Summary and Analysis
Thackeray contrasts Mrs. Bute Crawley's flattery of the servants with Rawdon's blunt treatment, and concludes that soft words take a person further than unkind ones.
Mrs. Bute Crawley establishes herself in Miss Crawley's house, makes friends of Firkin and Briggs, and digs in for battle, suspecting that Rawdon will try for reconciliation. Mrs. Bute wants to protect Miss Crawley "from the arts of those unprincipled people." Mrs. Bute makes such a fuss over Miss Crawley's illness that she frightens the poor woman. Thackeray observes that the tinsel of Vanity Fair does not persist in the lonely hours of illness and sorrow.
Mrs. Bute would like to convert Miss Crawley and starts out by making her hate all of Rawdon's sins. Thackeray observes that one's relatives can abuse one's reputation worse than anyone else. By making Rawdon and Rebecca as disreputable as possible, Mrs. Bute hopes to prevent Miss Crawley's ever seeing Rawdon again.
But Mrs. Bute is over-jealous and over-zealous. The doctor insists that Miss Crawley have some fresh air. Her guardian is afraid Miss Crawley will see Rawdon and forgive him, although what Mrs. Bute says is that the sight of him will kill the invalid. Dr. Squill and Mr. Clump see through Mrs. Bute's machinations. As for the patient, she hates Mrs. Bute and would like to be free of her. One day Mrs. Bute and Miss Crawley meet Rawdon, but Miss Crawley doesn't speak; triumphant for the moment, Mrs. Bute sees danger in future meetings.
Meanwhile Dobbin helps Amelia and George marry. George, touched by Amelia's sorrow and devotion, is willing to marry her in spite of her loss of fortune and feels himself quite generous. Both fathers oppose the marriage, but Mr. Sedley becomes reconciled when he thinks that the match will make Osborne furious.
Old Osborne wants George to marry Miss Swartz, the rich "Black Princess." He thinks he can starve George into the marriage by withholding money, but if George marries Amelia, his father will disinherit him. Miss Swartz doesn't know what old Osborne has in mind, but she thinks George attractive. George is praising Amelia when his father comes in, eyes afire, but George outglares him, goes back to Dobbin and tells him that he has broken with his father and that he will marry Amelia the next day, which he does.
The scene shifts to Brighton where Joseph, Rawdon, and George watch the crowd and the sea. Rawdon makes a little cash by gambling with Jos. Dobbin, coming in on the coach, is welcomed by everyone. He says he has seen old Osborne but does not reveal what the old man has said. He asks about Amelia, then shocks them all by saying they're ordered to Belgium.
Thackeray leaves no doubt of Mrs. Bute's motivations in regard to Miss Crawley's money; but greed is nothing new in Vanity Fair. Commenting on how much his sisters think of Miss Swartz, George tells Amelia, "My dear child, they would have loved you if you had had two hundred thousand pounds."
Thackeray says, "I know some respectable people who don't consider themselves at liberty to indulge in friendship for any individual who has not a certain competency, or place in society . . . People in Vanity Fair fasten on to rich folks quite naturally."
The action of the story is forwarded by the marriage of George and Amelia, their removal to Brighton, their meeting with Becky and Rawdon (who are in Brighton because Miss Crawley is there), and the final orders for Belgium. William Dobbin reveals himself not only capable of suffering for Amelia and stimulating George to honorable actions, but of feeling shame and remorse for Mr. Sedley and his desolation.
Thackeray points out other practices in Vanity Fair: "I knew once a gentleman, and very worthy practitioner in Vanity Fair, who used to do little wrongs to his neighbours on purpose, and in order to apologize for them in an open and manly way afterwards — and what ensued? My friend Crocky Doyle was liked everywhere, and deemed to be rather impetuous — but the honestest fellow."
"How well those live who are comfortably and thoroughly in debt . . . Long custom, a manly appearance, faultless boots and clothes, and a happy fierceness of manner, will often help a man as much as a great balance at the banker's."