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Vanity Fair
by William Makepeace Thackeray
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes

Thackeray and the title page of the 1st edition


William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811, at Calcutta, where his father was in the service of the East India Company. He was educated at Charterhouse School, then situated in Smithfield, and spent two years at Trinity College, Cambridge. After travelling on the continent as an artist, he returned to London, and wrote for the "Examiner" and "Fraser's Magazine," subsequently joining the staff of "Punch."

Abridged: JH
For more works by William Makepeace Thackeray, see The Index

Vanity Fair

I. - Miss Sharp Opens Her Campaign

One sunshiny morning in June there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach with two fat horses in blazing harness.

"It is Mrs. Sedley's coach, sister," said Miss Jemima. The day of departure had come, and Miss Amelia Sedley, an amiable young lady, was glad to go home, and yet woefully sad at leaving school. Miss Rebecca Sharp, whose father had been an artist, accompanied Amelia, to pass a week with her friend in Russell Square before she entered upon her duties as governess in Sir Pitt Crawley's family.

Thus the world began for these two young ladies. For Amelia it was quite a new, fresh, brilliant world, with all the bloom upon it. It was not quite a new one for Rebecca, who, before she came to the Mall, as a governess-pupil, had turned many a dun away from her father's door. She had never been a girl, she said: she had been a woman since she was eight years old.

At Russell Square Rebecca saw the two magnificent Cashmere shawls which Joseph Sedley of the East India Company's Civil Service had brought home to his sister, said with perfect truth that it must be delightful to have a brother, and easily got the pity of the tender-hearted Amelia for being alone in the world. A series of queries, addressed to her friend, brought Rebecca, who was but nineteen, to the following conclusion: - "As Mr. Joseph Sedley is rich and unmarried, why should I not marry him? I have only a fortnight, to be sure, but there is no harm in trying." I don't think we have any right to blame her, if Rebecca did not set her heart upon the conquest of this beau, for she had no kind parents to arrange these delicate matters for her.

But Mr. Joseph Sedley, greedy, vain, and cowardly, would not be brought up to the sticking point. Young George Osborne, Captain of the - th, old Sedley's godson, and the accepted lover of Amelia, thought Joseph was a milksop. He turned over in his mind, as the Sedleys did, the possibility of marriage between Joseph and Rebecca, and was not over well pleased that a member of a family into which he, George Osborne, was going to marry, should make a mesalliance with a little nobody - a little upstart governess. "Hang it, the family's low enough already without her," Osborne said to his friend Captain Dobbin. "A governess is all very well, but I'd rather have a lady for my sister-in-law. I'm a liberal man; but I've proper pride, and know my own station: let her know hers. And I'll take down that hectoring Nabob, and prevent him from being made a greater fool than he is. That's why I told him to look out, lest she brought an action against him."

Joseph Sedley fled to Cheltenham, and Rebecca said in her heart, "It was George Osborne who prevented my marriage." And she loved George Osborne accordingly.

Miss Amelia would have been delighted that Joseph should carry back a wife to India. Old Mr. Sedley was neutral. "Let Joseph marry whom he likes," he said to his wife. "It's no affair of mine. This girl has no fortune; no more had Mrs. Sedley. She seems good-humoured and clever, and will keep him in order, perhaps. Better she, my dear, than a black Mrs. Sedley, and a dozen of mahogany grandchildren. As I am perfectly sure that if you and I and his sister were to die to-morrow, he would say 'Good Gad!' and eat his dinner just as well as usual, I am not going to make myself anxious about him. Let him marry whom he likes. It's no affair of mine."

If he had had the courage, Joseph Sedley's bachelorhood would have been at an end. He did not lie awake all night thinking whether or not he was in love with Miss Sharp; the passion of love never interfered with the appetite or the slumber of Mr. Joseph Sedley; but he thought to himself how delightful it would be to hear such songs as Miss Sharp could sing in India - what a distinguée girl she was - how she could speak French better than the governor-general's lady herself - and what a sensation she would make at the Calcutta balls. "It's evident the poor devil's in love with me" thought he. "She is just as rich as most of the girls who come out to India. I might go further and fare worse, egad!"

Then came an evening at Vauxhall, on which occasion Dobbin, George Osborne, and Joseph Sedley escorted Amelia and Rebecca, and the Indian civilian got hopelessly tipsy on a bowl of rack punch. The next morning, which Rebecca thought was to dawn upon her fortune, found Sedley groaning in agonies, soothing the fever of his previous night's potation with small beer - for soda water was not invented yet. George Osborne, calling upon him, so frightened the unhappy Joseph with stories of his overnight performance, that instead of proposing marriage Joseph Sedley hastened away to Cheltenham that day, sending a note to Amelia praying her to excuse him to Miss Sharp for his conduct.

