Summary, Chapter 49 - 54
Lord Steyne approaches the women who are planning the dinner party on Friday. He finds that they are not willing to invite Becky. He is outraged at this news. He becomes excessively cruel, and tells Lady Gaunt that she is worthless, that her husband doesn't love her, that she is unable to have children, and the only woman in her company who doesn't want her dead is Lady George. He praises Becky and his wife's innocence, and then compels the women to invite Becky because he is the master of the house.
The ladies at the party have conspired to make Becky feel uncomfortable, especially the Lady Bareacres, who is a member of the family that snubbed and was snubbed by Becky in Brussels. At the dinner table, they speak in French, thinking that they can exclude Becky from the conversation. However, being more fluent than they, Becky infuriates the group by responding in French more skillfully. Becky, of course, charms the male guests, then manages to charm Lady Steyne by singing her religious songs. Lord Steyne is for once proud of his wife while she admiringly listens to Becky.
Chapter 50 turns back to the Sedleys, who are still suffering from financial ruin and are near starvation. Amelia tries desperately to earn money so that she doesn't have to send her son away. She tries selling her paintings, but she is not a very good artist, so they don't bring in any money. She tries being a governess, but no one brings their children to her. She asks her brother, Jos, for some money, since she thinks he has stopped sending it. Her father confesses to her that he has been taking the yearly allowance and paying his creditors with it. She realizes that there is no hope and that she must turn over Georgy to his grandfather.
Georgy moves in with his grandfather at Russell Square. It does not take long for him to adjust to his new lifestyle. In no time, he is acting just like his grandfather, being snobbish and even criticizing his own mother. Meanwhile, Amelia stalks her son, lingering outside the Osborne residence and watching them while they are in church.
Becky is becoming increasingly popular in aristocratic social circles. She becomes a favorite at the French Embassy, but then appeals more and more to Lord Steyne by making fun of their English. The author then provides a short list of people that are considered "the best" of people, remarking that once they accept people into their social circle, those lucky chosen ones will gain approval elsewhere without question. One of these people, Lady Fitz-Willis, visits Becky's home, and so she attains another of her ultimate life goals. The narrator remarks that having achieved everything she ever wanted is making Becky bored.
Some of the aristocrats start to wonder how Becky can afford to throw all her extravagant parties and fund her lavish lifestyle. The narrator remarks that Becky does not spend much money at all. She gets her alcohol from Lord Steyne, the game for food from Sir Pitt, and she charms all the musicians and artists at the parties she goes to so that they will perform for her and give her lessons. The narrator asks his readers not to judge, for he observes that most rich people have some sort of debt at some point in their lives.
Becky encourages Lord Steyne to start throwing charades parties, since they are all the rage in France. At one of these parties, Becky plays Clytemnestra, shocking everyone with her stunning performance and her bare arms. All of the men talk about how perfect she is, and Rawdon becomes increasingly distressed by the distance growing between Becky and him. He decides to walk home rather than ride in the carriage with her, and on the way, he is arrested for not paying his debts.
Chapter 52 flashes back before Rawdon's arrest. The narrator is interested in enlightening the reader about what happened to lead up to that moment in the story. Lord Steyne has offered to finance little Rawdon's education at a fine boarding school. Even though Rawdon is reluctant to see his son go, he knows this is in the boy's best interest, so he allows it. Becky, of course, is glad to see her son go, and she doesn't even kiss him goodbye.
Rawdon misses his son terribly, but visits frequently. He takes him and his friends to plays and pampers the boy. He and Lady Jane spend a lot of time together with the children. Becky and Lady Jane grow to dislike each other even more, since they differ so much on how they view the proper treatment of children. Becky feels that she can't be bothered with raising a son when she has so many social obligations.
Lord Steyne becomes suspicious when Miss Briggs is still in the Crawley house, and he decides to investigate what happened to the money he gave Becky to pay her off. Through his investigating, he finds out that Becky asked for double the sum that she needed. He confronts Becky, and she blames Rawdon for the whole thing, claiming that he forced her to ask for the money.
