Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 43-46

But the truth is, neither beauty nor fashion could conquer him. Our honest friend had but one idea of a woman in his head, and that one did not in the least resemble Miss Glorvina O'Dowd in pink satin. A gentle little woman in black, with large eyes and brown hair, seldom speaking, save when spoken to, and then in a voice not the least resembling Miss Glorvina's — a soft young mother tending an infant and beckoning the Major up with a smile to look at him — a rosy- cheeked lass coming singing into the room in Russell Square or hanging on George Osborne's arm, happy and loving — there was but this image that filled our honest Major's mind, by day and by night, and reigned over it always. Very likely Amelia was not like the portrait the Major had formed of her: there was a figure in a book of fashions which his sisters had in England, and with which William had made away privately, pasting it into the lid of his desk, and fancying he saw some resemblance to Mrs. Osborne in the print, whereas I have seen it, and can vouch that it is but the picture of a high-waisted gown with an impossible doll's face simpering over it — and, perhaps, Mr. Dobbin's sentimental Amelia was no more like the real one than this absurd little print which he cherished. But what man in love, of us, is better informed? — or is he much happier when he sees and owns his delusion? Dobbin was under this spell. He did not bother his friends and the public much about his feelings, or indeed lose his natural rest or appetite on account of them. His head has grizzled since we saw him last, and a line or two of silver may be seen in the soft brown hair likewise. But his feelings are not in the least changed or oldened, and his love remains as fresh as a man's recollections of boyhood are.

We have said how the two Misses Dobbin and Amelia, the Major's correspondents in Europe, wrote him letters from England, Mrs. Osborne congratulating him with great candour and cordiality upon his approaching nuptials with Miss O'Dowd. "Your sister has just kindly visited me," Amelia wrote in her letter, "and informed me of an INTERESTING EVENT, upon which I beg to offer my MOST SINCERE CONGRATULATIONS. I hope the young lady to whom I hear you are to be UNITED will in every respect prove worthy of one who is himself all kindness and goodness. The poor widow has only her prayers to offer and her cordial cordial wishes for YOUR PROSPERITY! Georgy sends his love to HIS DEAR GODPAPA and hopes that you will not forget him. I tell him that you are about to form OTHER TIES, with one who I am sure merits ALL YOUR AFFECTION, but that, although such ties must of course be the strongest and most sacred, and supersede ALL OTHERS, yet that I am sure the widow and the child whom you have ever protected and loved will always HAVE A CORNER IN YOUR HEART" The letter, which has been before alluded to, went on in this strain, protesting throughout as to the extreme satisfaction of the writer.

This letter, .which arrived by the very same ship which brought out Lady O'Dowd's box of millinery from London (and which you may be sure Dobbin opened before any one of the other packets which the mail brought him), put the receiver into such a state of mind that Glorvina, and her pink satin, and everything belonging to her became perfectly odious to him. The Major cursed the talk of women, and the sex in general. Everything annoyed him that day — the parade was insufferably hot and wearisome. Good heavens! was a man of intellect to waste his life, day after day, inspecting cross-belts and putting fools through their manoeuvres? The senseless chatter of the young men at mess was more than ever jarring. What cared he, a man on the high road to forty, to know how many snipes Lieutenant Smith had shot, or what were the performances of Ensign Brown's mare? The jokes about the table filled him with shame. He was too old to listen to the banter of the assistant surgeon and the slang of the youngsters, at which old O'Dowd, with his bald head and red face, laughed quite easily. The old man had listened to those jokes any time these thirty years — Dobbin himself had been fifteen years hearing them. And after the boisterous dulness of the mess-table, the quarrels and scandal of the ladies of the regiment! It was unbearable, shameful. "O Amelia, Amelia," he thought, "you to whom I have been so faithful — you reproach me! It is because you cannot feel for me that I drag on this wearisome life. And you reward me after years of devotion by giving me your blessing upon my marriage, forsooth, with this flaunting Irish girl!" Sick and sorry felt poor William; more than ever wretched and lonely. He would like to have done with life and its vanity altogether — so bootless and unsatisfactory the struggle, so cheerless and dreary the prospect seemed to him. He lay all that night sleepless, and yearning to go home. Amelia's letter had fallen as a blank upon him. No fidelity, no constant truth and passion, could move her into warmth. She would not see that he loved her. Tossing in his bed, he spoke out to her. "Good God, Amelia!" he said, "don't you know that I only love you in the world — you, who are a stone to me — you, whom I tended through months and months of illness and grief, and who bade me farewell with a smile on your face, and forgot me before the door shut between us!" The native servants lying outside his verandas beheld with wonder the Major, so cold and quiet ordinarily, at present so passionately moved and cast down. Would she have pitied him had she seen him? He read over and over all the letters which he ever had from her — letters of business relative to the little property which he had made her believe her husband had left to her — brief notes of invitation — every scrap of writing that she had ever sent to him — how cold, how kind, how hopeless, how selfish they were!

