Should Not Elizabeth Bennet Despise George Wickham?

Should Not Elizabeth Bennet Despise George Wickham?

Recently, I was writing a scene for an upcoming Austen release, and in it, I attempted to explain Elizabeth Bennet’s lack of “hatred” for George Wickham. Even after having read “Pride and Prejudice” well over 50 times during my lifetime, I found myself sadly lacking in this endeavour for I held no idea what Elizabeth really thought of Mr. Wickham. Certainly, Pride and Prejudice is told from Elizabeth’s point of view, and we are quite inundated with the alteration of her feelings for Mr. Darcy, but what of her feelings for Mr. Wickham? Did they not also go through an equal unveiling? I went searching for proof within the novel itself, and for better or worse, this is what I discovered.

First, it is a given that without Mr. Wickham’s deceptions, our favorite couple might not have discovered each other. However, let us revisit the scene where Elizabeth takes Mr. Wickham’s acquaintance:

But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance, walking with an officer on the other side of the way. The officer was the very Mr. Denny, concerning whose return from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed as they passed. All were struck with the stranger’s air, all wondered who he could be; and Kitty and Lydia, determined if possible to find out, led the way across the street, under pretence of wanting something in an opposite shop, and fortunately had just gained the pavement when the two gentlemen, turning back, had reached the same spot. Mr. Denny addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town, and he was happy to say had accepted a commission in their corps. This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address.

Then there is the scene where Wickham studies Darcy’s reaction to encountering him with Elizabeth upon the streets of Meryton.

The introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of conversation — a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming; and the whole party were still standing and talking together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their notice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street. On distinguishing the ladies of the group the two gentlemen came directly towards them, and began the usual civilities. Bingley was the principal spokesman, and Miss Bennet the principal object. He was then, he said, on his way to Longbourn on purpose to inquire after her. Mr. Darcy corroborated it with a bow, and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger, and Elizabeth, happening to see the countenance of both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. Both changed colour; one looked white, the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat — a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it? — It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know.

Elizabeth’s account of the incident is quite exquisite, but what was she thinking of Darcy at that moment? Of Wickham? And more importantly, did Wickham possess the wherewithal to note Darcy’s attention to Elizabeth? Likely, Wickham knows Darcy better than many of Darcy’s acquaintances, except perhaps Colonel Fitzwilliam. In hindsight, we all realize Wickham is a master manipulator, especially of Darcy.

I do not know about you, but I often wondered if Wickham’s appearance in Meryton was coincidental. Perhaps, Wickham and Mr. Denny held an acquaintance in London. Mayhap, in passing, Denny mentioned dining with Mr. Bingley and Darcy and the other officers. [“My brother and the gentleman are to dine with the officers.” – from Caroline Bingley’s note to Jane Bennet in Chapter 7] Is it possible Wickham came to Meryton because Darcy is there? Even more so, if Miss Bingley took note of Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth, could not Denny have reported as such to Wickham’s inquiries on his old friend? Do you recall how at the Netherfield Ball that Denny tells Elizabeth, “I do not imagine his [Wickham’s] business would have called him away just now, if he had not wished to avoid a certain gentleman here.” (Chapter 18) I always read this line to mean that Wickham knew something of Meryton and its residence prior to his coming to Hertfordshire. Even if Wickham did not know of Darcy being in the village prior to his joining the militia, we must assume Denny and the other officers tell him of Elizabeth and Jane being several days under the same roof as Darcy at Netherfield, of his former friend’s close study of Elizabeth, and after the Netherfield ball, of Darcy’s singularity in partnering Elizabeth on the dance floor.

In a time when being “closed lipped” was considered a cherished quality, when I read the novel, I thought it most circumspect that Wickham immediately proceeds to inform Elizabeth of Darcy’s contemptuous character.

Mr. Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy woman by whom he finally seated himself; and the agreeable manner in which he immediately fell into conversation, though it was only on its being a wet night, and on the probability of a rainy season, made her feel that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker. (Which was followed by…)

Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to be told — the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She dared not even mention that gentleman. Her curiosity, however, was unexpectedly relieved. Mr. Wickham began the subject himself. He inquired how far Netherfield was from Meryton; and after receiving her answer, asked in an hesitating manner how long Mr. Darcy had been staying there.
   “About a month,” said Elizabeth; and then, unwilling to let the subject drop, added, “He is a man of very large property in Derbyshire, I understand.”
   “Yes,” replied Wickham; “his estate there is a noble one. A clear ten thousand per annum. You could not have met with a person more capable of giving you certain information on that head than myself; for I have been connected with his family in a particular manner from my infancy.”
Elizabeth could not but look surprised.
   “You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, at such an assertion, after seeing, as you probably might, the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday. Are you much acquainted with Mr. Darcy?”
   “As much as I ever wish to be,” cried Elizabeth warmly. “I have spent four days in the same house with him, and I think him very disagreeable.”
   “I have no right to give my opinion,” said Wickham, “as to his being agreeable or otherwise. I am not qualified to form one. I have known him too long and too well to be a fair judge. It is impossible for me to be impartial. But I believe your opinion of him would in general astonish — and perhaps you would not express it quite so strongly anywhere else. Here you are in your own family.”
   “Upon my word I say no more here than I might say in any house in the neighbourhood, except Netherfield. He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire. Everybody is disgusted with his pride. You will not find him more favourably spoken of by any one.”
   “I cannot pretend to be sorry,” said Wickham, after a short interruption, “that he or that any man should not be estimated beyond their deserts; but with him I believe it does not often happen. The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chuses to be seen.”
Wickham shares the news that Darcy is to marry his cousin Miss de Bourgh. Is this to put any “hopes” that Elizabeth may be carrying to rest?

The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the players gathered round the other table, and Mr. Collins took his station between his cousin Elizabeth and Mrs. Philips. The usual inquiries as to his success were made by the latter. It had not been very great: he had lost every point; but when Mrs. Philips began to express her concern thereupon, he assured her with much earnest gravity that it was not of the least importance, that he considered the money as a mere trifle, and begged she would not make herself uneasy.

   “I know very well, madam,” said he, “that when persons sit down to a card-table they must take their chance of these things — and happily I am not in such circumstances as to make five shillings any object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters.”

   Mr. Wickham’s attention was caught; and after observing Mr. Collins for a few moments, he asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relation were very intimately acquainted with the family of de Bourgh.
   “Lady Catherine de Bourgh,” she replied, “has very lately given him a living. I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but he certainly has not known her long.”
   “You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy.”
   “No, indeed, I did not. I knew nothing at all of Lady Catherine’s connexions. I never heard of her existence till the day before yesterday.”
   “Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates.”
   This information made Elizabeth smile, as she thought of poor Miss Bingley. Vain indeed must be all her attentions, vain and useless her affection for his sister and her praise of himself, if he were already self-destined to another.

Is it not wonderful our Miss Austen has us looking at the “dastardly Darcy” at this point and not at the reason Wickham chooses to share such intimate details of his acquaintance with Darcy with what is essentially a stranger? What was his motivation and why did Elizabeth Bennet (who claims to be an astute observer of human nature) not have “red flags” going off in her head? How can I accept Elizabeth as the intelligent female we all admire and not wonder how she could be so gullible?

