THACKERAY ON THE [OMNI]BUS
Part II (for which chapters four through eleven were read)
Spoiler alert!!! Plots will be disclosed
We were promised, I thought, at the end of chapter one, as Amelia and Rebecca were driving away from the school at Chiswick, Rebecca having just flung Johnson’s Dictionary at the sister of the headmistress – we were promised that we would never see again that “Hammersmith Semiramis”, Miss Pinkerton, the headmistress; however, we encounter her again at the beginning of chapter eleven as the epistolary correspondent of a Mrs. Bute Crawley, a former student and the sister-in-law of Sir Pitt Crawley (Baronet and MP), at whose household (named Queen’s Crawley, a vast pile of stone from the time of Queen Bess) it is that Rebecca is engaged as governess to the children of Sir Pitt’s second marriage to the daughter of a local iron monger, which second marriage caused some consternation among the local nobility, because they had hoped that Sir Pitt would make one of their own eligible daughters the mistress of Queen’s Crawley, and which marriage was also deemed a descent from the lofty heights Sir Pitt’s first marriage to Griselda of the noble house of Binkie, she of happy memory, who bore two sons, one of which is the favorite of Sir Pitt’s sister, a spinster with seventy-five thousand pounds in the bank that she says she will leave all to her favorite nephew, which sister is beginning a visit to Queen’s Crawley in the very same chapter in which Miss Pinkerton has written a response to Mrs. Bute Crawley’s inquiry about Rebecca’s tenure at Miss Pinkerton’s which was written as a post script to her letter (the bulk of Mrs. Bute Crawley’s letter discusses some other former students who were classmates of Amelia and Rebecca and who have also somehow made their way to Queens Crawley), and Miss Pinkerton, in a post script to her own letter in response, discloses Rebecca’s low birth and sordid past, thus confirming Mrs. Bute Crawley’s suspicions.
A few chapters before eleven, I had found my expectations or anticipations for the characters dashed. By “expectations or anticipations” I mean what I see as characters’ stored reserves of potentiality. When I am reading VANITY FAIR, I can’t keep myself from imagining the main characters’ futures in the story. Just when I thought I had figured out what was going to happen with Amelia and Rebecca and George and Joseph and Dobbins – just at that moment,Thackeray descended from the rafters onto the stage of his little stage managed performance, all deus ex machina, and mucked things up for me. I was expecting that Becky would have her stay extended indefinitely at Russell square, and that she would dump Joseph in order to betray Amelia by advancing on George or Dobbin. But my plans for the characters were all thrown to pieces when Joseph embarrasses himself at Vauxhall after drinking a bowl of rack punch, a drinking event that Thackeray compares, for its historic consequences for the events in VANITY FAIR , to that bowl of wine consumed in one gulp by Alexander the Great. Thus the expected marriage proposal of Joseph to Rebecca never happens. Joseph decides to leave London for awhile, and Rebecca is carted off to a Baronet’s household to be a governess. The author descends again from the rafters at the end of chapter eight, where he reminds us that we are reading a book called “Vanity Fair”, and he hints menacingly of vice and even villainy in the chapters ahead.
When I finished chapter eleven as my bus was approaching my stop, I understood the wisdom, or rather the necessity, of the bowl of rack punch as plot device; for, if Rebecca had tarried at Russell Square, her expectations would surely have been diminished in that world of stock brokers and civil servants, which kind of world would be a very bourgeois, very middling place for a character such as Rebecca. With the Baronet, she enters the world of the nobility, and although the baronet is not a very grand peer of the realm, he provides the opportunity for Rebecca to orbit greater planets. After insinuating herself into the daily life of Sir Pitt by making herself indispensible as a kind of personal assistant, she sees the greater opportunities that would come her way if she could ingratiate herself to the spinster (and her seventy-five thousand pounds). She has succeeded as the chapter closes.