Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Summary and Analysis Chapters 15-18

Summary

The mystery of Becky's refusal of Sir Pitt, her consequent embarrassment and tears, the deepening attachment of Miss Crawley's household for the poor child, start this number off with excitement. The author shows the pace by an essay on the probability of a gentleman's marrying a maidservant. "If people only made prudent marriages, what a stop to population there would be!"

Becky begins work on plans for her own and Rawdon's future. When she joins Rawdon, Mrs. Bute Crawley moves in on Miss Crawley. Sir Pitt returns and, finding out about Becky and Rawdon, goes into a rage.

Now the author begins a dissertation about attending sales. He takes the reader to the auction of the Sedley estate and gives details of the varied reactions of people at a sale. (When Jos Sedley hears of his father's business failure, he tells his parents to draw on his agents for money, and then continues his way unconcerned.)

At the sale Becky buys a picture of Joseph, and Dobbin buys Amelia's piano and sends it to her. Meanwhile Miss Crawley has not come through with money for Rawdon, who wishes for a few card games with George to replenish his cash. Rawdon realizes that Mrs. Bute is poisoning Miss Crawley's mind, but he does not regret his marriage; Becky humors him and makes him happy.

At this point an essay shows how Napoleon's actions affect little Amelia Sedley's happiness. Napoleon's activities are blamed for Mr. Sedley's failure and the subsequent breaking up of the Sedley household, the rupture with the Osbornes, and the attempt by old Osborne to break George's attachment to Amelia.

Although all the gossips of Vanity Fair agree that Amelia does not merit George, William Dobbin defends her. At first George has little interest in the misfortunes of the Sedleys; but when he realizes that Amelia may be out of reach, his interest reawakens.

Analysis

Everyone in Miss Crawley's household is putting on an act. Rebecca schemes how she and Rawdon can win forgiveness from Sir Pitt and Miss Crawley.

There is humor in Miss Crawley's hurrying up to see Sir Pitt on his knees; she is bewildered at Rebecca's refusal and tears. Thackeray says Rebecca "wept there so naturally that the old lady, surprised into sympathy, embraced her with an almost maternal kindness . . . I am sure our friend Becky's disappointment deserves and will command every sympathy."

The irony of Vanity Fair is that the people pretend to feel emotions until their pocketbooks, passions, or family names are touched; then they revert to savagery. The worship of money shows in Mrs. Bute Crawley's taking charge of the household ostensibly to protect Miss Crawley, actually to get her money.

The worship of name and position shows in the horror the Crawleys feel because Rawdon has married a governess. Becky's friends say her mother was of a fine French family; her enemies say she was an opera girl. However, if a person has money, like Sir Pitt, he may marry whomever he likes, and the family will conceal its disapproval.

Many incidents of this stage of the story will figure later in the plot: the purchase of Jos' picture by Becky; Dobbin's purchase of the piano for Amelia; the Osborne reaction to Sedley's failure; Rawdon's willingness to live on nothing.

William Dobbin, "the uproused British lion," brings about the reconciliation of George and Amelia and sets the stage for further developments. George, having neglected to find out what has happened to Amelia, feels shame for having forgotten her. Selfish as he is, he can feel embarrassment over his own cruelty. However, as the reader will see, he does not stop being selfish.

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