Elizabeth does tell us after her Aunt Gardiner presses her to beware of Mr. Wickham that…

At present I am not in love with Mr. Wickham; no, I certainly am not. But he is, beyond all comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw — and if he becomes really attached to me — I believe it will be better that he should not. I see the imprudence of it. — Oh! that abominable Mr. Darcy! My father’s opinion of me does me the greatest honor; and I should be miserable to forfeit it. My father, however, is partial to Mr. Wickham. In short, my dear aunt, I should be very sorry to be the means of making any of you unhappy; but since we see every day that where there is affection, young people are seldom withheld by immediate want of fortune from entering into engagements with each other, how can I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow creatures if I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would be wisdom to resist? All that I can promise you, therefore, is not to be in a hurry. I will not be in a hurry to believe myself his first object. When I am in company with him, I will not be wishing. In short, I will do my best.’’

At this point in the story, I considered Mr. Wickham pursuit of Elizabeth another attempt upon Wickham’s part as revenge directed toward Darcy. If the man held real affection for Elizabeth, Wickham would not have abandoned her for Miss King’s fortune. That is my reasoning. What of yours?

   …And so, my dear sister, I find, from our uncle and aunt, that you have actually seen Pemberley.”
   She replied in the affirmative.
   “I almost envy you the pleasure, and yet I believe it would be too much for me, or else I could take it in my way to Newcastle. And you saw the old housekeeper, I suppose? Poor Reynolds, she was always very fond of me. But of course she did not mention my name to you.”
   “Yes, she did.”
   “And what did she say?”
   “That you were gone into the army, and she was afraid had—not turned out well. At such a distance as that, you know, things are strangely misrepresented.”
   “Certainly,” he replied, biting his lips. Elizabeth hoped she had silenced him; but he soon afterwards said:
   “I was surprised to see Darcy in town last month. We passed each other several times. I wonder what he can be doing there.”
   “Perhaps preparing for his marriage with Miss de Bourgh,” said Elizabeth. “It must be something particular, to take him there at this time of year.”
   “Undoubtedly. Did you see him while you were at Lambton? I thought I understood from the Gardiners that you had.”
   “Yes; he introduced us to his sister.”
   “And do you like her?”
   “Very much.”
   “I have heard, indeed, that she is uncommonly improved within this year or two. When I last saw her, she was not very promising. I am very glad you liked her. I hope she will turn out well.”
   “I dare say she will; she has got over the most trying age.”
   “Did you go by the village of Kympton?”
   “I do not recollect that we did.”
   “I mention it, because it is the living which I ought to have had. A most delightful place!—Excellent Parsonage House! It would have suited me in every respect.”
   “How should you have liked making sermons?”
   “Exceedingly well. I should have considered it as part of my duty, and the exertion would soon have been nothing. One ought not to repine;—but, to be sure, it would have been such a thing for me! The quiet, the retirement of such a life would have answered all my ideas of happiness! But it was not to be. Did you ever hear Darcy mention the circumstance, when you were in Kent?”
   “I have heard from authority, which I thought as good, that it was left you conditionally only, and at the will of the present patron.”
   “You have. Yes, there was something in that; I told you so from the first, you may remember.”
   “I did hear, too, that there was a time, when sermon-making was not so palatable to you as it seems to be at present; that you actually declared your resolution of never taking orders, and that the business had been compromised accordingly.”
  “You did! and it was not wholly without foundation. You may remember what I told you on that point, when first we talked of it.”
   They were now almost at the door of the house, for she had walked fast to get rid of him; and unwilling, for her sister’s sake, to provoke him, she only said in reply, with a good-humoured smile:
   “Come, Mr. Wickham, we are brother and sister, you know. Do not let us quarrel about the past. In future, I hope we shall be always of one mind.”
   She held out her hand; he kissed it with affectionate gallantry, though he hardly knew how to look, and they entered the house.

Now, this is the part I found most vexing when I was writing my scene: Is Wickham’s ruining of Lydia more revenge on Darcy (by also ruining Elizabeth’s chances at a good marriage) or is it revenge upon Elizabeth for her “desertion”? Could not Elizabeth (now that she knows of Wickham’s true nature) not think of him as something more than simply keeping him and Darcy apart? If I could answer these questions, my scene would flow smoother. Do you hold an opinion on this topic?

Leave a comment below to be entered into a giveaway of one of Janet Taylor’s fabulous 2015 Pemberley to Longbourn calendars. This calendar celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle 1995 mini-series, as well as the 2005 feature film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. The deadline is Saturday, March 7, at midnight EST. 

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Maren Gordon
Maren Gordon
March 13, 2018 3:12 PM

It had never occurred to me that Wickham’s sole desire was revenge upon Darcy, but was only for himself. I keep coming back to a line Darcy says when explaining about his dealings with Wickham to Elizabeth. I don’t remember it exactly but he says something like, “By that time Wickham had become too set in his bad habits,” or something along those lines. Because he says “habits,” and not anything about Wickham disliking or hating him, I’m inclined to believe that Wickham, when free to spend all that money and not be subject to the Darcy family, became selfish, lazy, and wicked and had no discipline and lived only for himself. I wouldn’t think him that clever and capable of making grand schemes just to get back at Darcy. Darcy does mention that he thought Wickham’s plans to marry Georgiana were to gain her fortune and revenge himself upon him, but once he was found out I always thought he just skipped out like he always does, avoiding consequences and “breaking hearts” as usual.

But then, perhaps I’m not looking critically enough. I always based Wickham off of guys I knew in real life. Lazy in school and work, all they wanted was to party and get girls. The term being, “a player.” Many of them were good-looking, charming, and fun, but only thought about themselves and what they wanted. They had no real substance to them. If they got in trouble, they’d just brush it off and look for their next victim to exploit.

I always thought Wickham was one of those, moving from Elizabeth to Miss Mary King and then Lydia. For Elizabeth, I always thought he might have told her all those things about Darcy to gain sympathy and favor (there’s no advantage for him to tell the truth). I think he saw Elizabeth wasn’t going to be an easy take, and so moved on to Miss King and her money. When that didn’t work out he moved on Lydia, who was gullible and wild and easy to take advantage of. Then I’m sure he would have dumped her and moved on to the next one. I think he greatly dislikes Darcy, but wouldn’t be so disciplined as to plot his demise.

As for Elizabeth not hating him, sometimes it’s hard to hate someone who seems so charming and when you were friends once, but more than that I think Elizabeth wanted to keep peace in her family. Would she really have caused a scene in front of her family, despite her feelings? I have relatives that I’m still polite to, even though they’ve done some awful things. I simply try to avoid them when I can, which I’m sure Elizabeth will do. The other point is that sometimes, the people who wrong others don’t always get what they deserve. Certainly Wickham has to be with Lydia now, and Lydia with him, but he still got all that money and had a lot of things work in his favor, and is still a manipulative charmer whom people will still like.

April 26, 2017 4:43 PM

I believe at this point, Elizabeth realizes how ‘desperate’ and ‘vicious’ Wichkam is. By allowing him safe passage into the Bennet family home after their marriage, several things are accomplished.

1) The neighborhood witnesses that Lydia is indeed married which helps redeem the Bennet sisters’ good names,

2) being forced to break bread with Wickham, the serial rake is a fitting punishment for the ENTIRE family who were ridiculous. They ALL allowed this terrible behavior on the part of the sisters, Mrs. Bennet and especially Mr. Bennet who was supposed to be the head of his household. He was so busy laughing at the foibles of humanity that he ended up with a houseful of stupid women. Jane was the oldest yet she planted her head in the sand.

3) for Lydia’s sake, this is probably the last time she will see her parents and sisters altogether. The book mentions her spending time with Jane and Bingley, but doesn’t mention visits to anyone else.

