Summary, Chapter 19 - 24
Mrs. Bute charms the servants in an effort to further ingratiate herself with Aunt Matilda. She tries her best to highlight Rawdon's sins, and she visits Miss Pinkerton to do more research into Rebecca's past, actually ending up on the street where she grew up. She gathered that Rebecca's mother was an opera dancer, and that Rebecca danced herself. She learned about her father's drinking and money problems.
Mrs. Bute's care for Aunt Matilda eventually becomes too harsh according to Aunt Matilda's doctors. Thinking she can cause a stroke in the old woman, she takes her out one day for a ride in the carriage. They happen to pass Rebecca and Rawdon's carriage, but Aunt Matilda does not acknowledge them, which makes Mrs. Bute happy. But in order to avoid any more encounters, she decides to take Aunt Matilda to Brighton.
Meanwhile Dobbin is pushing Amelia and George together. George is liking Amelia more and more, since she is so helplessly devoted to him. Dobbin speaks with Mr. Sedley, encouraging him to allow his daughter and George to marry. He also encourages the couple to elope.
George apparently has a new admirer, Miss Swartz, a rich and beautiful heiress who is trying to seduce George with her money. Miss Swartz is a dull woman, but she is welcome at the Osborne residence because she is so fabulously wealthy. Old Osborne calls her the "Black Princess" (she is biracial). He contrives to get her and his son married, since he envisions an entirely different life for his son. He wants him to become a member of Parliament. George tries to remind him of his military duties after being reconciled with Amelia. Old Osborne responds by encouraging him to leave the military, to which George responds that he does not want to be the reason for the association of the Osborne name with cowardice.
One afternoon, during one of the gatherings of the Osborne sisters, George asks Miss Swartz to play some music. She notices some sheet music at the piano that belongs to Amelia, and she asks about her. George's sisters chime in, revealing that the Sedley family is bankrupt. George defends Amelia, saying it is not her fault and that she can't be blamed. Old Osborne enters the room, livid as he hears his son defend Amelia. They fight, and Old Osborne threatens to disown his son if he does not abandon Amelia. George replies that he doesn't want to marry a mulatto woman, that he doesn't "like the colour." He then storms out and goes to Dobbin, confessing that he means to marry Amelia the next day.
George and Amelia marry in a church near Fulham Road. Dobbin is the only attendant at their wedding. George and Amelia take their honeymoon in Brighton. Rawdon and Becky happen to be there at the same time. The couples meet up, and Becky apologizes to George for being rude to him before. He is surprised and impressed by her apology. Jos also shows up, and Rawdon actually wins a bit of money from him through gambling. While Becky and Amelia are out for a ride, George and Rawdon scout the crowds for beautiful women. Jos disapproves of his married friends' behavior.
Becky and Rawdon have been living off the riches they've maintained from avoiding their creditors. They still hope for Aunt Matilda's inheritance, however, so they continue to faithfully stalk the Crawleys' apartment. Dobbin suddenly shows up, cutting the fun short. He has apparently visited Old Osborne but does not reveal what was said. He does, however, let them know that the military has been called to Belgium.
While George and Amelia are in Brighton enjoying their honeymoon, Dobbin is left behind to take care of George's business affairs. He resolves first to try to get George's sisters on his side. Unfortunately, the girls are not willing to defy their father. Also, Mr. Bullock convinces the girls that their dowries and therefore their value has gone up since George has lost favor with his father. This convinces them to think only for themselves and encourage George's defiant elopement.
Dobbin's next order of business is to approach Mr. Osborne. They reach an impasse, at which point Dobbin confesses that he was responsible for bringing the couple together and then storms out of the office. Back at his house, Mr. Osborne finally admits to himself that his son is not coming home, and he has George's dinner setting removed from the table. He then retreats to his study, where he proceeds to look at his son's things and at the family Bible. He takes his son's name off the record and burns a piece of paper. He has prepared himself to rework his will. Chopper, the man Dobbin has assigned to keep an eye on Osborne, is to be a signing witness to Osborne's new will. He also delivers a letter that Osborne has written to Dobbin.
Dobbin prepares to leave for Belgium, thinking only of Amelia. He encourages the rest of his regiment to say farewell to their families while they still have the chance. Meanwhile, Jane waits patiently at the Osborne house, thinking that Dobbin is going to come propose to her. He never does, and Mr. Osborne tells his family that he does not want Dobbin at their house ever again.
Analysis, Chapters 19 - 24
Vanity Fair is in many ways an extended metaphor. People in Vanity Fair are constantly putting on a show, embodying various roles like actors in order to promote themselves in society. Thackeray does not stop at accusing his characters of being performers. He goes as far as to call them jesters. But in his accusation is a hint of sympathy. "Are there not moments when one grows sick of grinning and tumbling, and the jingling of cap and bells?"
The letters are important in Vanity Fair. There are several of them; ones that the author includes in full, as well as some that are merely mentioned, the exact contents of which are never revealed. Letters are significant because as the author notes, "there are no better satires" in his novel.
Chapter 20 begins with a telling title: "In Which Captain Dobbin Acts as the Messenger of Hymen." Hymen is the Greek god of weddings. This chapter begins with Thackeray assuring the reader that the marriage of George and Amelia would never have happened without Dobbin's help. And interestingly, Dobbin finds that he has no idea why he is encouraging the couple, seeing as he has feelings for Amelia. The reader sees that Dobbin is not only helpless when it comes to doing things for himself, he is actually self-destructive. And he ends up contributing to a relationship that almost destroys Amelia.
Thackeray provides an example of the female hypocrisy that he discussed in a previous chapter. Amelia is so happy with George that she has no chance to worry about anything that might challenge their relationship. Even Miss Swartz, the heiress George's father is pushing him to marry, does not pose a threat to Amelia. Yet she feigns "a great deal of pretty jealousy."
Thackeray spends a good part of chapter 21 describing the wiles of George Osborne. He is one of Vanity Fair's most dramatic performers. "He would say it was a warm evening, or ask his partner to take an ice, with a tone as sad and confidential as if he were breaking her mother's death to her..." Thackeray employs an amusing bit of metonymy when he describes George's ability to attract women, remarking that "his whiskers had made an impression on her."
In the Osborne household, there is a particular clock that summons the household to dinner. This clock features a morbid scene rendered in brass. The scene is the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to the wind god so that his boats could move to war. This clock is clearly symbolic of the rather cruel and sacrificial treatment of children in Vanity Fair. Osborne is guilty of it; he tries to force his son to marry an heiress. But deeper than that is the motif of male dominance and silent female submission. Maria Dibattista discusses how the clock and its scene signify this family dynamic, hinting at "classical and Freudian intuitions of the monstrous nature of man."
Dobbin is one man in the novel who does not fit this dynamic. He is incredibly submissive, and Thackeray jokes that "if his parents had pressed him much, it is probable he would have stepped down into the kitchen and married the cook." Dobbin stays in London to take care of George's affairs while he enjoys his honeymoon with Amelia.
Thackeray takes this opportunity to question our apparent contradictions. He wonders why people are often so reluctant to act for themselves when they contrarily work actively for others. "How credulous we are and how skeptical, how soft and how obstinate, how firm for others and how diffident about ourselves..."
But Dobbin really is the only main character like this, even though Thackeray generalizes in his characterization. He calls it "friendship;" perhaps for once he is admiring the behavior of one of his characters? On the other hand, he asks for analysis of this behavior from his "intelligent readers," implying that Dobbin's selflessness simply doesn't make sense. Perhaps Thackeray means to emphasize that in the context of Vanity Fair, this behavior is futile, since everyone else is selfish.