Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 43–46 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 43: In Which the Reader Has to Double the Cape

The scenery of the novel shifts abruptly to India, where Major O'Dowd is stationed with Mrs. O'Dowd, his sister Glorvina O'Dowd, and William Dobbin. Mrs. O'Dowd is keen for Dobbin to marry Glorvina, and is constantly ribbing him to stop pining over Amelia Sedley. Even though Glorvina tries everything she can to win Dobbin, he cannot seem to let go of his feelings for Amelia. When Amelia writes to him with congratulations on hearing of his engagement (which hasn't actually happened), it tortures him. He also admits to himself that he only "drag[s] on this wearisome life" in the hopes Amelia will realize she loves him, too. And so, an unrequited, frustrating love triangle is set up between Glorvina, Dobbin, and Amelia. After Dobbin receives a letter from his sister that relations between Mr. John Osborne and his grandson are shifting, and that Amelia has become engaged to a reverend, he leaves at once to return to London.

Chapter 44: A Round-about Chapter between London and Hampshire

Back at Pitt Crawley's London house, renovations are underway, overseen by Becky Sharp. Meanwhile, Rawdon Crawley and Pitt Crawley appear to be mending their brotherly relationship whenever Pitt stops by to stay with them in London. Becky, for her part, continues the illusion of being a doting mother on little Rawdy, claiming to be sewing him a shirt—which is, in fact, the same shirt she has been sewing for years and only takes out when she wants to impress upon someone what an attentive mother she is.

After spending time with Rawdon and Becky in London, Pitt begins to discover their financial situation is more dire than they let on. While at first he deflects when Becky brings up the subject of money, he later considers giving them some of his inheritance. But he hesitates, feeling unwilling to part with the money. Meanwhile, Becky convinces Miss Briggs to give them money from her investments. Sadly, Miss Briggs doesn't realize she is being taken advantage of. Becky also uses Pitt's presence at her home in London to entice creditors to give her more money, because his status implies that Becky and Rawdon must have a similar kind of wealth that can pay them back.

Becky is increasingly cruel to little Rawdy, whom she dislikes simply because he is a child—he gets unappealing childhood diseases and bores her. One day when she is playing piano for a wealthy marquis, Lord Steyne, who frequents the house, Rawdy creeps up to listen; when his mother catches him, she hits him for spying on her. The situation raises the servants' suspicions, who suspect she may be having an affair with Lord Steyne. Even at Gaunt House, Lord Steyne's London home, the servants believe her guilty. But her appearance there is a social triumph for her, even as the servants predict her social ruin.

When Rawdon and Becky bring little Rawdy to Queen's Crawley for Christmas, the visit reveals tensions between Rawdon and Becky when Rawdon claims she is a bad mother. Little Rawdy also reveals to Lady Jane he never eats dinner with his parents, but rather with the servants.

Chapter 45: Between Hampshire and London

Pitt devotes himself to restoring the Crawley family name after his father's behavior deteriorated relationships in the community for years. As usual, Becky inserts herself in his affairs with flattery and manipulation, egging him on to advance politically, and paying a flattering amount of attention to his work. Pitt begins to notice Becky in a different light, and even muses to himself, "How that woman comprehends me! ... I never could get Jane to read three pages of the malt pamphlet." Becky also tries to emulate Lady Jane's lavish affection toward her children, but Rawdy calls her out publicly after she kisses him in front of everyone, asking why she has never done that when they are alone. His revelation infuriates Becky and also raises Lady Jane's suspicions of her and her motivations. Becky grows increasingly jealous of Lady Jane's relationships and easy personality; according to the narrator, she dislikes people who like gentleness and simplicity, and who are fond of children.

Further strains in Rawdon and Becky's relationship are revealed when Pitt returns to London and begins to see Becky frequently while he is in Parliament. In particular, he is delighted by the attention of Lord Steyne, who has never deigned to notice him, but who now encourages Pitt's ambitions (presumably because Becky wishes it). Rawdon begins to retreat, choosing to go out in the evenings rather than eat with his family. In an odd twist of events, he increases the amount of time he spends at Queen's Crawley alone with Lady Jane, while Pitt stays in London and visits with Becky. He is now, the narrator says, Samson after Delilah cut his hair—a "torpid, submissive, middle-aged, stout gentleman." This shift also begins to deeply change the relationship between Becky and Lady Jane, who begin to grow deeply suspicious of one another, although they maintain an outward pretense of affection.