4) the Bennets, except for Mrs. Bennet, realize that it’s a highly imprudent match and it will more than likely result in Lydia’s total degradation. I consider the visit the proverbial ‘last meal’ of a prisoner convicted to die.

October 7, 2016 10:02 AM

Very interesting insights and interpretations! Here’s mine:

I get the impression that Wickham’s life revolves around damaging Darcy’s life as much as possible, and that he does indeed collect information and use it to devise plans to torment and unsettle Darcy. JA apparently created Wickham as a constant foil for Darcy, and that he uses whatever and whoever he can in his quest to get back at Darcy. I do not believe that he specifically targeted either Elizabeth or Lydia; they were useful tools in his object to get Darcy. Altho’ some payback to them would be icing on the cake. Wickham is obviously the one with the resentful nature, and dedicates his life to dishing out payback for real or perceived slights. We have all known someone like that, who holds grudges forever and revels in plotting or enacting revenge. That Elizabeth prefers Wickham to Darcy in the beginning says more to me about her own character than Wickham’s.

From my first reading of P&P, I disliked Elizabeth immediately upon reading of her interaction with Wickham. How could a person who flattered herself as an astute judge of character fall for such gossip, esp as she barely knew Wickham when he began to spread his vitriol and interrogate her? She accepted that he was passing along news but the fact was that he was manipulating her, giving her just enough “juice” to squeeze as much information as possible from her to fuel his next run-in with Darcy. And then proved himself too cowardly to face Darcy — on several occasions. This seems to be a point that most JAFF authors catch, because he rarely faces Darcy head-on in any JAFF book/story I’ve read. In fact he fears face-to-face confrontations. As with all bullies, he is in fact a coward.

I have expressed many times previously that Elizabeth is amongst my least favourite of JA’s characters because she was in fact a gossip-monger, as bad or worse than her mother or aunt Philips, inasmuch as she felt herself above them in character. And I have always thought that she ended up with far more than she deserved in marrying Darcy.

As far as Elizabeth offering civility to Wickham, I agree that this was the result of wanting to keep as much family harmony as possible. Lydia was never her favourite sister, and the Wickhams would be moving far enough away that she would rarely see them. So she tolerated them as courteously as possible, knowing it was for a relatively brief time and they would not be a daily part of her life. This probably happens in many families far more often than we might care to admit!

Can’t wait to read your new story that incorporates this relationship, Regina, and how you ultimately play it out. And thank you for offering a giveway.

March 7, 2015 5:25 PM

Exactly. He sized up Bingley in Meryton and recognized Bings would be an easy mark, but Wicky didn’t have access to Bingley the “cash cow” until he married Lydia. Then he knew sweet Jane would welcome the Wickheads to their home, Jane would give money to Lydia, and Wicky could get money from Bingley – because Bings and Jane would never bother each other with such details. Jane Austen says that the Wickheads stayed with the Bingleys for long visits; I’m sure the Wickys would milks the Bingleys a lot. Also, I think the Bingleys would be willing to sacrificially host and help the Wickheads in order to keep them from bothering the Darcys. And the Wickheads’ presence would motivate Caroline to go elsewhere!

March 7, 2015 8:30 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

Your original question is still making me think. What if – while the newlywed Wickheads were visiting Longbourn – Wicky was sizing up each Bennet for how much money he could get out of them? I can see him looking at gorgeous Jane and thinking that she would likely marry a rich man – so he secretly pours on the charm for Jane, so that she will never think ill of Wicky. Soon after, when Lydia told him about Jane and Lizzy marrying two rich men, Wicky would think, “Jackpot!”

March 7, 2015 2:44 AM

The one passage that tells me what Lizzy thinks of Wickham is right after Mr Gardner’s letter to Mr Bennet, saying Lydia is discovered:
“Is it possible?” cried Elizabeth, when she had finished. “Can it be possible that he will marry her?”

“Wickham is not so undeserving, then, as we have thought him,” said her sister. “My dear father, I congratulate you.”

“And have you answered the letter?” said Elizabeth.

“No; but it must be done soon.”

Most earnestly did she then intreat him to lose no more time before he wrote.

“Oh! my dear father,” she cried, “come back and write immediately. Consider how important every moment is in such a case.”

“Let me write for you,” said Jane, “if you dislike the trouble yourself.”

“I dislike it very much,” he replied; “but it must be done.”

And so saying, he turned back with them, and walked towards the house.

“And may I ask — ” said Elizabeth; “but the terms, I suppose, must be complied with.”

“Complied with! I am only ashamed of his asking so little.”

“And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!”

“Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done. But there are two things that I want very much to know: one is, how much money your uncle has laid down, to bring it about; and the other, how I am ever to pay him.”

“Money! my uncle!” cried Jane; “what do you mean, sir?”

“I mean, that no man in his senses would marry Lydia on so slight a temptation as one hundred a year during my life, and fifty after I am gone.”

“That is very true,” said Elizabeth; “though it had not occurred to me before. His debts to be discharged, and something still to remain! Oh! it must be my uncle’s doings! Generous, good man, I am afraid he has distressed himself. A small sum could not do all this.”

“No,” said her father; “Wickham’s a fool if he takes her with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds. I should be sorry to think so ill of him, in the very beginning of our relationship.”

“Ten thousand pounds! Heaven forbid! How is half such a sum to be repaid?”

Mr. Bennet made no answer, and each of them, deep in thought, continued silent till they reached the house. Their father then went to the library to write, and the girls walked into the breakfast-room.

“And they are really to be married!” cried Elizabeth, as soon as they were by themselves. “How strange this is! And for this we are to be thankful. That they should marry, small as is their chance of happiness, and wretched as is his character, we are forced to rejoice. Oh, Lydia!”

I think Lizzy is polite to Wickham when he comes to Longbourn after his marriage for the sake of keeping the peace; the family has had enough drama by then.
I also think she’s calmer dealing with him than with Darcy because – while SHE doesn’t realize it – Darcy fascinates her or at least keeps her off kilter. There’s always a charged atmosphere when they are together, and Darcy is in her thoughts much more than one would expect for someone she claims to despise. She thinks he repels her, but we all know that love and hate are more closely related than either love and hate is with indifference. In fact their conversation at Rosings at the piano could be interpreted as flirting on her part. She can be more in control of her emotions and speech with Wickham than she is with Darcy.

Jennifer Redlarczyk
March 6, 2015 10:54 PM

Wow! You all are such great detectives. The speculation and conclusions are awesome! Thanks for such a great blog post. Great fun! Jen Red

March 6, 2015 9:40 PM

Such a wonderful discussion. I am on vacation so have very little online time so I will keep this simple. While I believe Wickham is much about revenge on Darcy, taking Elizabeth down too had to make him very pleased with himself.But in the end…..whatever reason Jane wrote the way she did, it has left writers like yourself with so many questions to answer for us readers. I appreciate your effort in gettting into the heads of these characters.

Deborah Fortin
March 6, 2015 6:51 AM

I think Lizzie took Darcy’s insulting comment to heart, even if she verbally ‘blows it off’. Her pride and vanity were injured. So, even though it was improper, she believes what Wickham says and is hungry for more. Who wouldn’t be looking for ammunition against someone who hurt you. Honestly, I don’t believe she consciously realizes she’s doing this. As for Wickham ending up in Meryton, Denny may have mentioned the new comers into the neighborhood and their Darcy’s attitude to girls he himself may have been attracted to. I also feel that Wickham noticed Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth, and so plotted to make her actively dislike him by feeding this information to her. Since he couldn’t get her dowry or the living he’d do anything to get back at Darcy. The best would be taking the object of his attraction and turning her against him. To him, what would be better than making him miserable and bitter for his whole life by thwarting any possibility of her accepting any overtures Darcy may make to Elizabeth.

