read with me: Vanity Fair ch.48-67

Things come to a climax finally. The author is a magician – making you love somebody in one chapter and despise them in the next, think somebody the most gentle and honourable on one page and an absolute exasperating fool next. What a rollercoaster! Since this section concerns the ending of the whole story, I’ll try not to spoil it as much as I did in my previous posts (chapter 1-13, chapter 14-31, chapter 32-47, read at your own peril!).

Rawdon Crawley

Rawdon has been manipulated by Becky right from the beginning. He threw away his fortune and family relationship for the sake of marrying her. When I say ‘he threw away his fortune’, it does not quite mean the same thing as today – a young man works in banking, or in a hospital, or in a supermarket, who has a rich aunt that nearly gives him a large sum of money and in the end doesn’t. The young man is extremely disappointed and has to go back to his office, hospital, or delivery van. Rawdon has nowhere to go back to. He has literally nothing in his pocket, nowhere to live and no means to earn any income. He can in theory, but as of the situation he is in, he doesn’t.

This is one thing that surprises me a bit – it seems to me too imprudent a move for the scheming little woman. She tried to attach herself to Jos Sedley which was a sensible move – Jos has a secure and well-paid government job. But Rawdon had only the prospect of a large income, and it all depended on the goodwill of this old aunt. By marrying Rawdon in secret, Becky turned Miss Sedley completely away from Rawdon. I’m not sure what she was thinking; actually, I do, she was hoping the old lady will ‘come around’. But after all, I guess in the 19th Century it was always better to be the wife of a penniless gentleman than be a penniless and despised governess and old maid.

As I said in my last post, the tender thoughts and loving behaviour towards Becky completely changed my opinion about Rawdon – maybe it wasn’t very wise of him to marry Becky, but he was a loyal and dutiful husband. There was also a lovely relationship between him and his son. He was a fool to close one eye at Becky’s shady relationship with other men, but when the reality was in his face, he wasn’t a coward to let it go unreckoned. He came to his senses and for that one moment, we readers, along with Becky herself, admired the usually spineless Rawdon as a hero.

Among all the main characters, I’d say Rawdon has gone through the most dramatic inner journey, which makes him one of the most interesting characters. I do like him very much, especially towards the end. And, dear author, the ending for this man is way too hasty – did you run out of paper?!

William Dobbin

Here’s another parallel – I just realised this as I’m typing. Here’s another spineless man who stands up to the woman he loves and finally comes to his senses quite drastically. I wonder how many people see this one coming?

Right, let’s spill some ink on good old Dobbin. He was the loyal, upright, honourable friend of Amelia and was devoted to her for 18 years. He held on to Amelia’s shawl while the lovers went off in pairs, he persuaded George to marry her after her family’s downfall, he watched over her in her grief for her husband and her joy over her son, he quietly supported her financially for years and years from the other side of the world.

I loved him with all my heart and wished he and Amelia a happy ending, until at this one point – I imagine the author rubbed his hands in excitement and said to the blank paper, ‘let’s change things up a bit shall we?’ Literally within lines, Amelia turned from an innocent gentle soul who genuinely needed Dobbin’s gallant protection and looked up at her late husband’s portrait with undying love and unceasing tears, to a selfish woman who took Dobbin for granted like a dog and slave and made a show of her chastity. And Dobbin turned from a loyal and consistent friend who did not wish to force his way into her heart, to a dejected fool who wasted nearly twenty years of his life doing nothing but, metaphorically, carrying her shawls and pining from a distance.

The end

I have now finished the novel. Overall, as a good Victorian novel, it’s a lesson in morality. But as someone (John Sutherland) said years ago in Desert Island Discs that he preferred Vanity Fair than Middlemarch, because “It’s more fun than Middlemarch. And you don’t feel lectured in the same way that you do with George Eliot.” There are of course still lectures, the one that pops in my mind is when the two old fathers were dying, the author asks “which do you prefer to be at the end of your life?” – having grabbed everything in this life and been forced out of it full of anger and regret? Or die a repented sinner with hope of a better world to come. But I agree in general it’s a lot more fun than Middlemarch.

I also sensed some ‘rebellious’ notes to the uptight Victorian morality. Towards Amelia’s unreasonable ‘loyalty’ to her late husband and blindness to Dobbin’s real loyalty, the author’s tone is clearly one of mocking. Towards Becky’s refusal to sacrifice freedom in exchange for a good reputation in society, the author did not condemn and is certainly merciful with her ending. Becky has certainly fallen to the lowest of the low after being to the highest of the high (being presented to his Majesty the King in court), but after seeing it all, she seems to value her freedom to think, to speak and to act more than being accepted by the polite society.

As one curtain falls, let another rise.

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