Study Guide

Vanity Fair Chapter 20

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Chapter 20

In which Captain Dobbin acts as the Messenger of Hymen

  • Dobbin is very eager for George and Amelia to be married, probably because he's so hung up on her that he wants to get the whole thing over with. Or something...he's not a very clear thinker.
  • Amelia is thrilled to see George, and he is pretty moved to see how much she still loves him. She very quickly gets better and stops looking quite so pale and deathly.
  • Dobbin and Mrs. Sedley discuss what would happen after the wedding. Mr. Sedley and Mr. Osborne are both opposed to the marriage. The main problem is Mr. Osborne, though, since he is the one who has money and the ability to cut George off, which would leave the couple pretty poor.
  • Dobbin hopes that if George does some heroics in battle, his father will get over any anger about the marriage.
  • He goes to see Mr. Sedley to convince him that the marriage is OK. Sedley is now a really sad, decrepit kind of guy. He is all subservient to the waiters and servants in the coffeehouse where he is doing his work. Dobbin is horrified to see him in this state.
  • Mr. Sedley starts ranting and raving about Napoleon's return. Who could have guessed that war would break out again? He had invested in a French stock that was supposed to go gangbusters – and that's what ruined him.
  • Dobbin tries to calm him down by telling him that the army will give Napoleon what-for. Sedley yells some more about how much they need to kill Napoleon and chop off his head, then he settles down.
  • Dobbin brings the conversation back to George and Amelia, and Mr. Sedley is all over-my-dead-body. Dobbin tells him that technically they don't need his permission since George and Amelia are both of age. He also tells him about Becky and Rawdon, as an example of people who just got married without anyone's permission. Finally, he tells him that if the marriage takes place, that will be a way to stick it to Mr. Osborne. This last thing is what Mr. Sedley seems to be really into.
  • Meanwhile, George is telling Amelia about a Miss Swartz, an orphan whom his sisters have just met and befriended. She is half-Jewish (and perhaps, though it's unclear, half-black), barely educated, super-rich, and extremely uncultured and vulgar.
  • OK, campers – Brain Snack time. Here is where we can see how racism and anti-Semitism were pretty much okey-dokey in Victorian times. Miss Swartz sounds like a pretty heinous character, but by making her even somewhat sympathetic – and by making fun of how mercenary and fake the Osbornes are in the way they treat her – Thackeray is leaps ahead of most writers of his time.
  • Anyway, the Osbornes are clearly angling for George to marry Miss Swartz, since she is so rich.
  • Amelia realizes that this must be the same Miss Swartz she went to school with (and who was paying double price for the privilege).
  • George makes fun of how gross and unmannered this girl is, Amelia pretends to be jealous, and the two are happy and lovey-dovey.

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