It was now clear to every soul in the house, except poor Amelia, that Rebecca should take her departure, and accordingly she set out for the residence of Sir Pitt Crawley, Baronet, of Queen's Crawley, Hants. Sir Pitt had two sons by his first wife, Pitt and Rawdon; and by his second wife, two daughters, - for whose benefit Miss Rebecca Sharp was now engaged as governess. It will be seen that the young lady was come into a family of very genteel connections, and was about to move in a much more distinguished circle than the one she had just quitted in Russell Square.

II. - Two Marriages

Before Rebecca had been a year at Queen's Crawley she had quite won the Baronet's confidence. She was almost mistress of the house when Mr. Crawley was absent, but conducted herself in her new and exalted situation with such circumspection and modesty as not to offend the authorities of the kitchen and stable.

The elder and younger son of the house of Crawley hated each other cordially, and Rawdon Crawley, who was in the heavy dragoons, seldom came to the place except when Miss Crawley paid her annual visit. The great good quality of this old lady was that she possessed seventy thousand pounds, and had almost adopted Rawdon.

Both Miss Crawley and Rawdon were charmed with Rebecca, and on Lady Crawley's death Sir Pitt said to his children's governess, "I can't get on without you. Come and be my wife. You're as good a lady as ever I see. Say yes, Becky. I'm good for twenty years. I'll make you happy, see if I don't."

Rebecca started back a picture of consternation, "O Sir Pitt!" she said - "O sir - I - I'm married already!"

"Suppose the old lady doesn't come round, eh, Becky?" Rawdon said to his little wife, as they sat together in their snug Brompton lodgings, a few weeks later.

"I'll make your fortune," she said.

But old Miss Crawley did not come round, and Captain Rawdon Crawley and Rebecca went to Brussels in June 1815 with the flower of the British Army.

Another young married couple also went to Brussels at that time, Captain George Osborne and Amelia his wife.

The landing of Napoleon at Cannes in March, 1815, brought, amongst other things, ruin to the worthy old stockbroker John Sedley, and the most determined and obstinate of his creditors was his old friend and neighbour John Osborne - whom he had set up in life, and whose son was to marry his daughter, and who consequently had the intolerable sense of former benefit to goad and irritate him.

Joseph Sedley acted as a man of his disposition would; when the announcement of the family misfortune reached him. He did not come to London, but he wrote to his mother to draw upon his agents for whatever money was wanted, so that his kind broken-spirited old parents had no present poverty to fear. This done, Joseph went on at his boarding-house at Cheltenham pretty much as before.

Amelia took the news very pale and calmly. A brutal letter from John Osborne told her in a few curt lines that all engagements between the families were at an end, and old Joseph Sedley spoke with almost equal bitterness. No power on earth, he swore, would induce him to marry his daughter to the son of such a villain, and he ordered Emmy to banish George from her mind.

It was Captain William Dobbin, who, having made up his mind that Miss Sedley would die of the disappointment, found himself the great promoter of the match between George Osborne and Amelia.

To old Sedley's refusal Dobbin answered finally, "If you don't give your daughter your consent it will be her duty to marry without it. What better answer can there be to Osborne's attacks on you, than that his son claims to enter your family and marry your daughter?"

George Osborne parted in anger from his father.

"I ain't going to have any of this damn sentimental nonsense here, sir," old Osborne cried out at the end of the interview. "There shall be no beggar-marriages in my family." He pulled frantically at the cord to summon the butler and, almost black in the face, ordered that functionary to call a coach for Captain Osborne.

George told Dobbin what had passed between his father and himself.

"I'll marry her to-morrow," he said, with an oath. "I love her more every day, Dobbin."

So on a gusty, raw day at the aid of April Captain Osborne and Captain Dobbin drove down to a certain chapel near the Fulham Road.

"Here you are," said Joseph Sedley, coming forward. "What a day, eh? You're five minutes late, George, my boy. Come along; my mother and Emmy are in the vestry."

There was nobody in the church besides the officiating persons and a small marriage party and their attendants. Old Sedley would not be present. Joseph acted for his father giving away the bride, whilst Captain Dobbin stepped up as groomsman to his friend George.

"God bless you, old Dobbin," George said, grasping him by the hand, when they went into the vestry and signed the register. William replied only by nodding his head; his heart was too full to say much.

Ten days after the above ceremony Dobbin came down to Brighton, where not only Captain Osborne and Amelia, but also the Rawdon Crawleys were enjoying themselves, with news. He had seen old Osborne, and tried to reconcile him to his son's marriage, with the result that he left the implacable old man in a fit. He had also learnt from his old Colonel that in a day or two the army would get its marching orders, for Belgium.

