read with me: Vanity Fair ch.14-31

Love had been her faith hitherto; and the sad, bleeding, disappointed heart began to feel the want of another consoler.

A pattern started to emerge – Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp’s lives ran on in parallel.

They left school at the same time. But at that time, Amelia had the advantage of a wealthy family. Napoleon had soon taken that advantage away – they were now equally nobody. The one major distinction between them was their character. In my last post, I compared Vanity Fair to A Little Princess and said ‘Sara Crewe was a perfect saint, Becky Sharp was a stiff-necked sinner.’ Amelia now played the role of the perfect saint, Becky was still the sinner. Another distinction was their admirers, especially the good and honest William Dobbin, whom I’m very fond of.

A change of fortune

I thought this most unlike her clever and scheming nature – by secretly marrying Rawdon Crawley, Becky greatly enraged the wealthy Aunt Crawley, who had been handing Rawdon bank notes liberally and now decided to cut him off completely.

The story turned more to Amelia. Because of the sudden bankruptcy, the Sedley family home and everything in it “were seized and sold up (ch18)”. However, losing the family home was not the worst. George Osborne, who has been engaged to marry Amelia since their childhood, “of course, could not marry a bankrupt’s daughter” (ch18).

Introducing George Osborne

George Osborne is an interesting character. One of my favourite sections of the story is when George and William Dobbin were at school and young George asked his mamma to send a cake to William because he fought a bully valiantly for him. Amelia was already George’s sweetheart then.

But as Amelia looked longingly out of their drawing room window day after day for George, he hardly ever came (this was before the financial crash). The girl was too fond of him and he was taking it for granted. He would hide the engagement and feel ashamed of it among his fellow young officers.

Now in light of the bankruptcy, Father Osborne forbade this marriage to go ahead and the obedient Amelia was quickly dying of a broken heart. George unexpectedly and delightfully repented of his negligence of this gentle lady. He would marry her. He would marry her even she was poor and lowly and he did it against the will of his father. There was a telling line in chapter 20, “George thought he was one of the generousest creatures alive: and that he was making a tremendous sacrifice in marrying this young creature”. He put Amelia in a great debt to him and that didn’t bode well for their marriage!

Within a week, while they were still on their honeymoon, George slipped back to his old behaviour and started to neglect his bride, and instead, got intimate with Becky. Amelia’s bubble of domestic bliss was shattered rapidly. “Did she own to herself how different the real man was from that superb young hero whom she had worshipped? It requires many, many years – and a man must be very bad indeed – before a women’s pride and vanity will let her own to such a confession… Love had been her faith hitherto (ch26).” But love stopped satisfying so quickly and there was no happily-ever-after for her.

Two lives in parallel

Now the parallel emerged most clearly: George Osborne was cut off from his inheritance because of the marriage to Amelia just like Rawdon Crawley was cut off from his because of the marriage to Becky. Both Amelia and Becky were now married to penniless military men, who carried on a pompous lifestyle on debt. Both men were ordered to Europe in preparation for the campaign against Napoleon and both wives had resolutely joined the troops in Brussels. Within days the regiment was sent to battle and Amelia and Becky were both left behind in fear of their husbands’ deaths and enemy occupation.

Except Becky was not really in fear at all. Her husband, though useless, turned out to be a kind man. He counted out all his earthly possessions and gave them to Becky to make sure she had something to live on, in case he didn’t come back from the battle (this, we later on learnt, was Waterloo after all). He left all his English money, his horses, dressing-case (extremely posh toiletry bag), his “pins, and rings, and watch and chain, and things”. He even “dressed himself in his oldest and shabbiest uniform and epaulets, leaving the newest behind, under his wife’s (or it might be his widow’s) guardianship (ch30).” Meanwhile, George Osborne made no provision and left Amelia nothing.

The idols of the two women – Becky, her comfort; Amelia, her love – will surely dictate their actions. Soon the cannons rolled and roared. It was heard in every house in Brussels. What is going to happen to our good ladies?

Miscellaneous

The various ways Napoleon is referred to in the book are most intriguing, including: the Corsican upstart, Elban Emperor, Bonaparty, Boney and Ney. I wonder if they are historically accurate or the author’s invention.

Read on!

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