Chapter 46: Struggles and Trials

Amelia finally relinquishes her tight grip on Georgy, sending him off to school once she can no longer teach him. Georgy's elation at finally being out from under his mother's wings hurts her, but once Georgy is away he blossoms in his newfound independence. Life at Mr. John Osborne's is increasingly miserable for everyone around him, including his daughter Miss Jane, whom he has forbidden to marry and who essentially functions as his servant. Yet one day Mr. Osborne and his grandson finally meet with the help of the Dobbin sisters, which causes Amelia great anxiety—and for good reason. Mr. Osborne finally softens once he meets Georgy and decides to make him his heir in the hopes of undoing the damage he caused with George before he died. However, his condition to Amelia is that Georgy must live with the Osbornes, and only visit his mother when Mr. Osborne allows it. Amelia is shocked, and refuses to respond.

However, life at the Sedleys is becoming dire once Jos Sedley stops sending money from abroad. Amelia's naïveté doesn't allow her to see how bad things have become until her father asks her for money, and she begins to sell her prized possessions in order to afford things for Georgy. Mrs. Sedley confronts her, upset that Amelia didn't take Mr. Osborne up on the offer to make Georgy his heir—if she had, Amelia would have received an allowance from the Osbornes. Confronted with the revelation that she likely cannot provide for her son, Amelia knows she must make a painful choice about his future.

Analysis

Chapter 43 finally provides the revelation from William Dobbin that he has wasted years of his life worrying and caring for a woman who can never love him back. In allowing himself to finally confront the honest truth of the situation, he also allows himself to fully feel the anguish and grief of it all. This moment serves to finally humanize Dobbin, who had become such a martyr it was increasingly difficult to sympathize with him. Yet there is a bittersweet twist to the fact that Amelia Sedley—despite loving the illusion of a husband who was no longer alive—cannot see that Dobbin is the one who is actually worthy of her. Just as Dobbin's self-sabotaging love made him more problematic, Amelia's ongoing, self-indulgent fantasy makes her seem less worthy of Dobbin.

The shifting allegiances between Pitt Crawley, Rawdon Crawley, Becky Sharp, and Lady Jane Crawley contain a number of similarities and differences. Lady Jane is closest in personality to Amelia, and thus her loving tendencies are contrasted with Becky's calculated coldness. Pitt and Rawdon begin to find themselves attracted to their opposites, as Pitt spends more time with a flirtatious Becky, and Rawdon deepens his bond over the children with Lady Jane. Rawdon also seems to realize there is something going on between Becky and Lord Steyne, but chooses to turn a blind eye. Lady Jane, despite her trusting nature, sees Becky's effect on her husband and their developing relationship. This realization echoes Amelia's revelation about George and Becky, because both women have grappled with feeling inferior to Becky's intelligence and wit. Becky, however, secretly feels inferior to Lady Jane and her easy kindness and relationships.

The situational irony is not lost on the reader that it is Becky's own son, Rawdy, who poses the biggest threat to her facade and credibility. Rawdy has turned from devotion to no emotion when it comes to his mother, in order not to be disappointed by her constant cruelty. And yet, he is perhaps the only character who truly witnesses the unmasked, uncharmed version of Becky and thus is the greatest threat in exposing her. His frankness—or possibly his deliberate sabotage—undermines her pretenses when he reveals in front of the company she never kisses him when they are alone, and by confiding in Lady Jane that he is forced to eat dinner with the servants.

Chapter 46 finds Amelia's ongoing innocence and naïveté to be her fatal flaw once she is confronted with the fact that her ignorance has led to the possibility of Georgy being taken from her. But her naïveté has worsened into total self-absorption: she is so wrapped up in her son and her mourning that she fails to notice the financial peril her family is in. It is difficult to see this as mere innocence; instead, it feels like an oblivious, almost callous, lack of regard for anyone but her son.

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