This is Vanity Fair | Character Study on Rawdon Crawley

Today I’d like to tell you about Rawdon Crawley, the husband of the famous Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Rawdon did not stand out at the beginning as a promising character, we’ll see in a second, but he became a favourite as the story developed. My opinion of him changed dramatically.

First Impressions

Thackeray introduces Rawdon differently to all the other main characters. We hear of Rawdon’s name for the first time in chapter 7, which is the third instalment of the monthly serialisation. And it keeps appearing in passing comments in relation to others or via people’s letters.

So we find out his relationship with Becky Sharp. Rawdon’s dodgy Baronet father Sir Pitt has two sons, Pitt Crawley the oldest, then Rawdon (chapter 7). Then Sir Pitt’s wife dies. He marries a second wife and from her gets two daughters. Becky Sharp becomes these two girls’ governess. That’s how they get to meet.

Then in Becky’s letter to Amelia, reporting her new home, we learn that Rawdon is an army officer, and is at the moment away with his regiment (chapter 8). “At Eton [Pitt Crawley] was called Miss Crawley; and there… his younger brother Rawdon used to lick him violently (chapter 9).” “The elder and younger son of the house of Crawley were… never at home together—they hated each other cordially – indeed Rawdon Crawley the dragoon had a great contempt for the establishment altogether and seldom came thither except when his aunt paid her annual visit (chapter 10).”

The rich Miss Crawley, Sir Pitt’s half-sister, Rawdon’s aunt, intends to leave a large portion of her inheritance to Rawdon, is known to pay off his debt (chapter 9) and likes him so much that she practically adopts him. She also bought him his commissions in the Life Guards Green (chapter 10), a fictional royal escort troupe.

So far, we know in relation to Sir Pitt, Rawdon is his second son. In my rough knowledge of the Regency and Victorians, the oldest son inherits the title, the land and the income and the rest of the sons don’t get much at all. In this case, Rawdon is in the army.

We know Rawdon doesn’t get on with his family. And in comparison to his older brother, Rawdon sounds rebellious and a bit violent.

We know Miss Crawley is rich and her favour and money go to Rawdon, which means even though Rawdon doesn’t have much income, he’s liberal with his money. It also means there are a lot of jealous people who are against him because they also want a share in Miss Crawley’s inheritance.

Through the author’s eyes

There’s then a paragraph describing him from the author, which we take as less biased and more authoritative since it’s from the author (chapter 10):

A perfect and celebrated “blood,” or dandy about town, was this young officer. Boxing (‘Bare-Knuckles Boxing’, if you watched Bridgeton), rat-hunting (a blood sport that involves releasing captured rats in an enclosed space with spectators betting on how long a dog takes to kill the rats), the fives’ court (a form of handball), and four-in-hand driving (a carriage with four horses) were then the fashion of our British aristocracy; and he was an Adept in all these noble sciences. And though he belonged to the household troops, who, as it was their duty to rally round the Prince Regent, had not shown their valour in foreign service yet, Rawdon Crawley had already (apropos of play, of which he was immoderately fond) fought three bloody duels, in which he gave ample proofs of his contempt for death.

Through Becky’s eyes

Rawdon hasn’t appeared on stage until chapter 11. Even then, it’s through another letter from Becky to Amelia, announcing that Captain Crawley has arrived.

Well, he is a very large young dandy. He is six feet high, and speaks with a great voice; and swears a great deal; and orders about the servants, who all adore him nevertheless; for he is very generous of his money, and the domestics will do anything for him. Last week the keepers almost killed a bailiff and his man who came down from London to arrest the Captain, and who were found lurking about the Park wall—they beat them, ducked them (meaning push or plunge someone under water), and were going to shoot them for poachers, but the baronet interfered.

We see Rawdon through Becky’s eyes: He’s large, loud and not very sophisticated. He’s careless with money, in debt to the point of being arrested. Has a dreadful reputation among the ladies. And he likes Becky immediately, preferring her company in conversations to country girls, as well as preferring her at dances to young ladies with higher social status.

