When last we saw everyone, Becky and Rawdon were on the up, having established a pleasant little gambling den in Mayfair, and Amelia and her family were experiencing a significant crash. Miss Crawley finally went to meet her maker, leaving Rawdon a mere £100 legacy, and Dobbin was dispatched to India with the regiment.
First, I owe Jos an apology. Apparently he has been sending money to his family–a regular allowance every year, but his idiot father has been squandering it on failed business ventures. Jesus, Mr S, I know most adults want to be independent and stand on their own two feet and all that, but after the second failure, maybe it was time to throw in the towel? You are of retirement age, after all! As things stand, your daughter is literally selling the clothes off her back to afford schoolbooks for her kid. Just take the allowance and go putter around in your garden or whatever!
Yeah, the situation in the Sedley household is tense. Her mother is becoming increasingly embittered by how far she’s fallen in life, and starts taking it out on Amelia, berating the girl for refusing to send little George to stay with his grandfather and experience life as a rich brat. It gets so bad, Amelia finally caves and sends the boy away, breaking her heart. Hope you’re happy, Mrs Sedley. Honestly, neither of the Sedleys seem like great parents just now.
Meanwhile, down in India, Dobbin is being reluctantly set up with Mrs O’Dowd’s sister. Mrs O writes to Amelia and makes it sound like this marriage is a done deal, but I kind of doubt that, even if Dobbin is a pretty soft touch. Amelia’s got a prospect too: the local reverend has been sniffing around and showing interest, and though he seems a rather nice chap, she, of course, remains faithful only to the late, faithless George.
Becky is riding a wave of popularity, particularly setting her sights on the Marquis of Steyne. Steyne’s a creepy, hard-hearted, greasy sort of man. Not the type you should really cross, and though Becky seems to be aware of just how dangerous a game she’s playing and how little control she’s likely to have over this situation, she just can’t help herself. Especially when the man drapes a massive diamond necklace around her neck and dangles an invitation to meet the new king before her. What social climber could say no to that? Not this one, definitely! She leaps at the opportunity, and gets herself a royal introduction, which is probably more than even she ever dreamt of.
After the court presentation, Becky is summoned to Steyne’s house, where he can more easily sexually assault her. It’s unclear just how far things go, but when Becky gets home Rawdon makes it clear he’s had enough of Steyne undressing his wife with his eyes and forbids her from accepting invitations that exclude her husband.
Sir Pitt has either a massive heart attack or a stroke (or maybe both?) and dies, leaving Bute and his awful wife (whose name in this has been changed to Martha because… why, exactly? Bute’s name is also different–he’s Pitt as well, in the books, and while I guess I can see them changing that name to avoid confusion, I don’t at all see why Jane’s name was changed to Martha in this. Her whole personality’s different as well.) the heirs to Queen’s Crawley. Becky and Rawdon travel down for the funeral and take to opportunity to suck up to the new Lady Crawley and try to get some cash out of Bute, but both plans seem to fall a bit flat.
Which means Becky will be relying on Steyne even more. She extorts him for more than £1000, telling him they owe Briggs money (Briggs seems to be living with them as a sort of nanny to Little Rawdon and a social pit bull for Becky’s reputation. It’s obvious she’s increasingly disturbed by Becky’s chilly attitude towards her son and lack of regard for her own reputation.) Steyne, who wants Briggs out of the way so he can continue pawing Becky, pays up. He’s probably aware that Becky is pocketing the money herself, but he’s rich so what does he care? It gives him the leverage to order Becky to send her kid to school already, (he’ll pay the fees) and give Briggs her walking papers.
To sweeten the deal, he has his long-suffering wife invite Becky and Rawdon to a fancy dinner party at their London mansion. Rawdon’s bored out of his skull, and Becky finds herself very, very cold-shouldered by the society ladies, who include Lady Bareacres (see, Becky! I told you that’d come back to bite you in the ass!) Only Lady Steyne is kind to Becky, which sets up an interesting situation where the wife is friends with the mistress which is, unfortunately, never explored. Oh well, I guess we can all just go and watch The Duchess instead.
That evening, while walking home, Rawdon is found by some bailiffs who take him to a… debtors’ hotel? I always thought debtors’ prisons were horrible, but maybe if you’re of a higher class you get to go to this decent spot where you get your own room and the option to gamble in the parlour to while away the hours until someone comes to pay your debt. In this case, it’s not even Rawdon’s debt but Becky’s dressmaker’s bill. He sends his wife a letter, telling her what’s up and asking her to pay the money ASAP, because he doesn’t fancy hanging around this place for too long. Becky gets the letter, but completely ignores it in favour of entertaining Steyne. Cold, Becks.
Rawdon keeps sending letters, but when he’s finally bailed, it’s not by his wife but by his brother, Bute, who seems astonished that Rawdon’s in this situation, despite the fact that Rawdon very recently begged him for money. (In the novel, it’s not Bute/Pitt but Jane who comes to rescue Rawdon, concealing the debt and imprisonment from his pious and judgemental brother, who would probably have refused to pay it in order to teach Rawdon some sort of lesson. Jane’s pretty much the only truly likeable character in Vanity Fair. Shame that character was so butchered in this version.)
Rawdon returns home to find his wife canoodling with Steyne, and at this point Rawdon has HAD IT. He punches Steyne in the face, throws his expensive necklace at him, and tells him to leave and never come back. Steyne obliges. Rawdon then drags his wife to her room and opens up the jewellery box where she keeps all her cash. He gapes at all the money in there, then, broken, whimpers that she could have spared him just a little to bail him out. Or, you know, to pay her own damn bills.
And with that, the Crawley marriage is, basically over. We interrupt this tale of social climbing to give you a portrait of a marriage gone stale. Hope you enjoyed!