March 5, 2015 5:39 PM

I’ve met JAFFers who think Wickham is just a lazy opportunist, but as others have pointed out, it certainly took planning to arrange for Mrs Younge – “a prior acquaintance” – to forge her references and “qualifications,” arrange for a stay in Ramsgate without Darcy and without trusted Darcy servants (who would ahve recognized Wickhead), etc. With this in mind, it is easy to believe that Wickhead could have planned a trip to Meryton where Darcy “happened” to be. Just as Darcy had done for years when his father was alive, Darcy did not expose Wickhead, only this time there was also pressure on Darcy to keep quiet for Georgiana’s sake. However, Darcy did have dinner with the militia officeres, and I think he might have interviewed Colonel Forster to see what kind of man was responsible for keeping control of Wickhead; without his future silly wife there, Forster might have seemed reasonably intelligent.

I believe it was easy for Wickhead to spot Darcy’s interest in Lizzy at their first meeting in Meryton, when Darcy tried to not look at her. Later, Wickhead could have easily found out from Lydia that Lizzy was going to Hunsford/Rosings. Wickhead would know that Darcy went there every Easter, so he could poison Lizzy’s thoughts – impressionable, gullible Lizzy. At this point, Wicky would just be messing with Darcy. But then Mary King and her money slipped through Wicky’s fingers. Another heiress gone!

So, the militia goes to Brighton, a popular resort that should have afforded Wicky plenty of access to rich women. But again he comes up empty-handed and has to flee, financed with Lydia’s spending money. By this time, reality could have hit him – Wicky had failed to land a rich heiress in Brighton, which should have been as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, so Darcy’s offer of marrying him to Lydia must have been his only hope. He would know that Darcy would never let him starve or go to debtor’s prison if he married Lydia, whose sister Lizzy was loved by Darcy – and whose sister Jane might still marry Darcy’s friend Bingley.

But when Lizzy saw Wicky at Longbourn, she did not know of Darcy’s involvement – and Wicky never told her. Selfish git never says anything nice of Darcy.

From the time Lizzy first reads Jane’s letters to the time Wicky and Lydia leave Longbourn, Lizzy’s concern is with her family’s reputation – how the elopement will affect their reputation (and the girls’ ability to marry respectably), especially if Lydia does not marry, and worse if Lydia is pregnant. So, I believe Lizzy (with Jane’s help) persuaded their father to let M/M Wickhead visit Longbourn in order to help save the Bennets’ reputation in Meryton. All of Meryton would see that Wicky was married to Lydia, in the flesh, paraded by Mrs Bennet who probably would persuade him to wear his new Army officer’s uniform at least once. Lydia would happily describe the wedding and show everyone the newspaper announcement. I believe that Lizzy was able to act civilly to Wicky – letting him kiss her hand – because she knew he would never again be welcome at Longbourn. Just a few days of tolerating him, and then her family’s reputation would be safe. Lizzy believed the Gardiners had arranged and paid for everything, and she respected her aunt and uncle. To Lizzy, cooperating in the scheme was the least she could do – be nice to the newlyweds for a few days and then be rid of them forever. Compared to the Gardiners’ financial outlay, and her father’s financial outlay in paying Wicky’s local debts, Lizzy must have thought that her being polite to Wicky and Lydia was only a minor chore. Also, Lydia (and Mrs Bennet) had proven unable to see reality; talking to them was like talking to the proverbial brick wall; talking about morals to Wickhead would be wasting her breath.

Does that help you get inside Lizzy’s head a bit?

Sharon Lathan
March 5, 2015 7:19 PM
Reply to  junewilliams7

Very good point, June! Bolding and warmly welcoming the newly married Wickhams would go a long way toward defusing the rumors. At that point Bingley and Darcy as suitors wasn’t a hope, so for the remaining four Bennet daughters to have any hope of securing a decent husband that had to play the part.

So much good stuff being thought of here! Whatever Jane may have intended, I think we’ve collectively come up with a wealth of plot bunnies for our variation writers. LOL!

Joana Starnes
March 5, 2015 2:04 PM

Great post, Regina, and what an amazing discussion thread!

I wholeheartedly agree with the views that Wickham is an opportunist and a trouble-maker. And also an excellent plot device to make the readers fall into the trap of detesting Darcy, only to appreciate his sterling qualities even more at the end.

Joana Starnes
March 5, 2015 2:06 PM
Reply to  Joana Starnes

Ooops, sorry I forgot to say please don’t enter me in the giveaway, I already have Janet’s beautiful calendar.

March 4, 2015 9:11 PM

Wickham was always envious of Darcy, so I truly believe that when the Bennet sisters came into the picture, everything fell into place for his revenge…..let’s face it, he was just a trouble man, always looking for the easy pay-off……..

Kim Withey
Kim Withey
March 4, 2015 8:40 PM

I’ve always thought that Austen wrote Wickham as a warning to young ladies. So in this case she allowed Elizabeth to either be a bit slow or perhaps to focused on Darcy to truly be aware of Wickham. Wickham is a predator. A handsome man lying in wait of a suitable victim. If he can make a buck and hurt Darcy at the same time all the better. I truly believe her purpose for this character was two fold. A warning and a device for Darcy’s redemption. It was Austen’s way of telling her peers to look behind the face and first impression to find the man beneath.

Sharon Lathan
March 4, 2015 4:50 PM

As much as I adore Pride and Prejudice, I’ve wondered what to think of all the “coincidences” there are. Plot holes? Naturally we don’t want to believe that of Jane Austen!! So I tend to think she HAD all the background info planned out, and the motivations clear in her head. She just opted, for some reason, to keep much of it vague. Hence all the fun we have in trying to figure it out! LOL!

Then again, maybe Austen was doing what most fictional authors do, and that is tossing in whatever makes the plot more dramatic even if on close, logical inspection it is questionable. I mean, what really are the odds that the one fellow who knows Darcy, who tried to seduce his sister, pops up in Meryton at the same time! England isn’t huge, but still! I suppose that is the downside of writing Variations, right Regina? Trying to make all the pieces fit when perhaps they simply don’t and were never meant too. LOL!

Great discussion.

Sharon Lathan
March 4, 2015 8:29 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

LOL! I do agree, Regina, but fear a horde of Janeites will attack me if I say out loud that Jane didn’t meticulously plan!

Diana Oaks
March 4, 2015 4:22 PM

As you said, JAFF authors study the passages for every little nuance, and I have come to the conclusion that Wickham came to Meryton opportunistically. This first occurred to me when I read the page numbered 24 of this article: and realized that Austen had designed a perfect scenario – one she didn’t fully spell out in the book. When she was writing the first draft of P&P, it was the Derbyshire militia that was quartered in Hertfordshire. That would mean that the “great coincidence” of Wickham being recruited to join the militia when in London, only to be surprised to find Darcy there is probably not the coincidence it seemed to be. Denny, who recruited him, was referred to as his friend, implying that whether at home or in school, both of them would have known him. Denny would certainly have been hyper-aware of the presence of Darcy in the same county as the militia. When he runs into Wickham in London, what else are they to talk about but mutual acquaintances? Wickham tell Elizabeth that his inducement for joining the militia was the prospect of the society it would bring him into. This reveals the possibility that Wickham, having been informed of the local society, came into Hertfordshire to deliberately create discomfort for Darcy. Protected by his status as an officer in the militia, Darcy really can’t touch him there. Since most officers in the militia came from the landed gentry of Derbyshire, it could then be assumed that Darcy had to be very, very careful, since letters home from the other officers would undoubtedly report the doings and sayings of one of the greatest landowners in their home county. When I realized that, it made SO much more sense that Darcy hadn’t said anything more specific about Wickham. If word got out about his true issues with Wickham, the events of Ramsgate could have leaked back to Derbyshire. All it would take was for Wickham to mention it. What a terribly precarious situation!

