Summary, Chapter 13 - 18
George is admired in the military for being a playboy. Dobbin becomes so irate at his behavior that he blurts out that George is engaged to a nice young lady. George does not appreciate Dobbin's interference. Dobbin accuses George of being ashamed of Amelia and mistreating her. George rejects Dobbin's "sermonising" and comments on Amelia's affection for him, observing that there is no fun in a relationship if there is no chase involved. Dobbin's anger quickly abates, but he gives George money, begging him to do something nice for Amelia.
George returns to town and purchases a shirt-pin for himself rather than a gift for Amelia. Amelia is elated when he shows up at her house. He suggests that they dine with his sisters, and Amelia spends some time with them while George goes out on the town to gamble. They are surprised at her loquaciousness, thinking that George might be able to "make something of her."
Old Osborne, George's father, is a nasty, critical man. He is disappointed to find Amelia in his home, and he does not wait for George to begin dinner. When he and George are alone, he tells him that he must not marry Amelia unless she brings with her 10,000 pounds. Old Osborne is worried about the state of Mr. Sedley's business, and even though George and Amelia have been promised since childhood, Osborne claims that he has sufficiently repaid Mr. Sedley for helping him improve his situation.
Miss Matilda Crawley falls ill, and Becky leaves Sir Pitt to take care of her. She has become the only one the old woman trusts. Rawdon pays several visits to Matilda Crawley's home while she is ill, presumably to check in on his aunt. On one of her drives with Miss Crawley, Becky visits Amelia, who she hasn't seen in several months. Miss Crawley likes both George and Amelia and invites them to her home. Rebecca's interaction with George is hostile, since she blames him for her failure with Joseph Sedley.
Meanwhile, no one notices that Lady Crawley, severely ill, passed away, except for her stepson Pitt. Sir Pitt, once again a widower, visits Becky at Miss Crawley's home and proposes marriage. Rebecca, in tears over yet another missed opportunity, informs him that she is already married. Sir Pitt informs his sister that Rebecca has refused his marriage proposal, while Rebecca, humiliated and presumably disappointed over a lost opportunity, apologizes profusely. Confused, Aunt Matilda determines to discover the mystery man.
Becky regrets turning down Sir Pitt. She reflects on what her life might have been like as the wife of a baronet. She also worries about her relationship with Aunt Matilda, who seems displeased about her decisions. She composes a letter to one "Eliza Styles," detailing what happened but assuring this friend that their inheritance is secure due to the already strong relationship they have built with Miss Crawley. The author reveals the recipient as Becky's husband, Rawdon Crawley.
Rawdon is in love with Becky. He enjoys her wit, and he feels like an honest man for having married her. When they discovered that they were in love, they recruited Amelia to appear with them before a judge so that they could be married. Rawdon purchased a house by the military barracks and furnished it for his new bride so that they could live comfortably together.
Becky plans to break the news to Aunt Matilda. She spends the entire day preparing, and as a result, Aunt Matilda encourages Becky to move in with her, arguing that she could never return to Crawley as a governess. The next day, one of Miss Crawley's maids comes across a letter Becky has left behind for Mrs. Briggs on one of her suitcases in Miss Crawley's home. She brings it to Mrs. Briggs, who, along with Mrs. Bute Crawley, who has just arrived, exposes the contents to Aunt Matilda. The letter confesses Becky's marriage to Rawdon. At first, Aunt Matilda believes this is one of Mrs. Bute's schemes to secure the inheritance for herself, but then Mrs. Bute rants about Becky's unsavory family and past, and Aunt Matilda faints. Sir Pitt arrives, discovers the news, and leaves in a rage, returning home to go through Becky's things.
The Sedleys hold an auction because they have fallen into financial ruin. Amelia's piano is being sold, but Dobbin secretly buys it back and sends it to her. She comes to believe that this was George's doing.
Meanwhile, it has been a month since the wedding, and Mrs. Bute has taken Becky's place as caretaker for Miss Crawley. This troubles Rawdon and Rebecca, because they think that she might ruin their chance at any part of the fortune. Also, they have not come out into society yet because in so doing, they have been able to avoid their creditors.
Due to events in France, the Sedleys are suffering financially. Mr. and Mrs. Sedley both worry about what the news of their financial situation will do to Amelia. She has been quite lonely lately; George has been staying in town and ignoring her, Rebecca does not visit her, and George's sisters make fun of her. She spends much of her time sulking in her room. Meanwhile, George's father has discovered the Sedleys' situation, and though he feels guilty due to his reliance on Mr. Sedley for his success, he encourages George to break things off with Amelia. To help this cause, he sends a letter to the Sedleys accusing Mr. Sedley of swindling him and therefore destroying any chances for the marriage of his son to their daughter. Amelia accepts this news with surprising grace.