Through jealous relatives’ eyes

Then we hear a conversation between Mr and Mrs Bute Crawley, filling in more information for us about Rawdon. Bute Crawley is Sir Pitt Crawley’s brother, who, as a typical second son of a gentry family, is a clergyman. Notice again, we see Rawdon through someone else’s eyes: He’s a “scoundrel”, “He looks down upon us country people”, “he’s such an infernal character—he’s a gambler—he’s a drunkard—he’s a profligate in every way (meaning recklessly extravagant). He shot a man in a duel—he’s over head and ears in debt, and he’s robbed me and mine of the best part of Miss Crawley’s fortune.” “… and as for the women, why, you heard that before me, in my own magistrate’s room—”

In terms of Rawdon’s intelligence, we hear a conversation between Becky and Miss Crawley: “Is he very clever?” Rebecca asked. “Clever, my love?—not an idea in the world beyond his horses, and his regiment, and his hunting, and his play; but he must succeed—he’s so delightfully wicked…”

What’s our impression of Rawdon so far? Bad reputation, in debt, idle with too much energy and no work, all muscle no brain.

Meeting Rawdon (for real)

After all this build-up, we finally see Rawdon in real person with our own eyes at the end of chapter 11, here’s the first speech we hear as readers. Rawdon and Becky are walking alone in the dark, Rawdon’s already madly in love with her.

“O—ah—Gad—yes, so do I exactly, Miss Sharp,” the other enthusiast replied. “You don’t mind my cigar, do you, Miss Sharp?” Miss Sharp loved the smell of a cigar out of doors beyond everything in the world—and she just tasted one too, in the prettiest way possible, and gave a little puff, and a little scream, and a little giggle, and restored the delicacy to the Captain, who twirled his moustache, and straightway puffed it into a blaze that glowed quite red in the dark plantation, and swore—”Jove—aw—Gad—aw—it’s the finest segaw I ever smoked in the world aw,” for his intellect and conversation were alike brilliant and becoming to a heavy young dragoon.

He can’t even utter a complete intelligent sentence! He seems to be tongue-tied most of the time when in the presence of Becky – there are a lot of dashes linking up short bursts of words. Compare to the wit and eloquence of Becky, he sounds like a big dog one day suddenly decides to try out human language. I do not at this point have a very high opinion of Rawdon and he’s captured by Becky in no time.

When he makes acquaintances with George Osborne, Osborne’s impression is that Rawdon is “a devilish good, straightforward fellow”. This is an opinion from someone who just meets Rawdon and who has no part in the family inheritance battle. Why does everyone think so negatively about Rawdon but George thinks the opposite? You could interpret this as George doesn’t know how to judge a person correctly, or George overlooks Rawdon’s dangerous behaviour and his debt because George himself is exactly the same and doesn’t think those things as bad at all. In terms of judging people’s character, George Osborne is a fool in general. But his verdict on Rawdon, “a devilish good, straightforward fellow”, proves to be quite accurate.

My opinion changes

I’ll take two examples to show you how Rawdon surprised me – and they are big surprises.

Earlier conversations hint at Rawdon’s bad reputation with women and I didn’t think he’d be a model husband. But Rawdon genuinely loves his wife and his married life. As I said in a previous video, Rawdon takes the risk and in the end, loses his whole inheritance because of marrying Becky. When the same thing happens to George Osborne, he immediately regrets marrying Amelia. But Rawdon never does and simply says, “I don’t regret it, if you don’t” and the “veteran rake, Rawdon Crawley, found himself converted into a very happy and submissive married man.”

I was still skeptical about him up to the point of the Battle of Waterloo. What Rawdon says and does before he goes on the battlefield completely changed my opinion about him (chapter 30).

“You don’t suppose I’m afraid, Becky, I should think,” he said, with a tremor in his voice. “But I’m a pretty good mark for a shot, and you see if it brings me down, why I leave one and perhaps two behind me whom I should wish to provide for, as I brought ’em into the scrape. It is no laughing matter that, Mrs. C., anyways.”

“Look here,” said he. “If I drop, let us see what there is for you. I have had a pretty good run of luck here, and here’s two hundred and thirty pounds. I have got ten Napoleons in my pocket. That is as much as I shall want; for the General pays everything like a prince; and if I’m hit, why you know I cost nothing. Don’t cry, little woman; I may live to vex you yet. Well, I shan’t take either of my horses, but shall ride the General’s grey charger: it’s cheaper, and I told him mine was lame. If I’m done, those two ought to fetch you something…”

And so, making his last dispositions, Captain Crawley, who had seldom thought about anything but himself, until the last few months of his life, when Love had obtained the mastery over the dragoon, went through the various items of his little catalogue of effects, striving to see how they might be turned into money for his wife’s benefit, in case any accident should befall him. He pleased himself by noting down with a pencil, in his big schoolboy handwriting, the various items of his portable property which might be sold for his widow’s advantage as, for example, “My double-barril by Manton, say 40 guineas; my driving cloak, lined with sable fur, 50 pounds; my duelling pistols in rosewood case (same which I shot Captain Marker), 20 pounds; my regulation saddle-holsters and housings; my Laurie ditto,” and so forth, over all of which articles he made Rebecca the mistress.

