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Dobbin's love for Amelia becomes the determining factor of his life. He thinks about her constantly, does everything he can to provide for her welfare and happiness, and devotes his life to her. He falls in love with her at first sight, as she comes into the room singing. He knows nothing about her character, her interests, her personality, so, why does he fall in love with her? Does he fall in love because of his own needs or psychological makeup?

There are hints in the text that Dobbin is an idealist and a romantic in the sense that he projects idealized (romantic) images onto others. Before his epic fight with Cuff, Dobbin is happily reading the Arabian Nights; lost in imagination, he is with Sinbad and with "Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peribanou in that delightful cavern where the Prince found her" (page 53). As a result of his victory, his life improves significantly, but, "from some perverseness," he attributes the happy change to George, rather than to his own actions. He regards George as a character in the romantic tales he reads; he loves George with the affection "we read in the charming fairy-book... He believed Osborne to be the possessor of every perfection, to be the handsomest, the bravest, the most active, the cleverest, the most generous of created boys" (pages 60-1). In other words, he idealizes George into Prince Charming by attributing virtues to George which he does not possess. Does he then devote himself to the image of George he himself created?

Does his love for Amelia follow the same pattern? When Amelia, unaware that he is in the room, comes in singing, does he fall in love with an idealized image rather than the actual Amelia, since he has no idea of what she is really like? (Is "falling in love at first sight" itself a literary cliche, a sentimental ideal he might have learned from reading books?) Thackeray, in discussing the nature of love, refers to the lover who projects idealized traits onto the love object; in the example, he is discussing a woman and at the end of the passage applies it to Amelia, but the principle applies equally to men in love:

Perhaps some beloved female subscriber [to love] has arrayed an ass in the splendour and glory of her imagination; admired his dulness as manly simplicity; worshipped his selfishness as manly superiority; treated his stupidity as majestic gravity, and used him as the brilliant fairy Titania did a certain weaver at Athens.... But this is certain, that Amelia believed her lover to be one of the most gallant and brilliant men in the empire: and it is possible Lieutenant Osborne thought so too.
Does this process, which Stendhal called crystallization, apply to Dobbin's falling in love with Amelia at first sight?

The narrator recounts an incident that supports a "yes" answer. Dobbin's image of Amelia filled his thoughts; the narrator comments,

Very likely Amelia was not like the portrait the Major had formed of her: there was a figure in a book of fashions which his sisters had in England, and with which William had made away privately, pasting it into the lid of his desk, and fancying he saw some resemblance to Mrs. Osborne in the print, whereas I have seen it, and can vouch that it is but the picture of a high-wasted gown with an impossible doll's face simpering over it–and, perhaps, Mr. Dobbin's sentimental Amelia was no more like the real one than this absurd little print which he cherished.
Or is an attachment to an idealized image of the love object what love commonly is? The narrator seems to suggest this possibility when he generalizes, "But what man in love, of us, is better informed?–or is he much happier when he sees and owns his delusion?" (page 515). The truth of the second question is suggested at Dobbin's unhappiness and sense of having wasted his life when he finally faces the truth about Amelia.

Is it possible that Dobbin's idealizations of George and then of Amelia are an expression of a sense of his inferiority, which can also be called a low self-esteem? His physical unattractiveness and his clumsiness are emphasized in the text and in the drawings, e.g., his first meeting Amelia. Is part of their attraction for him their physical attractiveness, since he is physically unprepossessing?


Just as Amelia holds tenaciously to her false image of George, so Dobbin tenaciously holds on to his false image of Amelia. The process of his disillusionment in her is long and slow. When he reads the letter in which she congratulates him on his supposed engagement, he cries out at the injustice of her disregard of his years of faithfulness. He despairs and reads all her letters and notes and sees "how cold, how kind, how hopeless, how selfish they were!" (page 517). And yet he keeps on loving her and continues faithful. Why? The easy answer is true love. But is that the only explanation? Is it possible that he remains a faithful lover because he has no one else to love? The narrator speculates,
          Had there been some kind gentle soul near at hand who could read and appreciate this silent generous heart, who knows but that the reign of Amelia might have been over, and that friend William's love might have flowed into a kinder channel? But there was only Glorvina... It was not jealousy, or frocks, or shoulders that could move him, and Glorvina had nothing more (pages 517-8).


More than any other character, Dobbin qualifies to be the hero, based on his solid moral qualities and kind, considerate actions. But he, like all the other characters, lives in Vanity Fair; he is selfish in his constant thinking of Amelia, to the exclusion of his family. Is it selflessness or selfishness that moves him to push George into marriage? After discussing reasons why Dobbin thinks Amelia and George should marry, the narrator asks, "Was he anxious himself, I wonder, to have it over?–as people, when death has occurred, like to press forward the funeral..." (page 228). Later, Dobbin wonders whether he encouraged them to marry as soon as possible because he couldn't bear to see Amelia suffer "or because his own sufferings of suspense were so unendurable that he was glad to crush them at once..." (page 265).

Thackeray leaves the question of his motive or motives in encouraging the marriage ambiguous. Thackeray, however, asserts unequivocally Dobbin's folly in loving Amelia. A paragraph that describes her tyranny over him and her giving him orders like a dog, which he likes to obey, concludes, "This history has been written to very little purpose if the reader has not perceived that the Major was a spooney" (page 791). (The OED defines a spooney as "A simple, silly, or foolish person; a noodle.") The Major is a fool in love, in other words. His folly in love and his self-delusion also qualify him for membership in Vanity Fair.


After the confrontation in Pumpernickel, Dobbin loses his illusions about Amelia and his hopes that she will one day come to love him. She has worn out his love, but he does not blame her; he takes responsibility for deluding himself,
It was myself I deluded and persisted in cajoling; had she been worthy of the love I gave her, she would have returned it long ago. It was a fond mistake. Isn't the whole course of life made up of such? And suppose I had won her, should I not have been disenchanted the day after my victory? Why pine, or be ashamed of my defeat? (page 810).

Dobbin's defeat in love and his life's ambition to marry Amelia becomes even greater than it is at this point. He does win Amelia, after all, and marries her, though he no longer loves her and knows, as Thackeray said he would in a letter to a friend, that she is not worth winning. As an honest and so an honorable man, he feels he has no choice but to return, when she writes to him, and return, of course, means marriage. For a fuller discussion of the break with Amelia and their marriage, see the discussion of Amelia: The Ending.



Day 1

Thackeray, Vanity Fair. pp. ix-170
Overview of Thackeray and Vanity Fair
The Narrator, the Reader, and Ambiguity
The Structure
Thackeray's Illustrations: A Discussion

Day 2 Vanity Fair. pp. 171-326
Attitude Toward Women
Day 3 Vanity Fair. pp. 326-488
Day 4 Vanity Fair. pp. 489-662
Becky's Innocence
Day 5 Vanity Fair. pp. 663-822
The Ending
Amelia: The Ending
Becky: The Ending
Dobbin: The Ending
The Gentleman and the Lady
Album of All the Vanity Fair Drawings

March 3, 2009