Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31 - 36

Summary, Chapter 31 - 36

Becky flirts with Jos because she believes it might behoove her to be on good terms with him. He, of course, falls for her charms. Becky also looks in on the sick Amelia, who does not leave her room and does not eat because of her grief over George's departure. To Becky's surprise, Amelia lashes out at her for flirting with her husband and being an unfaithful wife. Becky, slightly touched by this display, tries to calm her down, but is forced to call in Mrs. O'Dowd to take care of her.

Meanwhile, news is that the Duke of Wellington's army has been defeated. Jos refuses to believe that this is possible. While Jos and Mrs. O'Dowd dine, they hear cannons, which disturbs them. Jos is frightened that the battle will come to them, and he is determined to leave Brussels. He dresses himself in civilian clothing in order to be mistaken as a clergyman and shaves. He gives his military uniform to Isidor to wear. He tries to convince Amelia to go with him, but she refuses, wanting to hear news about George.

Rumors in Brussels are that the Belgian troops have suffered great losses and that the Britons behind them are now enduring major casualties. After hearing this, everyone is desperate to leave Brussels. But Becky has most of the horses and is determined to earn herself a hefty profit. Lady Bareacres, one of the nobles she was trying to charm, tries to buy a horse, but Becky refuses her. She finally sells her remaining two horses to Jos for an enormous sum.

It is then learned that the rumors are incorrect and that the Britons are successfully driving back the French troops. Amelia desperately seeks information, and she runs into a wounded ensign who reports that Major O'Dowd, George and Dobbin are all fine. Dobbin is the one who rescued the ensign and sent him to Amelia with the message that George is safe.

Napoleon, who has been fighting the Prussians, plans on turning the battle to Brussels. While everyone worries, Becky fantasizes about the life she might have if Rawdon dies. Jos continues to entreat Amelia to leave with him; she refuses, wanting to wait for George. Jos leaves with his valet. The Britons manage to hold off and defeat the French at Waterloo. George dies in battle.

The novel moves back to Queen's Crawley. Aunt Matilda has just learned that her nephew Rawdon has earned honors in battle and has been promoted, but she can only think of how he married below him. Meanwhile, Sir Pitt has spiraled into a destructive lifestyle since Becky refused his hand in marriage. He embarrasses the rest of the family, spending much time in the company of the peasants who rent from them and cavorting with the butler's daughter, Ms. Horrocks. Young Pitt is left to manage all of the household affairs.

Young Pitt has been courting Lady Sheepshanks, the daughter of the scandalous Lady Southdown. He has himself become interested in Aunt Matilda's money, so he suggests enhancing the friendship to Jane and her mother. Lady Jane and Young Pitt visit her, and she encourages them to visit often, for she likes Lady Jane. Mrs. Bute, jealous of the proceedings, sends her handsome son from Oxford to charm Aunt Matilda. James does indeed manage to charm her; in fact, she invites him to stay with her at her home.

Young Sir Pitt is jealous of this, since his aunt has never invited him to live with her. He joins James for some wine, and as they get progressively drunk, he encourages him to do all sorts of unsavory things and convinces him that Aunt Matilda will appreciate him for it. So the following day, James speaks his mind, compliments and drinks far too much of her wine, and finally, smokes a pipe inside the house. This incites Matilda to throw him out.

Becky and Rawdon have been living the high life in Paris. Becky is a smashing success in Parisian society. She has been dropping Aunt Matilda's name in order to promote herself. She gives birth to a boy in March 1816, and Rawdon names him as his heir. Matilda, nervous about the new baby, encourages Young Pitt and Lady Jane to marry. She promises them a yearly allowance as well as the bulk of her fortune when she dies.

The Osbornes receive news of George's death. Old Osborne treats it as judgment being passed for his son's behavior. Dobbin delivers the letter George left for his father, which entreats him to think of Amelia should he die. When John Osborne notices a memorial to George in church, he decides to go to Brussels to visit his son's burial site. Dobbin has chosen the site because George mentioned once that it would be a nice place to be buried. John Osborne is upset that his son is buried in a common cemetery. While on his tour of the battlegrounds, John notices Amelia and Dobbin, but he ignores them and hurries on his way.

Amelia has been sick with grief and living in Brussels since the passage of her husband. But when her son Georgy is born, everything changes. He reminds her of George, so she is able to come to life again. However, she is quite paranoid about the child, not wanting anyone near him but Dobbin. Dobbin tries to get John Osborne to support the child, but Osborne refuses. Dobbin, Amelia and the baby return to England to live with the Sedleys. Dobbin brings everyone gifts every day. But soon he is overwhelmed by his love for Amelia and realizes he cannot stay with her anymore. He informs her that he is leaving with the military.