It’s clear that Wickham, at the very least, was aware that Bingley and Darcy had socialized with the Bennets. The fact that they were going to make a social call at the Bennet household would have piqued Wickham’s interest, and if Charlotte Lucas could discern Darcy’s attention to Elizabeth, it’s likely that Wickham would have heard about it, even if he didn’t personally witness it. So yes – I believe that Wickham was pumping Elizabeth for information as well as trying to earn her sympathies at Darcy’s expense. Since Elizabeth had admired Wickham’s appearance and manners, she was undoubtedly flattered that he would take her into his confidence … enough so that she didn’t recognize the impropriety of it until much, much later.

Wickham hints quite strongly that he was treated as a son, to the point of being favored over Darcy, by Darcy’s father. Considering Wickham’s attempt to marry Georgiana, I do believe there is a subtext of more than simple jealousy – he considers himself – in all respects beyond blood – to be Darcy’s brother, plainly laying the case for this out to Elizabeth. His elopement with Georgiana, which Darcy attributes to greed and vengeance, would also have legalized his position in the Darcy family as a brother. The irony of Darcy’s actions in bribing Wickham to marry Lydia is that this relationship of brotherhood was indeed formalized when Darcy and Elizabeth wed.

As for the question of Wickham’s motives in ruining Lydia, I don’t think he was trying to get revenge on either Darcy or Elizabeth, but he certainly didn’t care about the aftermath for the Bennets either. He would have had no idea that Darcy had any designs on Elizabeth, and although she hinted at knowing more than what she was saying, she also disguised it enough that he couldn’t really be sure. The elopement attempt isn’t the sort of thing he would expect the Darcys to divulge to a mere acquaintance. I believe that the reality is more base. Lydia was overtly generous with her affections, naively thinking that Wickham would have to marry her as the natural consequence of compromising her, while Wickham was simply having his appetites satisfied for free. She probably wouldn’t have even been a target had she not been so flirtatious, available and eager to beat her sisters to the altar. She would likely have brought some spending money to Brighton too, which he would have happily appropriated. It was clear that he had no intention of actually marrying her. All indications were that she was baggage he would eventually jettison when he tired of her, until Darcy found them and Wickham was paid to take a more honorable course.

Well, I have rambled on and on. I should add that I’ve found what everyone else has to say both enlightening and informative.

Rose Fairbanks
March 4, 2015 8:43 PM
Reply to  Diana Oaks

I had heard before, but not given an article on it, that the regiment may have been the Derbyshire one because there was one stationed in Hertfordshire just before Austen started First Impressions. I’ve also learned of property requirements for the officers but was unsure if that applied to the lower level officers or not. I think it less likely that Darcy came to Meryton to pal around with militia friends, though. And on the other hand, I’m not sure that Wickham would want to join up with Derbyshire people unless the dislike Lambton had of him was confined to strictly that area and no one else in the regiment was known to him or disapproved of his plans. I do think it’s possible that Denny at least mentioned Darcy.

In general, I’m not sure that Wickham was through thinking of ways to get something out of Darcy and I think Darcy spending weeks (several at that) in Hertfordshire was intriguing to Wickham. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, after all. Better to know what Darcy is up to. Besides while Wickham doesn’t seem to want a true confrontation, I don’t think he wanted to hide from him either. He recovered on the road in Meryton first and he blasted Darcy’s name first (although only to a select person). When talking to Elizabeth he brings up Darcy again after Rosings and after the elopement and both times makes it sound as he has nothing to worry or fear about at all. I don’t know if he entered Meryton with a plan against Darcy but I think he easily believed he could reside there, taunt Darcy and be utterly free from condemnation.

Sharon Lathan
March 4, 2015 5:25 PM
Reply to  Diana Oaks

Your logic on the militia and Wickham is intriguing, Diana. I do wonder, however, whether it makes total sense that Wickham would join the military for the sole purpose of encountering Darcy in Hertfordshire? He’s not exactly the soldier type, although it is a reputable career, and it seems a drastic, permanent commitment. What could he have hoped to do to Darcy?

Plus, I am puzzled by the reaction of the two men when meeting on the street in Meryton. If Wickham knew Darcy was in the area, and connected to Bingley and the Bennets, then he would have been expecting, nay anticipating the encounter.

Yet the text says, “Both changed colour; one looked white, the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat — a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return.”

Presuming it was Wickham who turned white (shock? surprise? fear?) and Darcy who turned red (fury? forced restraint?), and that Wickham hesitated before “touching his hat” in acknowledgement, indicated neither was at all prepared for the meeting.

Wickham is a bold rascal, no doubt, but would he purposely put himself directly in Darcy’s path so soon after Ramsgate?

Diana Oaks
March 4, 2015 5:50 PM
Reply to  Sharon Lathan

Well, the reason he gave Elizabeth for taking the commission was for the “constant society and good society” he would find in Meryton. If they were all from Derbyshire, it’s likely that he knew more of the officers than Denny. These were his friends from back home. It may not have been solely because of Darcy, but I do think he knew Darcy was there, especially since Bingley and Darcy had dined with the officers the day Jane came to visit Caroline at Netherfield. It seems logical that at some level it played a role in his decision to go there, especially considering what a manipulator Wickham is.

As for turning color, I doubt he could have anticipated the encounter that very moment, or sufficiently prepared himself for the strong animosity he knew Darcy was feeling.

I personally find a bit of motive in this passage, “– it is not for me to be driven away by Mr. Darcy. If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he must go. We are not on friendly terms, and it always gives me pain to meet him, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might proclaim to all the world; a sense of very great ill-usage, and most painful regrets at his being what he is.”

This is the passage where I think he reveals his intention to make things uncomfortable for Darcy – and then he proceeds to make his case against Darcy. Others may certainly interpret these things differently than I do, but it makes sense to me.

Diana Oaks
March 5, 2015 2:56 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

I had a very traumatic experience some twenty years ago with a woman who was very Wickham-like. After a mutual friend approached me and told me the truth about her, and I was able to confirm what I was told, I obsessed about it for a long time, trying to comprehend her motives and understand how I had been so blind to her dual nature. I fear I sometimes project this experience into my interpretation of Wickham’s behavior, and I can SO relate to the way he duped Elizabeth into sympathizing with his plight.

Sharon Lathan
March 5, 2015 7:14 PM
Reply to  Diana Oaks

I know EXACTLY what you mean, Diana, having experienced the precise same betrayal by not just one but several people. But of course it is the ones closest to our hearts who hurt the worst. There is no comprehending the motives as to why a person acts in such a snake-like way. Perhaps Darcy, despite seeing what Wickham had become, still had a difficult time fully accepting that someone he was once close to, almost a brother, could be so bad. The “gift” some people have for manipulation is truly frightening.

Sharon Lathan
March 4, 2015 6:15 PM
Reply to  Diana Oaks

Oh there is no doubt that it is the varied interpretations and assumptions that make writing variations, and having these discussions, so much fun! LOL!

