Summary and Analysis
This installment opens with a description of Great Gaunt Street from the viewpoint of Tom Eaves. Tom thinks that in rich families the sons and fathers naturally hate each other. The son wishes the father would die so he may inherit; the younger sons wish the older son dead so they may inherit.
The insanity of Lord Steyne's son and the fear of its transmission to his grandchildren grieve Lord Steyne. He tries to forget his troubles through pleasure and fabulous parties to which everyone longs to go, although everyone deplores his morals.
Becky finally is presented at Court — the height of her ambition. Lady Jane remarks on the beauty and quality of Becky's gown, and Rawdon questions her about her jewels. She does not reveal that she stole the gown material from the Crawley's house in Great Gaunt Street nor that the jewels are gifts from both Sir Pitt and Lord Steyne.
After Becky's presentation at Court, the Marchioness of Steyne and the Countess of Gaunt invite her to dine. Becky's triumph in view of this advancement is not dimmed by Lord Steyne's conviction that she cannot hold her place in Vanity Fair without money. Lord Steyne wants Becky to get rid of Briggs in order that he can have more time alone with his favorite. Becky cries, saying that she owes Briggs money and can't pay it. Lord Steyne gives her a draft for the amount she specifies which is twice what she owes Briggs. Becky pays a little on the most pressing bills and conceals the rest in her private hiding place.
The reader now gets a flashback of Lord Steyne's bullying the women of his house into inviting Becky. Lady Blanche is one of the Bareacres ladies whom Becky has insulted in Brussels. At first the ladies have refused to invite Becky, but Lord Steyne has overcome their reluctance by the most brutal methods.
The story continues with an account of the illustrious people Becky meets at the Steyne's home, and the glowing newspaper account of Becky's charm, which publicity fills Mrs. Bute's heart with rage. Actually the ladies at the party ignore Becky, but she is befriended by Lady Steyne, who feels sorry for her. Becky sings religious songs for the old lady, songs which bring nostalgic tears to Lady Steyne. The night ends in triumph for Becky.
The story returns to the Sedleys, who are near starvation. Mrs. Sedley has turned against everyone. Emmy tries to do art work for money, but fails; she seeks private tutoring to no avail. She realizes she must part with Georgy. Thackeray discloses that Joseph hasn't neglected his parents, but Mr. Sedley has sold the annuity as backing for one of his haphazard business schemes.
Old Osborne rejoices that Amelia has been starved out — he had hoped to do the same to George — starvation is one of the weapons of Vanity Fair. He sends for Georgy but gives orders that Amelia is not to come to Russell Square. Two days after his rise to affluence, little Georgy begins to patronize his mother.
Amelia walks to Russell Square and watches the light go out in Georgy's room, prays for him, and walks home in silence. Once she sees Georgy and his aunt going to church. A chimney sweep asks for charity and the footman tries to drive him away, but Georgy gives him money. This kind, impulsive action cheers his mother; she goes into the church and watches little Georgy's head and, above it, the monument to his father.
The author offers some excuse for Lord Steyne's dissoluteness by telling of his anxiety over the family insanity. Lord Steyne seeks to forget it through sensuous pleasure; his wife seeks refuge in religion. The inhabitants of Vanity Fair are willing to shut their eyes to Lord Steyne's immoralities because he has both money and position. This fact should be remembered later when Rebecca meets catastrophe.
Tom Eaves, a combination of eavesdropper and Peeping Tom, thinks he knows everything and judges with a cynical eye, yet he too, bows before a "great man" and having put all his money into an annuity, does not hate his relatives and has no "feeling with regard to his betters, but a constant and generous desire to dine with them."
Lord Steyne's prediction that Becky can't stay at the top of Vanity Fair society proves prophetic. Circumstances are closing in about Becky: the cache in her desk will betray her. At first, only the servants have talked about her; now the people at Court notice Lord Steyne's absorbed attention to her. Although she has been invited to Lord Steyne's home by his ladies, and she seems at the culmination of success, the potential of her destruction grows stronger.
The author, presenting the good and the bad, allows the reader to admire Lord Steyne in one incident, at least. Although he is in the best humor when he is torturing his wife and daughter-in-law; yet when his wife rescues Becky, he is grateful and tells his wife. Becky too, shows a moment of human kindness when she appreciates Lady Steyne's kindness in speaking to her and asking her to sing.
Speaking of Amelia's final surrender of Georgy, Thackeray says, "Poverty and misery for all, want and degradation for her parents, injustice to the boy — one by one the outworks of the little citadel were taken, in which the poor soul passionately guarded her only love and treasure."
Thackeray discourses on the subject of men and women. While the following comment fits Amelia, it could not be altogether true of Becky:
I know few things more affecting than that timorous debasement and self-humiliation of a woman. How she owns that it is she and not the man who is guilty: how she takes all the faults on her side and persists in shielding the real culprit! It is those who injure women who get the most kindness from them—they are born timid and tyrants, and maltreat those who are humblest before them. By heavens it is pitiful, the bootless love of women for children in Vanity Fair.
Both Amelia and Becky maltreat those who are humblest before them.