read with me: Vanity Fair ch.32-47

Last time we finished with the sound of the cannons rolling and roaring that was heard in every house in Brussels. The chapters with Napoleonic Wars as the backdrop are my favourite so far. I love the tension between the grand and ruthless scene of battlements and the intimate domestic scenes behind closed doors. Chapter 32 was like a bird’s-eye camera, panning and circling, around and around, in the end, slowly zooming in onto one body, the angle became lower and lower as if a bird landing, there in front of us a face lying lifeless on the ground. George Osborne was dead.

The author is a master of cliffhangers. Many chapters finish on something shocking or exciting and the story jumps to a completely different place. In this case, the author left off the aftermath of Waterloo and George’s death and went straight to Becky’s side of the storyline: Pitt Crawley was in luck.

Pitt Crawley

Pitt Crawley was Rawdon Crawley’s brother, if you remember Rawdon from my last post, he was the kind and useless husband of Becky Sharp. To marry and elope with her, Rawdon was not only cut off from his inheritance but also left home altogether. But the inheritance eventually had to go somewhere when the rich relatives died, and that was where Pitt Crawley came in. Pitt Crawley, a not very promising candidate at the beginning, found a few blessings landed in his lap, including a baronetcy, land and properties in the country and the city from his father, and a large sum from his aunt.

Through Pitt Crawley and his lady wife, Becky was finally reconciled to the family and was accepted as a sister. Or more accurately, by working her charm on Pitt Crawley, his wife and his domineering mother-in-law, the goal was achieved, “I mean that Lady Jane shall present me at Court next year. I mean that your brother shall give you a seat in Parliament, you stupid old creature. I mean that Lord Steyne shall have your vote and his, my dear, old, silly man; and that you shall be an Irish Secretary, or a West Indian Governor or a Treasurer, or a Consul, or some such thing” (ch41).

Once inside Crawley’s house, she made her usual conquers. Sir Pitt Crawley has soon fallen in front of her feet, just like his father and his brother. No one was safe, be they old or young, fat or slim. Except Dobbin.

Parasites

There was some very insightful discussion on the subject of ‘how to live well on nothing a year’. Becky and Rawdon had no income strictly speaking and therefore in theory had nothing to live on. But they led a genteel way of life, with carriages, dresses and parties. How could they afford it?

Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back

Put simply, they lived as parasites, sucking bone and marrow from people who did honest work. They didn’t pay rent, they didn’t pay their servants, they didn’t pay for their food or drink or furniture or nursery for little Rawdon. They lived on debt. It reminded me of the cartoon of the French Revolution and also the debts of the nobilities in Anna Karenina.

Parents & Children

Both Amelia and Becky were now mothers of a son, George and Rawdon. As expected, Amelia was a good if indulgent mother, Becky was a terrible mother, Rawdon senior was an affectionate father. The author’s description of children’s words and behaviours was excellent.

The old generation in Vanity Fair were all pretty awful. There wasn’t a single nice old person in sight. The rich aunt Miss Crawley manipulated everyone around with her money; George Osborne’s father was an ungrateful traitor to his benefactor and old friend in their financial ruin and an unforgiving tyrant to his son – even after George was killed, the father would not reconcile with the widow and the baby who were left behind in poverty; Amelia Sedley’s father allowed her marriage as a way of revenge knowing the bad character of the family she was marrying into; Amelia’s mother stood out as a stereotype who used love as a weapon and made Amelia more miserable than necessary. The only respectable woman was Mrs O’Dowd, the Major’s wife, who nursed wounded soldiers, comforted fellow soldiers’ wives and stood her ground in the face of French invasion in Brussels.

There were rumours that Dobbin was going to marry a dashing young woman in India. There were also rumours that Amelia Osborne was finally going to marry a reverend back in London. Will Dobbin get back to England in time to stop the wedding and marry her instead? Watch this space!

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