Faithful to his plan of economy, the Captain 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. And this famous dandy of Windsor and Hyde Park went off on his campaign with a kit as modest as that of a sergeant, and with something like a prayer on his lips for the woman he was leaving. He took her up from the ground, and held her in his arms for a minute, tight pressed against his strong-beating heart. His face was purple and his eyes dim, as he put her down and left her. He rode by his General’s side, and smoked his cigar in silence as they hastened after the troops of the General’s brigade, which preceded them; and it was not until they were some miles on their way that he left off twirling his moustache and broke silence.

Rawdon hardly ever makes long speeches like this and it’s all about how his wife and child will be provided for if he dies on the battlefield. It’s a huge contrast to the Rawdon who was careless about money. He counts every penny of his earthly possession and leaves even his uniform and good horses behind. He’s going to a battlefield! for goodness knows how long, he might be cold and wet and a good horse might save his life. But he gives them all to Becky. In comparison to Becky’s fake tears and undisturbed sleep, Rawdon suddenly becomes a honest, tender and loyal husband.

We learn from the beginning that he has a bad relationship with his father and brother. Maybe he won’t care about family life? But I’m wrong again and it’s lovely to read about his relationship with little Rawdy, his son. Rawdon is not a cold and distant father figure to his son like a Regency / Victorian stereotype. He spends time with him every day, plays with him, takes pride in his little boy and tells people all about him.

When toddler Rawdy cries, Becky ignores him and continues flirting with Lord Steyne. It’s Rawdon who goes and comforts him.

The Colonel’s dressing-room was in those upper regions. He used to see the boy there in private. They had interviews together every morning when he shaved; Rawdon minor sitting on a box by his father’s side and watching the operation with never-ceasing pleasure. He and the sire were great friends. The father would bring him sweetmeats from the dessert and hide them in a certain old epaulet box, where the child went to seek them, and laughed with joy on discovering the treasure; laughed, but not too loud: for mamma was below asleep and must not be disturbed. She did not go to rest till very late and seldom rose till after noon.

Rawdon bought the boy plenty of picture-books and crammed his nursery with toys. Its walls were covered with pictures pasted up by the father’s own hand and purchased by him for ready money. When he was off duty with Mrs. Rawdon in the park, he would sit up here, passing hours with the boy; who rode on his chest, who pulled his great mustachios as if they were driving-reins, and spent days with him in indefatigable gambols (meaning running or jumping about playfully). The room was a low room, and once, when the child was not five years old, his father, who was tossing him wildly up in his arms, hit the poor little chap’s skull so violently against the ceiling that he almost dropped the child, so terrified was he at the disaster.

Rawdon minor had made up his face for a tremendous howl—the severity of the blow indeed authorized that indulgence; but just as he was going to begin, the father interposed.

“For God’s sake, Rawdy, don’t wake Mamma,” he cried. And the child, looking in a very hard and piteous way at his father, bit his lips, clenched his hands, and didn’t cry a bit. Rawdon told that story at the clubs, at the mess, to everybody in town. “By Gad, sir,” he explained to the public in general, “what a good plucked one that boy of mine is—what a trump he is! I half-sent his head through the ceiling, by Gad, and he wouldn’t cry for fear of disturbing his mother.”

Later when things go terribly bad and Rawdon’s life is in danger again, he goes to see his brother and begs him to do two things for him: to pay Briggs back with the money he comes across, because she’s kind to Rawdy; and to look after Rawdy in his absence, “as the boy has no mother”. Again we see he makes sure his son is provided for before he goes to get killed. He’s a very loving father.

There’s a lot more I can say about Rawdon Crawley. But the episode before the Battle of Waterloo and the intimate moments between him and his son stand out most to me. I end up really loving Rawdon as a character and wish the author could treat him kinder at the end.

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