Vanity Fair | Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Vanity Fair | Chapters 57–60 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 57: Eothen

Tensions between the elder Sedley and Osborne men are reflected in Georgy's attitude toward Mr. John Sedley. Mr. John Osborne has told Georgy a number of harsh stories about his other grandfather, alluding that he only lives thanks to the money the Osbornes provide for Amelia Sedley.

The impending return of William Dobbin seems all the more triumphant with the knowledge that he narrowly survived his voyage from India, and because the person who accompanied him was none other than Jos Sedley. Jos also happened to overhear all of Dobbin's fevered talking about his feelings for Amelia while attending to him. Dobbin, for his part, has spent their time together trying to convince Jos to take charge of his nephew Georgy. Dobbin is elated to discover that the story of Amelia's engagement to a reverend was a lie—as was his rumored engagement to Glorvina O'Dowd.

Chapter 58: Our Friend the Major

Now that Dobbin knows Amelia is not engaged, he tries to rush back to London as quickly as possible, but his plans are thwarted by the lazy Jos who would rather rest for a night after their journey. When he is finally able to reach Amelia's house, she is out; he is so changed that the Clapps do not immediately recognize him. He asks Amelia's maid to help him find her. When he and Amelia finally see each other, they run to meet one another. She tentatively inquires about his new marriage, and Dobbin reveals it was a just a rumor. He attends dinner at the Sedleys that evening and makes the grand claim that Jos has come home to care for his father and sister now that Mrs. Sedley is dead—a claim that is not entirely true, as Jos somewhat resents the financial drain his family has been on him. Amelia tells Dobbin all about Georgy, and Dobbin continues to lament that Amelia has wasted all her love on the selfish George who never even knew what he had.

Chapter 59: The Old Piano

Jos finally arrives in London and is upset to learn his mother passed away while he was on the boat from India. The revelation makes him realize he must stay in London to take care of his family. Meanwhile, Polly, Amelia's maid, tells Amelia she believes Dobbin still has feelings for her, which Amelia is too mortified to accept. She convinces herself Dobbin only cares for her so deeply because he was so close to George. She also believes she will never love anyone again the way she loved George.

Jos gets a new house for the Sedleys to live in, and Dobbin is heartened when he notices the only furniture Amelia brings is the piano he bought her long ago; she tells him it is the only thing of value to her. While Dobbin is on the verge of revealing to her it was he who bought her the piano, Amelia gushes over how kind George was to give it her when she was so unhappy. Yet Amelia eventually realizes on her own that it was, in fact, Dobbin who got her the piano, and she apologizes to him for not realizing sooner. Finally, Dobbin feels he can tell Amelia about his true feelings for her. Amelia responds with sorrow, telling him she will never love anyone like she loved George—and that she sees Dobbin as a brother. Dobbin understands, but begs Amelia to allow him to continue to see her, which she agrees to.

Chapter 60: Returns to the Genteel World

Life is slowly looking up for the Sedleys, as Jos settles into his fine new house and Amelia begins to socialize again. All of her old acquaintances, who would not acknowledge her when she was poor, come to call on her, and she entertains Jos's friends from his club, along with their wives. Amelia also begins to receive men who are courting her, although she is uninterested and (Dobbin believes) too much in her steadiness to be concerned.

Analysis

The narrator goes to great lengths to emphasize the similarities between Amelia Sedley and William Dobbin, and not necessarily in the most flattering light—both have spent much of their lives obsessed with a person who hardly cared for them. Amelia can't seem to admit to herself that Dobbin is a much kinder and more attentive person than George Osborne ever was—and even seems to have innocently taken his many grand gestures and kindnesses for granted. Yet now that they are in close proximity once again, the narrator hints that perhaps time has shifted the circumstances for them. Their first dinner together shows them playing their usual parts, with Dobbin keeping his feelings to himself and Amelia gushing over her deceased husband.

When Dobbin finally reveals his true feelings to Amelia in Chapter 59, he seems to truly believe her feelings have changed now that she knows it was he who bought her the piano. Yet Amelia seems incapable of changing her outlook and attachment to her dead husband. Even though she knows that George pretended that he gave her the piano—not a flattering reflection on his character—to see the truth of who George really was would require her to rewrite her history in a way she could never bear. Even so, her treatment of Dobbin here seems cruel—she wants to keep him near, but refuses to marry him despite his feelings for her. The fact that Dobbin agrees to continue seeing Amelia perhaps marks him as a perennial fool who deserves the heartbreak he constantly seems to seek from her.

Amelia's return to society is an inverse mirror of Becky Sharp's fall from it—just as Becky is now alone and poor, so Amelia is becoming popular and wealthy once again. The narrator seems to hint that these cycles are inevitable in Vanity Fair: "Think how mysterious and often unaccountable it is—that lottery of life which gives to this man ... fine linen, and sends to the other rags." For all the scheming and striving, luck seem to play much larger a factor in the lives of these characters than they would like to believe. William Makepeace Thackeray also takes care to examine and reveal the motives of his characters, particularly when manipulation is at play. Dobbin's lies are usually altruistic, such as when he lies about purchasing Amelia's piano. This places him in sharp contrast to a character like Becky, who only lies to others for her own selfish gains. But neither of their lies really serves to benefit anyone: Becky's lies prove her undoing, just as Dobbin's allowed Amelia to marry an unworthy man.

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