While everyone has nothing to say but negative things about Amelia, Dobbin continues to defend her. He reminds his sisters, who are wont to mock her, that she and George have basically been betrothed since childhood and that she has no control over her situation. Mrs. Sedley has meanwhile noticed that Dobbin is in love with her daughter.
George is actually rather upset that Amelia has returned all of the things he gave her, as instructed by her father. Dobbin remarks to George that Amelia is "dying." George's interest is piqued by the new, unavailable Amelia, and he resolves to get back together with her.
Analysis, Chapters 13 - 18
George is incredibly narcissistic. He allows rumors to spread about his love life even though he is promised to Amelia. He cannot help buying himself a pin rather than a gift for the woman he is going to visit. And when he finally does see Amelia, he feels good about the way she depends on him.
Sarah Rose Cole makes the argument that vanity manifests itself in homoeroticism among the men in the novel. It certainly seems like this applies to George and his many admirers in the military. George's fine qualities are intensely superficial, but they set him above all of his peers. "He was famous in field-sports, famous at a song, famous on parade; free with his money, which was bountifully supplied by his father. His coats were better made than any man's in the regiment, and he had more of them. He was adored by the men." No reason for this adoration is given aside from his prodigious wealth and other superficial qualities.
The author seems as much amused by the relationship between George and Amelia as he is saddened by it. He expresses his pity for poor Amelia, but one can only wonder when considering his tone and the use of simile, how seriously he approaches the matter. Perhaps his tone is a critical commentary on Amelia's naivete. "Oh, thou poor panting little soul! The very finest tree in the whole forest, with the straightest stem and the strongest arms, and the thickest foliage, wherein you choose to build and coo, may be marked fro what you know, and may be down with a crash ere long. What an old, old simile that is, between man and timber."
It is difficult to determine the author's attitude towards a number of things, including the two main female characters. Even though Rebecca is as manipulative as Amelia is sweet and innocent, it is not always clear which character Thackeray lauds. "Rebecca patronised her with calm superiority: she was so much the cleverer of the two, and her friend so gentle and unassuming, that she always yielded when anybody chose to command..."
The reader is left with a parody of a tableau at the end of chapter 14, which the author amusingly describes in the beginning of 15. "What can be prettier than an image of Love on his knees before Beauty? But when Love heard that awful confession from Beauty that she was married already, he bounced up from his attitude of humility on the carpet, uttering exclamations which caused poor little Beauty to be more frightened than she was when she made her avowal." Sir Pitt is as far from "Love" as any character in the novel, which makes this assessment of the event clearly humorous. Thackeray emphasizes here the fickle attitudes toward serious matters such as love and marriage in Vanity Fair.
Thackeray foreshadows the lasting effect that Rawdon's marriage will have on his character. Because it seemed at the time a spontaneous and irresponsible decision on his part, it is important to note the narrator's commentary. "It seems to me...that Mr. Rawdon's marriage was one of the honestest actions which we shall have to record in any portion of that gentleman's biography." This also serves to characterize Rawdon, who, as a gambler and dueler, is clearly not a man conscious of duty.
The narrator remarks that Rebecca does not in the least bit admire Rawdon, and that it is her goal to do her best with what she has earned for herself. She does not believe that he has any "brains," and this displeases her, because it means that she will never be able to "make something of him." This tells the reader that in order to follow her ambitions, Rebecca is going to once again rely on herself for social advancement.
Thackeray uses this opportunity to speak to the men in his reading audience, warning them that even the wives who seem to be pure domestic angels are actually deceptive and hypocritical. He warns that many wives do everything they can to manipulate their husbands. "How often those frank smiles, which they wear so easily, are traps to cajole or elude or disarm...Who has not seen a woman hide the dullness of a stupid husband, or coax the fury of a savage one?"
In the beginning of chapter 18, Thackeray reminds his reader that this book is happening in the context of the Napoleonic wars. "Our surprised story now finds itself for a moment among very famous events and personages." Thackeray does this to emphasize that while his characters are obsessed with the minutia of their lives, larger and more important events are unfolding around them.
At the same time, the wars rain destruction specifically upon the Sedleys, who lose their entire fortune because of the outbreak of the wars. But Thackeray seems to treat Amelia's situation sarcastically. "I say, is it not hard that the fateful rush of the great Imperial struggle can't take place without affecting a poor little harmless girl of eighteen, who is occupied in billing and cooing, or working muslin collars in Russell Square?" This remark is clearly rhetorical.