I can see it going either way, so have no real opinion. I do wonder about trusting Wickham’s words as truthful, though. His comment to Elizabeth about “good society” sounds like mere flattery to me. And the boast of his bravery with Darcy ends up falling flat when he skips outta town to avoid seeing Darcy at the Netherfield Ball.

Its difficult to be sure since the reader knows so little about either man, their past interactions, or how things went down in Ramsgate. Yet I can’t imagine that Wickham could be even slightly unsure of how deeply Darcy’s animosity toward him would be. I suppose he was counting on Darcy’s restraint and unwillingness to cause a ruckus. Indeed that awareness of Darcy’s character would give Wickham some assurance that he could cause Darcy much discomfort.

It still seems a big stretch to me, but then again, I know a few people I would like to pay back in such a way if I could! LOL!

March 4, 2015 5:39 PM
Reply to  Sharon Lathan

I agree with you Sharon, I think Wickham joined the militia as a palatable way of earning money and without Darcy in mind at all.

In the document that you link to, Diana, I am not sure I agree with the author that the regiment is necessarily from Derbyshire. We know Wickham certainly travelled to London, and I always presumed that he met Denny there. When Elizabeth reflects on Darcy’s letter and is trying to refute what he’s told her about Wickham she remembers that Wickham had joined the _shire regiment after renewing a slight acquaintance in town, so I don’t think Wickham knew Denny well at all prior to joining up.

Brenda Webb
March 4, 2015 11:56 AM

All of the discussions are so fascinating that I really have nothing to add. I have enjoyed this post and the responses tremendously! Thanks for posting it Regina.

March 4, 2015 11:32 AM

Well I wrote this long reply and it did not send…So here goes my 2nd take on this:
Darcy and Wickham grew up together… They both know each other like the back of their hands… Darcy has dealt with his conniving and manipulative ways… He knows he is a cad and Wickham also knows Darcy and is completely able to see that Darcy is taken with Elizabeth Bennet so he sets his sights on the destructive path towards ruining any hope of happiness for Darcy. Elizabeth not knowing about the wicked Wickham until Darcy’s letter, like any proper lady treats Wickham with civility because she is naive with regards to men (but not like Jane who is so trusting), but Elizabeth is a gentleman’s daughter which dictates appropriate protocols when talking to company.

Rose Fairbanks
March 4, 2015 9:52 AM

Woohoo, I finally remembered my log in information so I can comment from the ipad and therefore comment right after reading. I agree with both theories you have. I don’t think Wickham could have guessed Darcy would have heard so fast about things and had contact again with Elizabeth, so Darcy showing up to pay him off was probably a surprise, but I think he did intend to ruin Elizabeth in Darcy’s eyes. If Wickham thought Darcy would have been willing to settle Elizabeth’s sister financially just to give Elizabeth peace of mind then, I think he would have actually married her. His intent was certainly to ruin the Bennets.

But this is where I think Elizabeth is too kind. It doesn’t occur to her after the letter that Wickham singled her out for a reason, and I truly believe he did. She’s not the most beautiful and certainly after a day or two he would know she has no wealth. I see great similarities within the Benet family. Each sister has a personality that we do end up seeing in Elizabeth to an extent, which makes total sense in my opinion. So, I think Lizzy is just too like Jane here. She doesn’t want to believe there was such a terrible scheme. It was terrible enough for her to consider that Wickham did intend to only use Lydia for sex and didn’t care how it would harm the Bennets, to consider that it was an intentional hope is worse than Lizzy wants to think about the world. Perhaps this is an example of where Darcy’s greater knowledge of the world can be of benefit to Elizabeth. There is a latent theme of schemes vs. unintentional consequences in the book. Darcy didn’t mean to pain Jane, he didn’t even know she cared (the scene of seeing her call on Miss Bingley is not in the book, I don’t think he ever even knew she cared enough to call) compared to Caroline writing a deceptive letter and claiming Jane’s never reached her and then waiting a month to return the call! Elizabeth easily guessed that Caroline and possibly Darcy schemed against Jane but I think perhaps when it involves you more intimately and you’re not a terribly jaded person it’s harder to see. I think we have reason to believe Darcy also had to learn this lesson after being used badly by Wickham several times. Even he seems to have not guessed how far Wickham would go.

March 4, 2015 10:43 AM
Reply to  Rose Fairbanks

You have my brain spinning, Rose. I never thought of a “latent theme of schemes vs. unintentional consequences.” I agree that Darcy has learned a hard lesson at Wickham’s hands. I have always imagined that growing up that Wickham was a bit of a bully. That he played “tricks” on Darcy or that he did things and then blamed Darcy. And Darcy’s sense of honor would keep him from telling the truth to his father or he knew the older Wickham would severely punish his son and therefore took the blame. At university, Wickham might be involved in some form of hazing. It is a progressive thing. As to Elizabeth, Austen proves Lizzy is not as an astute of an observer of her fellow man as she claims in that scene at Netherfield. Perhaps, it is her lack of sophistication that keeps her from recognizing the depth of Wickham’s manipulations. I must think on it some more.

Rose Fairbanks
March 4, 2015 9:46 PM
Reply to  reginajeffers

I’m loving all these long comments! I had a really long one typed out but then thought no one would want to read my 10 paragraph thoughts on Wickham so I edited it down to what I posted. So much good stuff going on here!

I think Austen was very clever with her work. If Jane and Lizzy have a 5 minute conversation about what is a scheme and what is accidental then I’m looking for clues of both. The irony is that Elizabeth is so quick to think that Darcy did scheme to hurt Jane and perhaps after she begins to understand her failings she puts a more charitable spin on things. Instead of thinking Wickham intentionally schemed to possibly ruin the family, it was just an unintended consequence of his desire for a quick get away.

But I think that’s far too charitable and naive of her toward Wickham, as we know she is even after Darcy’s letter when she did not want to expose Wickham. She also had to learn to trust in Darcy’s nobleness the hard way after perpetually misunderstanding him. At Pemberley she is convinced he can no longer care for her or would desire to show her anything good in him. After the elopement she is convinced he couldn’t consider her at all. When he shows up at Longbourn and is *shy* she thinks again she has proof he no longer cares. When she learns he helped with Lydia her heart only whispered it was for her and she instead looked at all kinds of other reasons for it. When she tells off his haughty aunt she thinks there’s no way he’s showing up. And when she finally expresses gratitude to him it’s not remotely with hopes that he still loves her or will ask for her hand.

Although, in Lizzy’s defense, no one else in her family wants to believe the worst of him either. Jane and Bingley house the Wickhams and Mr. Bennet quickly is happy enough to joke about the whole thing. Mary seems to only blame Lydia and Kitty doesn’t see what was wrong at all. Mrs. Bennet is quickly overjoyed.

Wickham was at Brighton for weeks. The fact that he *just* then ran into money issues and so quickly in Ramsgate compared to spending many more months in Meryton and the gentry of the area being ignorant to his debts, seems like a nice lie to tell to the parents of the girl you seduced so you perhaps don’t look so bad as the man who intentionally seduced a girl to get even with others. There must have been many flirty girls there. Lydia is not the worst girl in England- for example the *whole* family met Mr. Collins with civility. There are times when she can act appropriately and I’m not sure we can blame it on the Forsters encouraging wild behavior, he was a Colonel after all. Lydia wanted encouragement and had many favorites before Wickham. HE is the one who sought her out. And while she had money, others would have had more. Plenty of ladies are just as foolish- Georgiana is proof. And Ramsgate was an expensive resort, he should have tried to find an heiress. Unless of course he didn’t because he had plans for Lydia…

Or maybe you can partially blame Mrs. Forster…
When did Lydia become close friends with Mrs. Forster? In November, after Jane and Elizabeth come back from Netherfield, it is hinted that the Colonel is to be married. In April when Lydia leaves with them it says that out of the 3 months Lydia knew Mrs. Forster they had been intimate 2. I wonder if Mrs. Forster had been in the area longer (3 months was a long engagement back then and I’m not sure how much a Colonel would have referenced his engagement especially that far out. I thought they probably married in December) and Lydia didn’t even know her until later. It was only after Elizabeth went away to Kent that Mrs. Forster became close friends with Lydia. I wonder if a certain gentleman encouraged the acquaintance. Like he did with Georgiana relying on Mrs. Younge.

