Vanity Fair: Chapter 17,18,19,20,23,24

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Summary - Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty One, Twenty Two, Twenty Three and Twenty Four

Chapter Seventeen begins with an auction of the contents of a house. It is gradually revealed that this is the Sedley home. Although not named at first, we later discover that a painting of a stout man on an elephant is bought by Rawdon and Becky; Dobbin outbids them for the piano.


Sedley’s downfall is then described and it is explained that he is a ruined man. The family are staying at Mr Clapp’s cottage. Mr Clapp used to be Sedley’s clerk when business was thriving. Joseph stays on in Cheltenham, but lets his mother know they can draw money whenever they wish.


Becky was surprised to find the house for sale and has just returned after being away with Rawdon for a month. He is always in debt and lives on credit, and it is ironic that Sedley is made bankrupt and disgraced for also being in debt.


In Chapter Eighteen, Sedley is most hurt by Osborne senior. Sedley had helped him in the past, but now Osborne senior is savage with him in creditor meetings. He also wants his son to break the match with Amelia.


Dobbin and Osborne’s regiment is ordered abroad as Napoleon has returned to France. Osborne is somewhat melancholic when he receives the note from Amelia confirming the end of their engagement (as her father also desired). She also thanks him for buying the piano, as she does not know this was done by Dobbin. Dobbin visits her and reports to Osborne that she is ‘dying’. Osborne writes to her and calls her ‘dearest wife’.


Chapter Nineteen examines Mrs Bute Crawley’s machinations. She takes over the care of Miss Crawley and exaggerates her invalid status. She also tells Miss Crawley about Rawdon’s many faults and discovers more about Becky’s childhood (such as where they used to live). After Rawdon and Becky cross their path in the park, Mrs Bute Crawley decides to take her charge to Brighton.


In Chapter Twenty, Dobbin finds himself arranging the match between Osborne and Amelia. He finds it painful, though, as he obviously cares about her. He talks to Sedley about Amelia and manages to persuade him that if he does not consent to their marriage, they will elope anyway.


Osborne senior encourages his daughters’ friendship with Miss Swartz, the young heiress, in Chapter Twenty One, as he thinks she is suitable for his son. Osborne does not think highly of her and refers to her as a ‘mahogany charmer’. Through dinner, Osborne talks about Amelia and later tells his father he refuses to marry Miss Swartz as he ‘does not like her colour’. When he leaves the house, his father threatens to cut him off.


Chapter Twenty Two begins with references to the wedding of Osborne and Amelia. The narrative shifts to Brighton, with Osborne, Joseph and Rawdon talking whilst the ladies (Rebecca and Amelia) are out on a drive. Joseph is there to visit Amelia and Osborne on their honeymoon. Becky and Rawdon are there with a hope to seeing Miss Crawley. Dobbin appears a few days later and tells George the army has been ordered to Belgium. They will embark next week.


In Chapter Twenty Three, the narrative moves backs to Dobbin in London when he was attempting to soften up Osborne’s sisters (Maria and Jane) before telling them of their brother’s marriage. Fred Bullock comes to visit Maria and on hearing the news he realizes that the sisters will now be worth more money as their brother will be cut out of the will.


In Chapter Twenty Four, Dobbin tells Osborne senior of the marriage in Chapter Twenty Four, as he promised Osborne he would do this. On hearing the news, Osborne senior takes to his study and looks through documents and letters pertaining to his son. He then opens the family Bible and looks at the names of the family members he has listed. He crosses out his son’s name and burns his will. He sends a letter to Osborne, via Dobbin, and calls Dobbin a meddler.


Dobbin is abashed and nervous about the interview with Mr. Osborne in his office, in which he will break the news of George’s marriage in person. Mr. Osborne is cordial to Dobbin, thinking he is bringing news of George’s surrender. Osborne thinks Dobbin is a bumpkin in his appearance and manners, not realizing Dobbin is feeling guilt, for the whole turn of events is due to him. He wonders to himself why he was so hasty in getting them married? It was because of his love and not wanting to be in further suspense himself.

Mr. Osborne explains that his whole life and career have been a sacrifice for his son, to promote him to glory. Dobbin tries to tell him that his son is too high minded to marry for money, but the father does not understand, for he himself would marry Miss Swartz without shame.

Dobbin blurts out the news and then leaves. He asks Chopper, the clerk to report to him the progress of Osborne’s feelings on the topic. Osborne goes home, and no word is spoken by anyone at the family dinner with daughters, Miss Wirt, and Mr. Bullock. Afterwards, the old man goes to his study, and looks at all of George’s papers since he was a child. In grief, he seals them up in a box. He takes down the family Bible and strikes out George’s name.

The next day Mr. Osborne goes to his office and changes his will, giving a letter to George to Mr. Chopper to deliver to Dobbin. Meanwhile, Dobbin’s superior officer sends for him and tells him of the immediate deployment of the regiment. He should say his good-bys. Dobbin considers sending an immediate letter to Brighton but decides to give Amelia one more day of peace and to deliver the news next day himself.

While Dobbin waits for Mr. Chopper at Slaughter’s coffee house, he encourages young Ensigns Stubble and Spooney, who are getting prepared for their first battle. Chopper delivers the letter to Dobbin. Osborne forbids admittance to his house of either George or Dobbin again.


Analysis - Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty One, Twenty Two, Twenty Three and Twenty Four

Sedley’s bankruptcy and fall from grace is detailed here, as is Osborne senior’s reluctance to associate with him any further. Because he is no longer economically successful, Sedley and his daughter are ostracized. It is also made apparent that there is no loyalty in this Vanity Fair of changing fortunes. Dobbin alone is constant and faithful, even though this is not reciprocated.


There is further emphasis placed on desire for financial gain when Bullock notes that because Osborne is certain to be struck from his father’s will, the daughters will now be worth more. This desire also lies behind the reason for Becky and Rawdon’s visit to Brighton as they hope to win Miss Crawley round, and explains why Mrs Bute Crawley is so keen to commandeer her too.


Osborne becomes a tragic character 24 in this chapter, like all tyrants who will not back down. The tragic character seems to have some noble plan for his house or for the country but never considers the happiness of those for whom he sacrifices. His goal is thus illusory. Osborne swears to others and to himself that he did everything for his son. His love and grief are genuine, but his inflexibility about George’s marriage to Miss Swartz never gives way. He would rather sacrifice his son to his pride than reconcile, even though George goes to battle.


The old man has a portrait of his children removed and replaced by one of himself. This cold and tragic family is contrasted to the warmth of the Cutter family. Cutter, Osborne’s clerk, obviously appreciates his children and hugs them before going to work.


Dobbin’s nobility is seen in his self-doubt about bringing this event on the Osborne house in order to avoid the tragedy of his beloved Amelia, for he puts her above everyone else in the world. Dobbin’s leadership with men is also seen in the way he inspires the young soldiers before battle as they bid their families good by.

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