George Wickham: Character Analysis in Pride and Prejudice

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      Jane Austen declares in one of her novels that guilt and misery were odious subjects to her. All her characters are “average human beings” with a mixture of good arid bad qualities. None of the latter are such as to frighten or disgust us. Still, there are a few ‘villains’ in her novels whose character throws into relief the virtues of the hero or heroine. Miss Bingley, the lump of jealousy for example, acts as a foil to Elizabeth and Wickham serves the same purpose with reference to the hero, Darcy.

      George Wickham is the most polished and handsome of the anti-heroes of Jane Austen. He has no sense of honour but possesses extremely winning manners. He comes into the life of Elizabeth when she is prejudiced against Mr. Darcy. She is impressed by Mr. Wickham from the beginning. Though she is not the type of woman to be carried away by a military uniform she feels that his dress adds to and completes the other charming features about him. His preference for her has its own effect, particularly in the context of the slight she had received at the hands of Darcy. That Wickham should have been able to take in Elizabeth, who is usually shrewd in the judgment of persons, speaks volumes about his capacity to ingratiate himself with others. He seats himself by her side in company and secures all her sympathy. He does not find it very difficult to make her partial to him since he makes her feel that Mr. Darcy is their common enemy. Elizabeth is thoroughly deceived by the account given by him about the relationship between Darcy and himself. She glows with what she feels to be generous indignation against Darcy. This common bond makes her fall in love with him to an extent. She does not listen to the pleadings of Jane on behalf of Darcy and the warning given by Miss Bingley against her acquaintance. To Wickham belongs the credit, or discredit, of proving that Elizabeth too is carried away by feelings, in spite of all her shrewd judgment. As Elizabeth says forcefully later, Darcy has all the essence of goodness, while Wickham has all the appearance of it.

      So great is the influence of George Wickham over the lady that she feels unhappy when he is absent from the ball at Netherfield. He succeeds in impressing her about his own worth to the extent of making her forget that he has kept himself away from the ball, though he had boasted that he was not afraid of Darcy and the latter’s presence would not prevent him from accepting the invitation for the ball. Elizabeth is thoroughly unaware of the inconsistency between his words and his actions when she meets him later and even praises him for his ‘judgment’ in keeping himself away. Though Elizabeth is to blame for such hasty partiality for him, it can not be denied that few women can resist his charm. Aunt Gardiner warns Elizabeth against her partiality for him and though Elizabeth tries to make light of her fears, she is certainly disappointed when she discovers that Wickham has transferred his affections to Miss King.

      This action opens the eyes of Elizabeth to the real worth of George Wickham, though she writes to her aunt philosophically that handsome men must have something to live on, like plain ones. Even so, she does not know the full extent of the villainy he is capable of. She goes to the extent of charging Darcy openly with double-dealing when the latter proposes to her at the Rosings Parsonage. It is from Darcy’s letter that she, as well as the reader, learns about the positive wickedness of Wickham. We learn that he was a waster and had voluntarily given up the living promised in exchange for a handsome amount and had later asked for it, without the least sense of shame. We come to know that he is capable of worse things too. He had made an attempt to elope with Darcy’s sister who had been saved only at the last moment. Strangely enough, such is the effect of his capacity to fascinate others that Elizabeth does not believe in Darcy’s account. It is only a little later that she realizes that Darcy could not be telling a falsehood, particularly about his own sister. Elizabeth’s eyes are opened very clearly and we too understand all the meanness and wickedness that Wickham is capable of.

      Having been placed on guard against him, Elizabeth is able to deal with George Wickham properly when she meets him again. We note that even then he tries to give himself airs of injured innocence and runs down Darcy. But Elizabeth gives ambiguous replies to him and she is able to realize from his reactions that he is not what he had made himself out to be. If further proof is required by Elizabeth, she gets it at the cost of the most bitter experience in her life, namely, the elopement of Wickham with Lydia. She blames herself for not having exposed Wickham to the public on the basis of Darcy’s letter to her. We learn also that though Lydia had written to Mrs. Forster that Wickham and she were to be married at Gretna Green, such was not his intention. He admits to Darcy himself that he had never had any such idea. In fact, he places the responsibility for the elopement squarely on the shoulders of Lydia herself. Though this might have been true, the hardihood of Wickham in flaunting that reason for his sin, is indeed shocking. He makes it plain that his intention was to marry with greater material advantage. Finally, Darcy has to persuade him to marry the silly girl by bribing him. There is no more conscienceless villain in the whole range of Jane Austen’s novels.

      The interesting point about George Wickham character is that he has been hardened in sin and has no sense of shame. This is shown in his acceptance of the invitation of himself and his wife to Longbourn. We are not surprised that the silly Lydia is not ashamed to make her appearance before the other members of the family. But Wickham’s visit is indeed a surprise. Further, he tries to move with Elizabeth as though nothing had happened in the interval. He talks even about Mr. Darcy in the same strain as before. It is indeed bold of him to think that he can take in Elizabeth as on former occasions. But the lady shows that he is no match for her and throws him into a confusion. But he recovers very quickly indeed and displays extreme gallantry towards her when she tells him that they had better not quarrel about the past. Elizabeth might have felt at that time also as on earlier occasions that he was “a model of the amiable and the pleasing.” But she had at the same time learned through him the lesson that one can smile and smile and still be a villain.

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