"It's my opinion, George," he said, "that the French Emperor will be upon us before three weeks are over. But you need not say that to Mrs. Osborne, you know, and Brussels is full of fine people and ladies of fashion."

Little Amelia, it must be owned, had rather a mean opinion of her husband's friend, Captain Dobbin. He was very plain and homely-looking, and exceedingly awkward and ungainly. Not knowing him intimately as yet, she made light of honest William; and he knew her opinions of him quite well, and acquiesced in them very humbly. A time came when she knew him better, and changed her notions regarding him; but that was distant as yet.

As for Rebecca, Captain Dobbin had not been two hours in the ladies' company before she understood his secret perfectly. She did not like him, and feared him privately. He was so honest, that her arts did not affect him, and he shrank from her with instinctive repugnance.

On May 8 George Osborne received a letter from his father's lawyer, informing him that "in consequence of the marriage which he had been pleased to contract Mr. Osborne ceases to consider him henceforth as a member of his family. This determination is final and irrevocable."

Within a week of this epistle George Osborne and his wife, Dobbin, Joseph Sedley, and the Rawdon Crawleys, were on their way to Brussels.

III. - After Waterloo

About three weeks after the 18th of June, Alderman Sir William Dobbin called at Mr. Osborne's house in Russell Square, and insisted upon seeing that gentleman. "My son," the Alderman said, with some hesitation, "dispatched me a letter by an officer of the - th, who arrived in town to-day. My son's letter contains one for you, Osborne."

The letter was in George's well-known bold handwriting. He had written it before daybreak on the 16th of June, just before he took leave of Amelia. The very seal that sealed it had been robbed from George's dead body on the field of battle. The father knew nothing of this, but sat and looked at the letter in terrified vacancy.

The poor boy's letter did not say much. He had been too proud to acknowledge the tenderness which his heart felt. He only said that on the eve of a great battle he wished to bid his father farewell, and solemnly to implore his good offices for the wife - it might be for the child - whom he had left behind. His English habit, pride, awkwardness, perhaps, had prevented him from saying more. His father could not see the kiss George had placed on the superscription of his letter. Mr. Osborne dropped it with the bitterest, deadliest pang of balked affection and revenge. His son was still beloved and unforgiven.

Two months afterwards an elaborate funeral monument to the memory of Captain George Osborne appeared on the wall of the church which Mr. Osborne attended, and in the autumn the old man went to Belgium. George's widow was still in Brussels, and very many of the brave - th, recovering of their wounds. The city was a vast military hospital for months after the great battle.

Mr. Osborne made the journey of Waterloo and Quarter Bras soon after his arrival, and his carriage, nearing the gates of the city at sunset, met another open barouche by the side of which an officer was riding. Osborne gave a start back, but Amelia, for it was she, though she stared blank in his face did not know him. Her face was white and thin; her eyes were fixed, and looked nowhere. Osborne saw who it was and hated her - he did not know how much until he saw her there. Her carriage passed on; a minute afterwards a horse came clattering over the pavement behind Osborne's carriage, and Major Dobbin rode up.

"Mr. Osborne, Mr. Osborne!" cried Dobbin, while the other shouted to his servant to drive on. "I will see you, sir; I have a message for you."

"From that woman?" said Osborne fiercely.

"No, from your son." At which Osborne fell back into his carriage and Dobbin followed him to his hotel and up to his apartments.

"Make it short, sir," said Osborne, with an oath.

"I'm here as your son's closest friend," said the Major, "and the executor of his will. Are you aware how small his means were, and of the straitened circumstances of his widow? Do you know, sir, Mrs. Osborne's condition? Her life and her reason almost have been shaken by the blow which has fallen on her. She will be a mother soon. Will you visit the parent's offence upon the child's head? Or will you forgive the child for poor George's sake?"

Osborne broke into a rhapsody of self praise and imprecations. No father in all England could have behaved more generously to a son who had rebelled against him, and had died without even confessing he was wrong. As for himself, he had sworn never to speak to that woman, or to recognise her as his son's wife. "And that's what I will stick to till the last day of my life," he concluded, with an oath.

There was no hope from that quarter then. The widow must live on her slender pittance, or on such aid as Joseph could give her.

For six years Amelia did live on this pittance in shabby genteel poverty with her boy and her parents in Fulham. Dobbin and Joseph Sedley were in India now, and old Sedley, always speculating in bootless schemes, once more brought ruin on his family.

Mr. Osborne had seen his grandson, and had formally offered to take the boy and make him heir to the fortune intended for his father. He would make Mrs. George Osborne an allowance, such as to assure her a decent competency. But it must be understood that the child would live entirely with his grandfather in Russell Square, and that he would be occasionally permitted to see Mrs. George Osborne at her own residence.

