Generation VF

 

At the start of the second half of the novel, both female protagonists have given birth to male progeny. As per usual, Becky and Amelia’s approaches to this newest life development differ greatly. Amelia, still mourning the loss of that vain scoundrel, George Senior, smothers newborn Georgy, as only the suffocating, simpering gal can. The narrator tells us that the doting mother “nursed him, and dressed him, and lived on him” (349, italics mine). Oh that’s right, in case you missed the italics let me say again, the mother is actually subsisting off of her child (talk about an early-era pageant mom). Amelia’s dependence has been kicked up a notch since the loss of her neglectful husband and the narrator details how the “Widow and Mother” exists solely for her child, indeed he says (and I think we all agree the narrator is in fact, a ‘he’), “This child was her being” (349).

Becky on the other hand is less attached to her spawn, and by less attached I mean that she literally abandons the poor kid with a French maid who loses him at the beach for an entire day during which time he “very narrowly escaped DROWNING on Calais sands” (361, caps mine). Apparently children in the Victorian era are considered about as human as a pomeranian, if you lose track of them just say fiddlesticks and move on (seriously, nobody at the beach thought the imperiled urchin was worth investigating?!). Luckily for Junior, Colonel Crawley “rascal” as he was “had certain manly tendencies of affection in his heart” and treated his son “with a paternal softness” (372).

Though this set up could create very interesting discussion of gender roles, i.e. Becky shuns her gender’s biggest role by despising her child and Big Rawdon invertsparental stereotypes by acting the nurturing mother figure (while still retaining Victorian era ‘ashamed’ness about this sissified affection for his only son[389]), I bring up the two boys because I wonder how their respective childhoods impacts, if indeed it does, their maturation and adult lives.  Georgy is given up to curmudgeonly Grandpa Osbourne when his mother realizes she will not be able to provide for the little angel, and even though the old man lavishes “more luxuries and indulgences than had been awarded to his father” in an effort to make amends for his behavior towards the late George Sr., Georgy is a relatively well-adjusted young man and adult.  He also inherits the Osbourne fortune (549). Rawdon Jr. also makes good in life despite his mother’s neglect, and his father’s imprisonment, spending his weekends away from school haunting the grounds of Queen’s Crawley and  eventually inheriting the Crawley fortune after the death of everyone named Pitt (548).

Thackeray’s next generation is far more successful than their forerunners. However, it is interesting that this new generation seems to share similarities with the previous generation (in addition to the genetics), namely Rawdon Junior is deprived of his parents just like his mother was, but he turns out A-okay, George Junior loses his father just like George Senior lost Old Osbourne after he married Amelia, and he too has a much happier ending. Are we to understand then, that Thackeray believes that kids will inevitably turn out peachy keen deprived of one or both of their biological parents  for a good deal of their childhood as long as there is a steady stream of revenue providing them with ponies and ‘tips’ and at least one stand-in guardian at hand? Or maybe we are not to look to answers beyond the fact that male children inevitably fare better than female adolescents in Vanity Fair and Victorian England at large. It is encouraging after all the mischief of Becky Sharp and the infuriating impotence of Amelia that their children have a bright future, but I am not sure that I am convinced with the neatly tied bow that this new generation puts on Thackeray’s tale, are you?

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