Becky has remained at the height of Parisian society, which Rawdon ignored because he does not know how to speak French. Rawdon spent his time gambling, which he was quite good at, but which made Becky nervous because of all the IOUs he had to write when he did not win. Mrs. O'Dowd warns her husband not to gamble with Rawdon, and Becky argues with her about her interference. Becky solicits General Tufto for help with gambling debts.

Becky is a terrible mother to her son. She sends him away to a nursemaid because she cannot stand the mess he makes. Rawdon, however, is quite the doting father; he manages to visit his son every day. In order to leave Paris and go back to England, Rebecca invents outrageous lies about Aunt Matilda and is only held accountable for a portion of their debts.

Analysis, Chapters 31 - 36

Thackeray opens chapter 31 with an amusing portrait of Jos' valet, Isidore. It appears that Vanity Fair does not exclude the servants. Isidor is a greedy, thieving man, and the narrator describes his fantasies about what he plans to do with his master's finery.

"As he helped Jos through his toilsome and complicated daily toilette, this faithful servant would calculate what he should do with the very articles with which he was decorating his master's person. He would make a present of the silver essence-bottles and toilet knicknacks to a young lady of whom he was fond; and keep the English cutlery and the large ruby pin for himself. It would look very smart upon one of the fine frilled shirts, which, with the gold-laced cap and the frogged frock coat, that might easily be cut down to suit his shape, and the Captain's gold-headed cane, and the great double ring with the rubies, which he would have made into a pair of beautiful earrings, he calculated would make a perfect Adonis of himself, and render Mademoiselle Reine an easy prey."

Rebecca moves on to flirting with Jos as soon as the rest of the men go off to war. At first his common sense makes him reluctant to believe that Rebecca is actually interested in him. But as soon as she begins discussing her husband's jealousy, Jos convinces himself that she is a "victim of his attractions." Jos' vanity permits him to believe that Rebecca, who flirts with every man of even slight influence, is actually interested particularly in him. Thackeray uses Jos to highlight the destructive consequences of vanity and the ways in which it blinds his characters to reality.

Much in accordance with her character, Rebecca uses the outbreak of war to promote a business venture. While Amelia worries over her husband's absence, Rebecca feels grateful that her husband left his horses behind, since they will be in high demand as people flee the country. Chapter 32 ends in tragedy for Amelia, though she does not know it yet. Her husband, who has been corresponding inappropriately with Rebecca, lies dead with a bullet in his chest on the battlefield.

The title of chapter 33 is "In Which Miss Crawley's Relations are Very Anxious about Her." This is of course not the literal truth. Aunt Matilda's relations are indeed anxious, and this is indeed because she is ill. However, the concern is focused on the woman herself but on the fortune she is leaving behind. The end of the chapter discusses Young Pitt's relationship with his new fiancee's mother, who is a connoisseur of miracle cures. Despite Young Pitt's negative relationship with his aunt, it appears that since Aunt Matilda's disappointment in Rawdon, Pitt might have a chance at the fortune.

Mrs. Bute Crawley continues to plot about the fate of Aunt Matilda's fortune. She considers sending her son, Jim, who is educated and accomplished. When her husband suggests sending their daughters, Mrs. Bute refuses because they are not pretty enough. The girls are talented and intelligent, but Mrs. Bute is convinced that Aunt Matilda will be displeased by their ugliness. "But what avail all these accomplishments, in Vanity Fair, to girls who are short, poor, plain, and have a bad complexion?"

Pitt shows that he is capable of scheming when he notices that James might earn himself a part of Aunt Matilda's fortune. Thackeray gives Pitt the nickname "Machiavel," alluding to the philosopher Machiavelli, who wrote about power and the intricacies of governing. This nickname, if anything, gives the message that Pitt is not someone to be underestimated; Machiavelli speculated that for someone in power, it is better to be feared than loved.

Meanwhile, Rebecca is very successful in Parisian society, while her "stupid" husband, who was recently promoted in the army, sits idly by, watching her rise in the ranks. Aunt Matilda, rather than being impressed by this news, is disgusted, and she decides to leave all of her fortune with Pitt and Lady Jane.

Old Osborne receives the news of his son's death, and rather than forgiving him, he stubbornly persists in his disappointment. Like Aunt Matilda, he is upset over a marriage he deems below his son. His vanity is so strong that he cannot forgive his son, even in death. At the memorial service, his daughters watch his "stern" face, wondering if he will ever come around.

Thackeray begins chapter 36 in an expository manner, as he has returned to the story of Rebecca and Rawdon in Paris. He attempts to explain how a family can live on almost no income, and he uses an example from his own experience to substantiate his point. He then goes on to explain the methods taken by Rebecca and Rawdon (mostly Rebecca) to remain afloat. Rawdon does a lot of gambling, but it is Rebecca's relationships with men that save them from having to pay their debts. "If Rebecca had not gone on her knees to General Tufto, Crawley would have been sent back to England; and he did not play, except with civilians, for some weeks after."