Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 54–56 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 54: Sunday After the Battle

As Pitt Crawley and his family begin to wake up the next morning, Rawdon Crawley enters their house on Gaunt Street in his two-day-old outfit, and lets himself into Pitt's study to wait for him. He tries to read some of his brother's political pamphlets but their meaning is beyond him, and he is distracted beyond despair. When Pitt enters his office sharply shaven and put together, he is shocked at Rawdon's appearance and assumes he has been drinking all night. He asks Rawdon what he is doing there, and why he isn't at home. Rawdon replies that he is "done," and Pitt immediately assumes his brother has come for money, which Pitt claims he can no longer help him with. Rawdon tells him, "It's not money I want." Instead, he wants Pitt to take charge of Rawdy when he is gone. Rawdon alludes to the fact that his son is more fond of Lady Jane Crawley than of his own mother.

Pitt tells Rawdon his marriage to Becky Sharp was his own doing, and Rawdon confesses that their marriage is now over. Pitt assumes Becky is dead. Rawdon replies he wishes he were dead, and Pitt immediately understands that Rawdon has discovered the affair between Becky and Lord Steyne. Rawdon implies that he and Lord Steyne are likely to duel, and adds that "it may end fatally with me." Finally understanding Rawdon's anguish, Pitt agrees to take care of Rawdy should anything come to pass. With this new understanding, Rawdon aims to settle his financial affairs by distributing the money to pay back Miss Briggs, and to give Pitt enough to provide for Rawdy if necessary.

Rawdon goes to Lord Steyne's house and leaves a message requesting a meeting. He then tracks down his friend Captain Macmurdo to stand in as his second for the duel. Macmurdo says he is not in the least bit surprised that Becky has ruined Rawdon—he can hardly believe it has taken this long for Rawdon to see it as well. For his part, Rawdon is ashamed that he still loves Becky and that he never suspected her of being able to hurt him so deeply, although he is also hurt that none of his so-called friends have ever confronted him over their suspicions about Becky. He also cannot let go of the fact she hoarded money and kept it from him, even when times were dire. Captain Macmurdo has his servant retrieve some of Rawdon's clothes from his home, and the servant conveys a frantic image of demanding creditors and irate servants.

Chapter 55: In Which the Same Subject Is Pursued

The chaos at Becky's house reported by Captain Macmurdo's servant appears to be based in reality—her maid has left after stealing a number of Becky's jewels and items of clothing. The rest of the Crawleys' servants are also beginning to turn on Becky now that they know Lord Steyne and Rawdon are no longer caring for her, and they begin demanding their wages and commandeering her furniture. Becky can hardly stand it and leaves for Pitt Crawley's house, where he confronts her about what has transpired. In response, Becky will only admit she knew of Lord Steyne's feelings for her and didn't discourage him, and the reason she hoarded money was because Rawdon is a reckless spender. She also reveals that Lord Steyne had secured a political job for Rawdon, despite his lack of political experience. Lady Jane Crawley hears their voices and loses her temper at Becky, finally unleashing her true feelings toward her with regard to their children, then she demands that Becky leave their home immediately. Pitt desperately tries to intervene, but Lady Jane issues an ultimatum—he can only choose one of them to defend. Pitt leaves to track down Rawdon in an attempt to placate the situation.

Rawdon is at the club, and learns he is in the newspaper for having received his new political position. Lord Steyne's servant arrives with a message informing him of his new job's financial benefits and location—on an island. The messenger also proclaims Becky and Lord Steyne's innocence in the affair, and that he has convinced him not to duel Rawdon. Rawdon doesn't believe a word the messenger is saying and says he will continue to challenge Lord Steyne to a duel. Captain Macmurdo interjects as Rawdon's second and cautions him to let the situation go and accept the job offer. Rawdon acquiesces at last, and hands over the money Becky had taken from Lord Steyne in order to repay him. Pitt arrives and tries to persuade Rawdon to take Becky back and mend his marriage, but Rawdon says he is done after everything that has transpired. Becky and Rawdon's creditors close in, but Becky is nowhere to be found and her landlady is forced to deal with the disaster. Rawdon departs for his new position on the island, where he corresponds constantly with his brother and son, and pays his wife a yearly allowance.

Chapter 56: Georgy Is Made a Gentleman

The narrator returns to young Georgy Osborne, who is growing up to become just as arrogant and entitled as his father. The relationship between him and his grandfather also seems to be a repeating echo of the one between his father and grandfather, with Mr. John Osborne placing all his hopes and aspirations on him. But Georgy is seemingly shrewd enough to know how to get what he wants from his grandfather, which only highlights his spoiled nature. The narrator implies his attitude is not solely the fault of the Osbornes, for Amelia Sedley spoiled him immensely as well. Georgy and Amelia still have a relationship, but it widens as both she and Georgy realize he now exists in a higher social class than she does. When Amelia's mother dies, Georgy is indifferent and cares only that he can't go to a play he wants to see.

Much like her naive worship of George Osborne, Amelia also believes her son can do no wrong, and paints a picture of him as a gentle and giving child. Meanwhile, Georgy causes havoc everywhere he goes, riling adults and pushing boundaries at school. William Dobbin finally comes to pay him a visit, serving as one of his only true links to the real person his father was. Georgy also casually mentions to Dobbin that he recognized him because of how much Amelia talks about him. Jos Sedley also finally returns home.

Analysis

The aftermath of Rawdon Crawley's discovery in Chapter 54 shows how thoroughly he has been destroyed by Becky Sharp's actions. He is also consumed with concern for what will happen to his son, especially if he is killed in a duel with Lord Steyne. Life has changed swiftly for Rawdon, and by Chapter 55 he has a new job and a new place to live, which allows him to pay off his debts. The ugly situation also reveals how much Rawdon's character has evolved: he is now ethical, humble, increasingly responsible, and appreciative of genuine goodness. A strange side effect of this series of tragic events is that people seem to speak to each other with more transparency and honesty. And when they don't—as with Becky trying to convince Pitt Crawley of her innocence—they are confronted. It's as though everyone is tired of the veneer of keeping up polite appearances after so much at stake has been lost. The fact that even now Becky cannot come clean with herself or others implies a serious personality defect, and serves as her tragic flaw that leads to her downfall.

In Chapter 56 the narrator implies that Georgy's attitude as a spoiled brat was years in the making long before he began living with the Osbornes, thanks to Amelia Sedley's dotage. In the eyes of his two most important caretakers, his mother and Mr. John Osborne, Georgy can do no wrong. Mr. Osborne, for his part, seems to see in Georgy an opportunity to redo his failed relationship with his own son, to make up for all the wrongs and grievance, and get it right this time. In this light, he cannot truly see Georgy as his own person, but rather as an extension of his own son. The fact that Mr. Osborne can lavish money and gifts on his grandson only compounds Georgy's sense of entitlement.

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