Study Guide

Vanity Fair Chapter 53

By William Makepeace Thackeray

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Chapter 53

A Rescue and a Catastrophe

  • Rawdon goes with the bailiffs who arrested him to the debtors holding prison. He's not too worried, since the amount he owes isn't huge. Everyone at the prison is very nice to him because apparently he has been there a couple times before.
  • Debtors' prisons were more like inns with walls around them than jails. The idea was that the debtor would call in all his favors to pay the debt back and be released.
  • The warden shows Rawdon to his room, tells him when food will be served and asks him if he needs anything.
  • Rawdon decides to wait until morning to tell Becky what's happened, since she most likely wouldn't have noticed that he's not there. (Like most Victorian couples, they sleep in separate bedroom suites.) He goes to sleep.
  • The next morning Rawdon has breakfast, chats with the chambermaid, then writes a letter to Becky asking her to bail him out ASAP. At this point, he's thinking it'll be about three hours until he's out of there. Becky will need to first pawn something to raise the money, then pay back the creditor who called the debt in, then come get him.
  • Three hours pass...nothing.
  • The whole day passes...nothing.
  • Finally, during dinner, a messenger comes with a letter from Becky.
  • In it, she claims to be have been too overcome by the news of his arrest to run the necessary errands to get him out. She says she had people over and told Lord Steyne what had happened. He agreed to lend her the needed money so she wouldn't have to go to the pawn shop.
  • Rawdon is beyond furious. He realizes several things all at once: 1) Becky doesn't care enough about him to sell her stuff to get him out of prison; 2) she had guests over that day; and 3) the timing of all of this is crazily suspicious.
  • He quickly writes another letter to Pitt and Lady Jane. He is particularly eager to get out now because he doesn't want Rawdon Jr. to find out that he had been in debtors prison.
  • A little while later a woman comes to the gate with his release. It turns out to be...Jane! We know, we know – we were hoping Becky would come through, too.
  • Rawdon is all emotional and confesses to Jane how his love for Rawdon Jr. makes him want to be a better man.
  • Then he leaves her and goes home.
  • Guys, things are about to hit the fan. You'd better sit down.
  • Rawdon looks at the house. The lights are on. But didn't Becky say she was sick?
  • He opens the front door and hears sounds of laughter and singing.
  • He looks around. All the servants are gone.
  • He opens the door to the living room and sees Becky and Lord Steyne alone together! She is dressed to the nines with all her jewelry (some of which she could have pawned!). Steyne is holding her hand and is about to kiss it. There are two plates and two wine glasses out.
  • OK, insanity breaks out.
  • Becky screams that she is innocent and asks Steyne to confirm.
  • Steyne is all, as if! He yells that he bought all the jewels she is wearing and has given her a ton of money.
  • So what does that mean? Well, Becky means she is innocent of adultery. It's not clear if that's true or not. Steyne's response is ambiguous; either he is saying 1) oh, please, we totally had a bunch of sex and you know it, or 2) all you've done is extort money from me which is not what an innocent person would do.
  • Rawdon grabs Steyne around the neck and punches him in the face until he bleeds.
  • He makes Becky take off all the jewelry and throw it on the ground. He flings one of the pieces at Steyne, leaving a mark that scars him for life.
  • Finally he makes Becky go upstairs and searches all of her rooms for the money and jewels Steyne was talking about. Eventually he finds the locked desk drawer, opens it, and sees all the checks and things. One of them is a check from Steyne for 1,000 pounds.
  • Rawdon's last words to Becky are: "You might have spared me a hundred pounds, Becky, out of all this – I have always shared with you" (53.46). Wow, harsh. And sad.
  • Becky gets out another "I am innocent" (53.47), but Rawdon leaves.
  • Becky collapses. She contemplates suicide briefly until her maid finds her and gets her to lie down.
  • The narrator has a coy moment telling us that even he doesn't know whether she is innocent or not.

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