Summary and Analysis
Rebecca writes to Amelia describing her sadness at their separation, relating in detail the coach trip, and ridiculing Sir Pitt. She describes the Crawley family, dwells on Sir Pitt's crudeness and stinginess, saying that he even counts the grapes on the vines. At the close of the letter, the author notes that Rebecca reveres only money and success. He says he will tell the truth, and it will not be beautiful.
After the death of his highbred first wife, Sir Pitt has married Rose Dawson, the daughter of an ironmonger. Rose, happy to be Lady Crawley, has given up the man she loved and the friends of her youth, as they cannot be received by one of her station. To her sorrow she finds that no one of her new rank will associate with her. Her only good quality, her beauty, soon fades; she continuously mourns its loss.
Young Pitt Crawley, a very correct person, is attentive to the schooling of the two Crawley girls, his half sisters. Rebecca is to be their governess.
The late Walpole Crawley, beloved by all for his drunkenness and hospitality, has left the family estate financially embarrassed because of a fine incurred for embezzlement. Sir Pitt is too stingy to hire honest workmen and is swindled by the dishonest. He buys cheap horses and loses them by starvation. He will not pay his debts, even those owed his son from the mother's estate. His rich half sister won't loan him money. However, he loves show and will not drive without four horses; and although he eats boiled mutton, he has three footmen to serve it.
Rebecca wins her way into the affections of those who count in this household. She asks Mr. Pitt to translate French for her, though she knows it better than he. She sighs and cries over his pious discourses and tells him she is descended from the Montmorency family, but omits the detail that her mother was an actress. Rebecca plays backgammon with Sir Pitt. She copies his letters, corrects his spelling, reads his law papers, learns about running the estate, and wins the baronet's confidence to the degree that he begins to depend on her advice.
Sir Pitt's sons, Pitt and Rawdon, hate each other. Miss Crawley, the rich aunt, has sent Rawdon, her favorite, to Cambridge. After two years he is expelled, and she buys him a commission in the Life Guards Green where he is a dandy and fights duels. Pitt Crawley objects to visits from his rich aunt because he can't pray and read his sermons. She won't leave him money anyhow, having a weakness for Rawdon's wild, unorthodox, and radical ways, and calling Pitt a "puling hypocrite."
After his description of the honest folk at Queen's Crawley, Thackeray introduces the Reverend Bute Crawley, who bets on the races, boxes, eats, drinks, sings, fishes, follows the hounds, and is generally popular in the area. His wife writes his sermons, runs the house, and lets him go as he pleases, knowing every meal he eats elsewhere saves her money. Bute, in debt from a wild racing bet, thinks his rich sister must leave him half her money. Sir Pitt and Bute quarrel and spy on each other continually, but when their rich sister visits, they love each other and wait on her like toadies.
Snoopy Mrs. Bute writes Miss Pinkerton for information about Becky, and gets plenty. Rebecca writes Amelia about Humdrum Hall (Queen's Crawley) and of Rawdon and how he prefers to dance with her. Horrocks, the butler, tells Sir Pitt he thinks Becky a match for Rawdon, and the author adds, for Rawdon's father too.
The subject of Miss Matilda Crawley's death is hopefully discussed among her loving relatives who want her money. Chapter 11 comments on how people will pretend and flatter to get money.
The atmosphere at Queen's Crawley shows in the following conversation. Sir Pitt says, "How's Buty, Hodson? I'm afraid he's better, Sir Pitt."
Sir Pitt brags that there is timber worth six thousand pounds along his driveway and immediately has two little boys flogged for gathering sticks. Although Sir Pitt isn't fit for anything (he can neither read nor spell), yet he is courted by ministers and statesmen. He rates high in Vanity Fair.
Part of the twist of Thackeray's plot is that the always correct and stuffy Pitt Crawley, who frowns on his half sisters' laughter, who will neither let them play cards nor escape household prayers at ten, is the instrument of introducing Becky into the household.
Often the author intrudes to tell the reader what to think. He says this installment is mild, but that he must tell things as he sees them. Rebecca is bad. Some people are "Faithless, Hopeless, Charityless: let us have at them, dear friends, with might and main. Some there are, and very successful too, mere quacks and fools; and it was to combat and expose such as those, no doubt, that Laughter was made." With cutting sarcasm Thackeray points out the foibles of a noble family. Miss Crawley is well treated "for she had a balance at her banker's which would have made her beloved anywhere."
Thackeray wishes someone would send him a rich old aunt, whom he would treat with all kindness, money being all-important in Vanity Fair. He says, "I, for my part, have known a five-pound note to interpose and knock up a half-century's attachment between two brethren; and can't but admire, as I think what a fine and durable thing Love is among worldly people." And he adds, "What a charming reconciler and peacemaker money is."