Rawdon writes to Becky to send him money so that he can get out of prison. He needs 100 pounds and does not have enough. She writes him back, claiming that she is ill and will have to wait until the next day to bail him out. Rawdon does not want to spend the entire weekend in prison, so he writes to his brother. Lady Jane comes to his rescue, and he expresses to her how much her kindness has changed his life.
Rawdon is surprised to find many of the lights on in the house. He finds her and Lord Steyne in the dining room holding hands. She is wearing gobs of diamond jewelry, which Lord Steyne gave her. Rawdon begins to accuse her, and in response, she claims her innocence. Then Lord Steyne accuses her, and Rawdon strikes him. He then strips her of the jewelry and hurls it at the marquis.
Rawdon demands Becky's keys. She gives them to him, and he uses them to open her secret box. Inside are numerous love letters, thousands of pounds, and a good deal of jewelry as well. Rawdon is scandalized, for Becky has been allowing them to live in debt while she horded all this wealth in secret. Rawdon walks out on Becky while she continues to claim her innocence, and she realizes that she has lost everything.
Rawdon goes over to his brother's house and tells him the story of what he discovered in his home and requests that he look after his son for him, since he is going to be fighting Lord Styne in a duel. Rawdon then goes to Captain Macmurdo to ask him to be his second in the duel. Captain Macmurdo has long been Rawdon's close friend and second, so he agrees immediately. Macmurdo is not surprised to learn about Becky, remarking that many people have suspected Becky of foul play from the beginning. Rawdon is angry that none of his friends told him about her, but he admits that despite all this, he is still desperately in love with her.
Analysis, Chapters 49 - 54
These are an important three chapters in the book. Thackeray is very concisely yet complicatedly exposing his theme and the society in which his characters play their games. From the argument over whether or not Rebecca is going to be invited to the party to the game of charades, Becky goes from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom of the social chain.
Lord Steyne compels his wife to invite Rebecca, defending her honor while all the other ladies criticize her. This has been Rebecca throughout the entire book. She appeals to the men because she flirts, and she angers the women because she attracts their men. Though this usually offers her success for a time, it usually leads to her downfall.
Despite Becky's appeal, many of the people she engages with start to question how she is maintaining her extravagant lifestyle. Thackeray includes this skepticism because he is setting up the reader for the eventual exposure.
And then Thackeray brings in the very important symbol of charades. Charades becomes increasingly popular among the nobility and has been imported from France. So of course, Rebecca has to incorporate it as one of her hobbies, and she plays the very scandalous Clytemnestra.
This is important on several levels. Charades is a perfect game for Vanity Fair, because it is all about embodying roles. The game is also perfect for Rebecca because she is constantly pretending to be someone that she isn't. And Clytemnestra is a perfect role for her to play, because Clytemnestra is a manipulator of men; she eventually kills her husband, Agamemnon. Rebecca has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned her husband for dead. She does not bail him out of jail, and she gave him up so that she could have a social life.
Indeed, as indicated in the previous chapters, Rebecca's status starts to plummet. Lord Steyne decides to look into Rebecca's life. He finds out that she swindled him and is only barely won over when she claims that it was all Rawdon's doing.
Meanwhile, Rawdon realizes that his wife is not going to be the one to get him out of jail. Lady Jane comes to his rescue. He arrives home to find Rebecca entertaining Lord Steyne, when she claimed that she was too ill to help him.
This can be considered the climax for Rebecca and her dangerous life. Both Lord Steyne and Rawdon discover the truth about her, a truth that was long right under their noses but that they were not willing to confront. But they no longer have any choice to confront it, and they decide to duel.
This does not seem appropriate, considering that Rebecca is the one in the wrong. And indeed, as Rawdon discusses the situation with the second he has chosen for his duel, he reveals that despite everything she has done, he is still in love with Rebecca. He wants to fight for her honor, so it appears that Rebecca has managed to hang on to the protection of her husband by the slenderest of threads.