Are there similarities between Georgiana and Lydia? I think Georgiana wanted approval and perhaps wanted to hurry up and grow up, Lydia also wanted to be as adult as her older sisters. I think Georgiana was sheltered and wanted some kind of adventure and experience in life. I think she kind of had the opposite life of Lydia but ended up being drawn to the same thing. Georgiana went to the best school, properly cared for and chaperoned, her brother was doting. Lydia, while spoiled, had no one really looking out for her future unless you count being “easy” as a means to securing your future and even then I don’t think Mrs. Bennet would encourage scandalous behavior. But she’s not taught to think seriously, she’s not accomplished, she wasn’t really educated. She was left to her own devices. And she was exceedingly vain. She wanted to be noticed and fawned over. She wanted someone to be so in love with her that he would abandon his post and have to elope with her, perhaps he even said he feared her family would not approve of him. A line he may have used with Georgiana as well. On the one hand Georgiana was perhaps over-parented and Lydia was under-parented (yes, I’m inventing words, I’m an author and allowed to do so, lol!).

I think Wickham knew his mark very well and I find it possible he may have used Mrs. Forster, in whose care Lydia resided, in some fashion just as he did Mrs. Younge. Instead of money and great wealth being his goal with Lydia it was the other motive *Darcy* (not just me playing with Canon!) attributes to Wickham: complete revenge.

March 4, 2015 9:36 AM

How interesting to see the various passages laid out in this manner.

March 4, 2015 10:44 AM
Reply to  Maclaney

We who write JAFF often find ourselves studying passages for every little innuendo, Maclaney.

March 4, 2015 9:33 AM

Wickham is an opportunist. He also feels entitled to have anything he wants, when he wants it. Consequences to others are seldom thought of in a disinterested way, but if those consequences might benefit him, even better. I don’t think he hates Darcy, as has been portrayed in much of JAFF. I think he is envious. Running off to escape his debts makes sense, WIckham does not believe he should suffer any ill effects from his actions, even losing to fellow officers. And of course, as in his eyes, he is a gentleman, he thinks nothing of owing and not paying tradesmen, a practice done too often by the ton. He is likely resentful when his debts require his escape because those people, all of them, are lesser than him, who are they to press him for money?
Taking Lydia along, with her enthusiastic agreement was also the work of a moment. We are not told when Lydia lost her virtue to Wickham but I suspect before they left Brighton, or even Meryton. Lydia is as air-headed and willful as they come. She did not want him to leave without her, and even had some money he could use in their escape. He needed money and everything else she was offering is a bonus.
So, no, I don;t think either Darcy nor Elizabeth were his first thought. Upon reflection, though, he might have seen the escape with Lydia as another opportunity to gain cash from a well-heeled source. I don’t think it was a “get Darcy or Elizabeth” plan from the beginning. It just grow from necessity, from Wickham’s point of view. After all, Wickham has a need and absolutely no qualms about returning to the Darcy trough to feed f he thinks he will serve him.
As for Elizabeth, she feels the anger and despair of what the actions of two such self-centered people have cost her and her sisters. Marriage does not entirely wipe away the impropriety, it merely mitigates it a bit. But she knows that for family harmony she needs to be careful how much she shows. She lets him know that she is no longer blinded by his lies and can be momentarily civil, despite the cost, because the selfish couple will be leaving Meryton and seldom seen again, at least for some time.
That said, Wickham and Lydia will never be a true couple in their marriage. Both are too selfish and and while she might gain in maturity, his maturity has long been stunted so there is no example for her to look to. Experience will be a difficult class to learn in but that will be all Lydia has.
Does this make sense?

March 4, 2015 3:32 PM
Reply to  klb0823

I don’t see any conspiracy theories in the original book, though I find it interesting to explore such theories in variations. I agree with klb, I think Wickham ran off to escape his debts, and when offered company he decided to take it. I don’t think he set out to purposely ruin Lydia, but if she was willing to go with him then he was happy enough to take her along.

Similarly, I think him arriving in Meryton is one of Austen’s coincidences. Certainly he went to Ramsgate by design, but I think it was just chance that he ended up in the same place as Darcy, the same as it’s chance that Elizabeth ends up at Pemberley when Darcy is there.

As for attaching himself to Elizabeth in Meryton, I don’t think that was done out of spite either. The Bennet sisters are reputed as local beauties, so although Lizzy isn’t as beautiful as Jane I think it’s fair to surmise that she’s one of the prettiest girls in the neighbourhood. She is also lively, friendly, intelligent, why wouldn’t he genuinely feel some attraction towards her? I don’t believe he was serious about her for one minute, but as somebody who fancies himself as a bit of a charmer why shouldn’t he have some harmless flirtation? And how better to get a lady on your side than by portraying yourself as a wronged man?

Regarding why she is polite to Wickham when he returns with Lydia to Longbourn, I think that is just because, like it or not, he is now family and a guest of her father. Elizabeth is stuck with him, and she would be in trouble with her father if she were impolite. Women had so little power, if she doesn’t like people in the society she moves in then frankly it’s tough, she’d just have to learn to put up with people she disliked and she would have been doing that since she came out into society. Elizabeth puts Wickham in his place though, albeit laughingly. It lacks the vitriol of her argument with Darcy, but she only started being really impolite to Darcy when she lost her temper with him due to his insults. She was also taken by surprise by Darcy’s proposal so she’s still reeling with shock at the time. With Wickham, she’s had quite a while to get used to the type of character he is, and that she will have to accept him as a family member, so when he brazenly tries to continue his persecution charade she is probably not surprised at all and is therefore more in control of herself.

If anything, it’s Mr Bennet’s acceptance of Wickham that I find surprising. He is too much of a philosopher! By the end of the book he’s able to enjoy laughing at Wickham’s character for his impudence and hypocrisy and it’s a very short time frame since the man nearly ruined the whole Bennet family.

March 4, 2015 5:14 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

I know Mr Bennet had to be persuaded to allow Wickham and Lydia to visit, but he has more right than anybody to be angry with Wickham, and instead by the time Wickham arrives he’s very passive. It would be completely out of place for Lizzy to tear Wickham off a strip, if anybody should be angry with him, it should be Mr Bennet, and if Elizabeth took on this office she would be usurping her father’s authority, something she isn’t willing to do out of respect for him,

Just because Elizabeth isn’t outwardly hostile to Wickham it doesn’t follow that she doesn’t despise him. It’s all social lubricant, if you need to outwardly get on with somebody you can smile at them while inwardly having very negative feelings toward them, and as a woman in those times Elizabeth would have had to learn that skill.I think her argument with Darcy was more out of character for her (perhaps showing how much she actually desires his good opinion, deep down).

