to Miss Matilda Crawley, Pitt Crawley, and Lady Jane Crawley in England. As Miss Crawley grows increasingly ill, her relatives feign interest over her health, but the narrator reiterates that their underlying motive is to get close to her wealth. But Pitt has conveniently maneuvered his way into Miss Crawley's good graces after Rawdon Crawley is kicked to the curb, and even when a threat emerges in the form of James Crawley, he is able to keep his place by highlighting James's rough nature. Pitt's hypocrisy is on full display: for all his supposed piety and concern for spiritual affairs, he has no concerns about reaping the rewards of his brother's misfortune. Miss Crawley, for her part, seems well aware of the ploys to curry favor with her, and in a similar fashion to Becky, seems to enjoy pitting them against one another for the attention it brings her.

Once again Dobbin campaigns on Amelia's behalf for Mr. John Osborne to take pity on her and his soon-to-be-born grandson. Yet Mr. Osborne won't back down, either out of pride or stubbornness, or possibly due to the guilt of knowing he never made amends with his son before his death. The narrator again implies that for Mr. Osborne—as well as for many other characters—a sense of vanity to keep up appearances ultimately causes great pain and sacrifice. Dobbin's departure after the birth of Amelia's son is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the novel, as he realizes that, even with George gone, she seems almost oblivious to him. The narrator says, "And so, gently, he bore his fate, knowing it, and content to bear it." True to his nature, Dobbin leaves London peacefully, yet broken-hearted—a mirror of Amelia's own broken heart over George.

The novel finds Becky and Rawdon again in Paris, where Becky is busy ingratiating herself to members of the upper class with great success. Ever shrewd, Becky has piggybacked her way up the social ladder thanks to her last name and association with Miss Matilda Crawley—a fact that doesn't escape Miss Crawley, and only serves to harden her fury toward Becky and Rawdon. In a manipulative move rivaling that of Becky's talents, Miss Crawley is the one who spurs Pitt and Lady Jane to get married so that he may inherit her estate.

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