Summary and Analysis
An essay on friendship explains why Dobbin is so bold for George's interest, whereas he does nothing for himself. In time, now, the reader goes back to Dobbin before his arrival in Brighton.
Dobbin's nervous behavior when he has visited Russell Square has made Miss Lane Osborne think that he is about to propose to her. Finally, Dobbin has come out with the news about George's and Amelia's marriage. When Frederick Bullock hears this, he rejoices because he thinks Maria will inherit more, and when he points out this possibility to the sisters, they rise in their own esteem.
Dobbin has gone to inform Mr. Osborne of George's marriage and has suggested that any differences between father and son should be straightened out because the regiment has been ordered to the Continent. Mr. Osborne, however, has refused reconciliation and has disinherited George. While Dobbin prepares to go to Brighton, Miss Jane waits in vain for his return.
Alone with George in Brighton, Dobbin gives him a letter from old Osborne stating that he is cut off with two thousand pounds from his mother's estate. George blames Dobbin for the outcome and says, "A beggar, by Jove, and all in consequence of my d — d sentimentality." Finally George gets through berating Dobbin for being instrumental in bringing about the marriage and forgives him.
Rebecca outshines Amelia in every way. She charms George, in fact all the men except honest Dobbin. When Rebecca tells George how she plans to trap Briggs for a talk, George's laugh upsets Amelia, who goes off whimpering, feeling she has lost George. When she questions her husband she finds out about his disinheritance and feels better, thinking that money is their only problem and that George is worried about her. In varying degrees of excitement and anxiety the principal characters prepare to go to Brussels.
The scene shifts back to Miss Crawley. Becky has talked to Briggs and discovered that all the servants rebel against Mrs. Bute's dictatorship. Fortunately, the Reverend Bute breaks his collar bone and his wife has to go home; this is the opportunity that the Rawdon Crawleys have wished for. Immediately they write to Miss Crawley, but she laughs at their letter and sees through their designs. She does, however, agree to meet Rawdon by himself, at which interview he gains a token twenty pounds. Becky laughs at his unhappiness; he has hoped for two hundred.
Thackeray's humor shows as he describes William trying to break the news of George's marriage to Miss Jane Osborne, while she thinks he is trying to propose. Turning to irony he shows Mr. Bullock in his visit with the Osborne sisters: "A delightful throb of expectation lighted up his little eyes, and caused him to smile on his Maria, as he thought that by this piece of folly of Mr. George's she might be worth thirty thousand pounds more." And the Osborne sisters, when Fred points out the possibilities of money, "had risen not a little in their own esteem." Thackeray says this respect for money is human, that children follow the one who has the money, the candy, or the possessions.
After Dobbin breaks the news of George's marriage to Mr. Osborne, the latter scratches George's name out of the family Bible. If there is a chance of reconciliation, Dobbin loses it by not proposing to Miss Jane. Old Osborne is agreeable so long as he gets his own way — that is, he is friendly to Dobbin until he realizes he can't manage him. Osborne rules his household with a "loud grating pompous voice." Thackeray has shown Osborne's character through his actions.
The action now moves away from Brighton toward Brussels. Both George and Rawdon are disappointed in their money settlements: George with two thousand and Rawdon twenty. This blocking of hope creates tensions in the plot. Her mind only on George, Amelia begins to suspect Becky, but does not blame George. He has been noble, Amelia thinks, to marry her.
With a cold appraising eye, Becky sees her companions clearly and fears only the honest Dobbin. She displays her forethought by sending the family possessions on ahead, when it is not certain Rawdon will have money to pay lodgings, and by taking a devious route through London to avoid previous creditors. Becky is skillful in finding out the family secrets by choosing the same apothecary as Miss Crawley, and too skillful in helping Rawdon write the letter to his aunt. Becky's mind, constantly on one goal — a booth in Vanity Fair — searches for opportunities to advance. Although Becky is the villainess, the reader will admire her resourcefulness, her intelligence, and her unfailing drive toward her goal. Those who already have a place in Vanity Fair, like the Osborne sisters, display negative natures most of the time, which do not arouse interest like the wicked but positive Becky.
Death lies outside Vanity Fair. Of the approaching death of Aunt Crawley, Thackeray writes, "The last scene of her dismal Vanity Fair comedy was fast approaching; the tawdry lamps were going out one by one; and the dark curtain was almost ready to descend."