Linda A.
Linda A.
March 4, 2015 11:57 AM
Reply to  klb0823

I agree with klb0823. Wickham is an opportunist and takes advantage of anyone or anything that might further the benefits to himself. I don’t think he is happy unless he is able to get something from someone with the least amount of true effort on his part. I know someone who slept like a baby every night despite the fact he made a point each day to get money out of Peter in order to pay Paul, despite lying to Peter in order to do it. If he had put as much effort into legitimate work, this man would have been quite wealthy and would not have had people chasing him down for their money. That is Wickham. No qualms in using anyone for his own benefit.

From my perspective, no one just comes right out and asks or answers anything. Everyone speaks around the issue without saying what they really want because they are a lady or a (supposed) gentleman. So, Wickham asks questions to subtly discover what E knows, while Elizabeth hints that she knows the truth and wants him to drop the subject. Even if she really wants to yell and rail at him for compromising her sister and, therefore, her whole family, she hides her true feelings because she feels obligated to make an effort on her sister’s behalf. I don’t think she likes or trusts him, but she is resigned to having him as part of the family now in order to gain back some part of their respectability. Plus, I think she blames herself more than Wickham for the entire affair. So if she cannot completely hate herself for what happened with Lydia and Wickham, how can she hate him?

Just some thoughts…

March 5, 2015 9:57 AM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

I have always admired Elizabeth for her control in the conversation with Wickham when he and Lydia visit Longbourn, as her rather cryptic answers to him leave him in a sort of Limbo state as he isn’t quite sure how much she does/doesn’t know about his history with Darcy and Darcy’s role in the patched up affair which is his marriage to Lydia. Had she said something very obvious or attacking to Wickham I think that would have been less of a punishment to him than the subtle way she implied she knew exactly what sort of person he was without confirming it, forever leaving him in doubt (until she married Darcy of course).

Sharon Lathan
March 4, 2015 5:42 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

Perhaps Elizabeth’s restraint with Wickham is an indication of her maturity. It was the “old” Lizzy who flapped her tongue a bit more than what was proper. Sparring with Darcy, while a sort of courtship between them, and then her swift judgements and bitter rejection of him with hostility galore wasn’t exactly the actions of a wise person with good manners. It wasn’t that she was totally wrong in what she said to Darcy, any more than she would have been wrong in calling Wickham on his misdeeds. Yet what good would it have done?

And, maybe she also recognized that if Darcy could swallow his pride and massive distaste for Wickham, going so far as to entangle himself into a problem that wasn’t his, she should do the same.

Plus, she was probably in such a state of shock and confusion over learning of Darcy’s involvement that she couldn’t muster the energy to pick a fight!

March 4, 2015 11:01 AM
Reply to  klb0823

I agree with much of what you say. Wickham is an opportunist. Yet, I cannot quite abandon the idea that Wickham does not have nefarious plans to destroy Darcy, although I would agree that he acts from jealousy. I often portray Wickahm as one of those who blames everyone else for the “trials” that plague him. He sees no connection between choices and consequences…very much modeled in the same form as the recent “me” generation.
Wickham is provided a gentleman’s education by the elder Mr. Darcy, but we never know whether the elder Wickham was a gentleman. Some stewards were minor sons, but not all. Darcy says the elder Wickham was “a very respectable man” (but did he earn his respect from performing his job so exemplary?) and that he was “always poor from the extravagance of his wife and would have been unable to give [Wickham] a gentleman’s education. Many wealthy Cits sent their sons to university. We must only to look upon Charles Bingley for an example. In fact, Caroline and Louisa Bingley have more “education” than does Elizabeth for they “had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town.” Even so, Elizabeth was born to the gentry and would outrank the Bingley sisters in Society. Wickham may have observed many of his university chums at Cambridge ignoring their debts, but that would not necessarily give him the right to do so. I would see Wickham clinging to the fringes of the “ton,” but not being accepted into Society. Darcy came from a “noble family” and even without a title would be given privileges that would be denied to Wickham.

Elizabeth Adams
March 4, 2015 10:56 AM
Reply to  klb0823

I have also often thought Wickham was an opportunist, and that much of what happens is the result of his selfishness, not a grand scheme. However, one thing has always niggled at me about that line of thinking. Ramsgate.

It says in the book that Wickham followed Georgiana there. He seduces her over a period of time. There is some planning involved in that. And of course Mrs. Younge. She obviously schemed to get the job. Did she happen to know Wickham and mentioned it in a letter or when she saw him on a day off? Or were they in cahoots from the get go? I think it is more likely that they were friends and he helped her get the position with fake references, etc. Maybe he knew what would impress Darcy. I don’t know. But I do think that it is a bit too much of a coincidence for her to get the job on her own only to find her reprobate friend has a score to settle with the very same family.

Like Jane, and possibly all of the Bennet family, I don’t like to think people are that evil, and I do think it’s rare, but Wickham does show himself to be absolutely awful, and I think there is some reading between the lines that needs to be done. Austen was not explicit, that wasn’t done at the time, but what she did tell us was quite awful for the time period. Should we infer that if he was willing to do those awful things she spells out, he was willing to do other ones that she didn’t?

I don’t know. I don’t think Wickham was brave enough to try a scheme against Darcy himself (a kidnapping, shooting, etc.), and it’s always hard for me to believe it when I read something of that nature, but Georgiana was an easy mark and Darcy was absent, so maybe he did plan it all out in advance. And if he did, well, that throws everything into question.

Sharon Lathan
March 4, 2015 5:06 PM

I agree completely that the situation/scheme with Georgiana proves Wickham acts with careful planning and intent. Maybe not always, but he certainly has the capacity. It also shows he has patience, particularly when it comes to Darcy. Seducing a young woman with money, for a man as educated and charming as Wickham, should have been fairly easy. He could have managed that with someone else if it was just about money and a young pretty wife. Far easier than what he went through to get Georgiana. So to me it is obvious his ONLY reason was to hurt Darcy.

That rationale leads me to wonder if the affair with Lydia wasn’t planned. We already know that the folks in Meryton gossip. How else would Lady Catherine know about the first proposal if not for Maria Lucas, or Charlotte, blabbing to Collins? Was more blabbing going on, so that Lydia or a random friend of Wickham’s spilled about Darcy’s love for Elizabeth? Did Wickham choose Lydia purposely then? I honestly don’t know, but I think the case could be made. After all, why else would a man escaping debtors drag along a woman? The obvious perks he could get elsewhere, and probably for free or cheaper than paying for Lydia!

March 4, 2015 11:08 AM

Elizabeth, I find you and I are close in our assumptions about Wickham. I am not one to believe in a series of coincidences. Wickham at Ramsgate, Wickham’s relationship with Mrs. Younge, followed by Wickham showing up at Meryton, Wickham’s befriending the one person Darcy admires most in the world, etc., etc., etc. It is just too much for me to swallow. Georgiana was an easy mark, and to a certain extent so was Elizabeth. Surely Wickham had heard of Darcy’s “not tolerable” remark from the Meryton gossips. Miss King (and her relatives) were smarter than were Elizabeth and the Bennets. Mr. Bennet should have been more watchful of what went on in his household.

March 4, 2015 6:49 AM

Hmmm lots to think of. I dont think Wickham and Lydia was his revenge on Elizabeth. But who knows what Jane was thinking and that is what makes all the fan fic so good!

March 4, 2015 8:34 AM
Reply to  chatty1082

I get how Darcy would see all Wickham does as a personal betrayal, but I do not quite understand how Elizabeth could offer Wickham even a bit of civility. I suppose if Elizabeth can accept Lydia’s selfishness, she can accept Wickham’s. I am trying desperately to get into Elizabeth’s head for new piece.

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