At first Amelia rejected the offer with indignation. It was only on the knowledge that her father, in his speculations, had made away with the annuity from Joseph that poverty and misery made her capitulate. Her own, pittance would barely enable her to support her parents, and would not suffice for her son.

"What! Mrs. Pride has come down, has she?" old Osborne said when with a tremulous, eager voice, Miss Osborne, the only unmarried daughter, read him Amelia's letter.

"Regular starve out, hey? ha, ha! I knew she would." He tried to keep his dignity, as he chuckled and swore to himself behind his paper.

"Get the room over mine - his room that was - ready. And you had better send that woman some money," Mr. Osborne said before he went out. "She shan't want for nothing. Send her a hundred pound. But she don't come in here, mind. No, not for all the money in London."

A few days are past, and the great event of Amelia's life is consummated. The child is sacrificed and offered up to fate, and the widow is quite alone.

It was about this time when the Rawdon Crawleys, after contriving to live well on nothing a year, for a considerable period, came to smash. Rawdon retired to the Governorship of Coventry Island, a post procured for him by the influence of that great nobleman the Marquis of Steyne, and who cared what became of Becky? It was said she went to Naples. Rawdon certainly declined to be reconciled to her, because of the money she had received from Lord Steyne and which she had concealed from her husband. "If she's not guilty, she's as bad as guilty; and I'll never see her again - never," he said.

IV. - Colonel Dobbin Leaves the Army

Good fortune began to smile upon Amelia when Joseph Sedley, once more came back to England, a rich man, and with him Major Dobbin. But the round of decorous pleasure in which the Sedley family now indulged was soon broken by Mrs. Sedley's death, and old Sedley was not long in following his wife whither she had preceded him.

A change was coming over old Osborne's mind. He found that Major Dobbin was a distinguished officer, and one day looking into his grandson's accounts he learnt that it was out of William Dobbin's own pocket the fund had been supplied upon which the poor widow and the child had subsisted.

Then the pair shook hands, and after that the Major would often come and dine at the gloomy old house in Russell Square. He tried to soften the old man and reconcile him towards his son's memory, and more than once Mr. Osborne asked him about Mrs. George Osborne. A reconciliation was announced as speedy and inevitable, when one morning old Osborne was found lying at the foot of his dressing-table in a fit. He never could speak again and in four days he died.

When the will was opened, it was seen that half the property was left to his grandson, George, and the remainder to two married daughters. An annuity of £500 was left to "the widow of my beloved son, George Osborne," who was to resume the guardianship of the boy, and "Major William Dobbin, my beloved son's friend," was appointed executor.

That summer Major Dobbin and Joseph Sedley escorted the widow and her boy to the Continent and at Pumpernickel, in a happy valley in Germany, Joseph renewed acquaintance with Mrs. Rawdon Crawley, and after a long and confidential talk was convinced that Becky was the most virtuous as she was one of the most fascinating of women. Amelia was won over at the tale of Becky's sufferings, but Major Dobbin was obdurate. Amelia declined to give up Becky, and Major Dobbin said "good-bye."

Amelia didn't wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him, and his departure left her broken and cast down. Becky bore Dobbin no rancour for the part he had taken against her. It was an open move; she was in the game and played fairly. She even admired him, and now that she was in comfortable quarters, made no scruple of declaring her admiration for the high-minded gentleman, and of telling Emmy that she had behaved most cruelly regarding him.

From Pumpernickel Joseph and Amelia were persuaded to go to Ostend, and here, while Becky was cut by scores of people, two ruffians, Major Loder and Captain Rook, easily got an introduction to Mr. Joseph Sedley's hospitable board.

Rebecca, to do her justice, never would let either of these men remain alone with Amelia.

"Listen to me, Amelia," said Becky that same night; "you must go away from here. You are no more fit to live in the world than a baby in arms. You must marry or you and your precious boy will go to ruin. You must have a husband, you fool; and one of the best gentlemen I ever saw has offered you an hundred times, and you have ejected him, you silly, heartless, ungrateful little creature!"

"I - I wrote to him this morning," Emmy said, blushing exceedingly.

Only George and his uncle were present at the marriage ceremony. Colonel Dobbin quitted the service immediately after his marriage, and rented a pretty little place in Hampshire, not far from Queen's Crawley.

His excellency Colonel Rawdon Crawley died of yellow fever at Coventry Island, six weeks before the death of his brother Sir Pitt, who had succeeded to the title.

Rebecca, Lady Crawley (so she called herself, though she never was Lady Crawley) has a liberal allowance, and chiefly hangs about Bath and Cheltenham, where a very strong party of excellent people consider her a most injured woman.

Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! (1) which of us is happy in this world?

(1) Vanitas Vanitatum: (Latin) "Vanity of vanities"

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