Had there been some kind gentle soul near at hand who could read and appreciate this silent generous heart, who knows but that the reign of Amelia might have been over, and that friend William's love might have flowed into a kinder channel? But there was only Glorvina of the jetty ringlets with whom his intercourse was familiar, and this dashing young woman was not bent upon loving the Major, but rather on making the Major admire HER — a most vain and hopeless task, too, at least considering the means that the poor girl possessed to carry it out. She curled her hair and showed her shoulders at him, as much as to say, did ye ever see such jet ringlets and such a complexion? She grinned at him so that he might see that every tooth in her head was sound — and he never heeded all these charms. Very soon after the arrival of the box of millinery, and perhaps indeed in honour of it, Lady O'Dowd and the ladies of the King's Regiment gave a ball to the Company's Regiments and the civilians at the station. Glorvina sported the killing pink frock, and the Major, who attended the party and walked very ruefully up and down the rooms, never so much as perceived the pink garment. Glorvina danced past him in a fury with all the young subalterns of the station, and the Major was not in the least jealous of her performance, or angry because Captain Bangles of the Cavalry handed her to supper. It was not jealousy, or frocks, or shoulders that could move him, and Glorvina had nothing more.

So these two were each exemplifying the Vanity of this life, and each longing for what he or she could not get. Glorvina cried with rage at the failure. She had set her mind on the Major "more than on any of the others," she owned, sobbing. "He'll break my heart, he will, Peggy," she would whimper to her sister-in-law when they were good friends; "sure every one of me frocks must be taken in — it's such a skeleton I'm growing." Fat or thin, laughing or melancholy, on horseback or the music-stool, it was all the same to the Major. And the Colonel, puffing his pipe and listening to these complaints, would suggest that Glory should have some black frocks out in the next box from London, and told a mysterious story of a lady in Ireland who died of grief for the loss of her husband before she got ere a one.

While the Major was going on in this tantalizing way, not proposing, and declining to fall in love, there came another ship from Europe bringing letters on board, and amongst them some more for the heartless man. These were home letters bearing an earlier postmark than that of the former packets, and as Major Dobbin recognized among his the handwriting of his sister, who always crossed and recrossed her letters to her brother — gathered together all the possible bad news which she could collect, abused him and read him lectures with sisterly frankness, and always left him miserable for the day after "dearest William" had achieved the perusal of one of her epistles — the truth must be told that dearest William did not hurry himself to break the seal of Miss Dobbin's letter, but waited for a particularly favourable day and mood for doing so. A fortnight before, moreover, he had written to scold her for telling those absurd stories to Mrs. Osborne, and had despatched a letter in reply to that lady, undeceiving her with respect to the reports concerning him and assuring her that "he had no sort of present intention of altering his condition."

Two or three nights after the arrival of the second package of letters, the Major had passed the evening pretty cheerfully at Lady O'Dowd's house, where Glorvina thought that he listened with rather more attention than usual to the Meeting of the Wathers, the Minsthrel Boy, and one or two other specimens of song with which she favoured him (the truth is, he was no more listening to Glorvina than to the howling of the jackals in the moonlight outside, and the delusion was hers as usual), and having played his game at chess with her (cribbage with the surgeon was Lady O'Dowd's favourite evening pastime), Major Dobbin took leave of the Colonel's family at his usual hour and retired to his own house.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Amelia considers George’s death the greatest tragedy that could befall her. Had he lived,




Quiz