Saturday, November 6, 2010

What estimate have you formed of the character and role of Mr. George Wickham in the novel Pride and Prejudice!

A Charming Young Officer
Mr. Wickham is described in the novel as a very charming young man with a fine countenance, a good figure, and a very pleasant manner of talking. He is an officer in a militia regiment which is stationed near the town of Meryton; and he happens to meet the Bennet sisters when they, accompanied by Mr. Collins, are walking to that town.
Mr. Wickham is at this time in the company of a fellow-officer by the name of Mr. Denny. It so happens that Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham see each other at this time, and both change colour. Mr. Darcy looks red with anger, while Mr. Wickham looks white with fear when they exchange a brief and formal greeting. There seems to be some kind of mystery about this reaction of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham to each other. In any case, the Bennet sisters feel greatly attracted by Mr. Wickham.
The Centre of Interest for Ladies
On the following day, the Bennet sisters meet Mr. Wickham at the house of their uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Philips. The eyes of all the girls now turn to Mr. Wickham because all of them find him to be an extraordinarily good-looking, dignified, and amiable young man. When they all sit down, Elizabeth finds herself next to Mr. Wickham, who then enters into a conversation with her.
His Grievances against Mr. Darcy
In the course of this conversation between Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth says that she thinks Mr. Darcy to be a most disagreeable kind of man who is not liked by anybody in Hertfordshire. Mr. Wickham thereupon says that Mr. Darcy's father was an excellent man but that Mr. Darcy is an odious one. He further says that he has suffered a good deal at Mr. Darcy's hands. He goes on to say that he had wanted to become a clergyman, and that Mr. Darcy's late father had left instructions that a family living should be bestowed upon him (Mr. Wickham) as soon as one fell vacant. Mr. Wickham complains that Mr. Darcy had not carried out the wishes of his late father. In fact, Mr. Wickham talks as if he has been the victim of a great injustice on the part of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth is shocked to learn that Mr. Wickham had been treated by Mr. Darcy in a most obnoxious and disgraceful manner. Mr. Wickham explains that all Mr. Darcy's evil actions can be traced to his pride. In fact, Mr. Wickham talks so bitterly against Mr. Darcy that Elizabeth, who had already been feeling a great dislike of that man, now begins to hate him. On hearing Mr. Wickham's account of Mr. Darcy's misdeeds, especially his depriving Mr. Wickham of a well-paid job as a clergyman, Elizabeth exclaims: "How strange! How abominable!" Elizabeth now begins to think that Mr. Darcy is not only a proud man but also a dishonest one. Now, this is an important development in the plot. Mr. Wickham deepens Elizabeth's dislike of Mr. Darcy, though very soon we shall find that Mr. Wickham is the real culprit and that, in talking against Mr. Darcy, he is telling lies and nothing but lies.
His Absence from Mr. Bingley's Ball
At the ball which is held by Mr. Bingley at his residence, Mr. Wickham, who was expected to attend the ball, is conspicuous by his absence. Mr. Denny tells Elizabeth's sister Lydia that Mr. Wickham is absent from the ball because he wanted to avoid a certain gentleman who is present here. Elizabeth, on coming to know the reason for Mr. Wickham's absence, makes up her mind to keep aloof from Mr. Darcy on whose account Mr. Wickham has absented himself from this important occasion. At the end of the dance, Miss Bingley tells Elizabeth that Mr. Wickham's talk to her about Mr. Darcy had been a tissue of lies. Elizabeth is, however, not very convinced by Miss Bingley's plea. Elizabeth does not believe that such a fine-looking and well-behaved man as Mr. Wickham can be a liar.
Elizabeth, Inwardly Inclined to Marry Him
The members of the Bennet family now become quite intimate with Mr. Wickham and keep meeting him because they find his company to be very pleasant. In fact, Mr. Wickham's presence serves to dispel the gloom which the various members of the Bennet family are experiencing at this time on account of the disappointment of their hope of Mr. Bingley's marrying Jane. Elizabeth feels attracted towards Mr. Wickham more than the others; and she now feels certain that Mr. Wickham's grievances and complaints against Mr. Darcy are well-founded and genuine. Elizabeth begins to like Mr. Wickham so much that she even decides to agree to marry him in case he makes a proposal of marriage to her. However, Elizabeth's aunt, Mr. Gardiner, cautions Elizabeth against any haste in deciding to many Mr. Wickham. Mrs. Gardiner's chief reason for giving this advice to Elizabeth is that neither Elizabeth nor Mr. Wickham has any fortune, and that in the absence of sufficient money, their married life would prove unhappy. But even Mrs. Gardiner does not know the true reality of Mr. Wickham. As days pass, Mr. Wickham, whom Elizabeth has been meeting frequently, seems to be losing all interest in her. Elizabeth had been thinking that Mr. Wickham would definitely propose marriage to her. But now she finds that he has changed his mind. She then learns that Mr. Wickham is thinking of proposing marriage to a girl by the name of Miss King who has a fortune of ten thousand pounds.
The Truth about Mr. Wickham's Past Life
Subsequently, from the letter which Mr. Darcy has written to Elizabeth to defend himself against the charges which had been levelled against him by Elizabeth, she learns that Mr. Wickham is a rascal who had been leading a dissolute life, who had by his way of life proved himself unfit for the office of a clergyman, and who had squandered an amount of three thousand pounds which Mr. Darcy had given him in lieu of a living. Elizabeth is stunned to learn these facts about Mr. Wickham. But the blackest deed of Mr. Wickham was his attempt to elope with the young, innocent, and inexperienced sister of Mr. Darcy. Fortunately Mr. Wick­ham's attempt had failed; but he had, by this attempt, shown what a scoundrel he was.
Lydia's Elopement with him, and his Mercenary Motives
After some time, Elizabeth learns from Lydia that Mr. Wickham has given up his thought of marrying Miss King also. This and the other facts show Mr. Wickham to be an utterly unreliable kind of man. When Elizabeth tells Jane the true facts about Mr. Wickham, Jane too feels shocked and says: "Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief." Mr. Wickham provides further evidence of his being a rascal and a villain by eloping with Lydia. The news of Lydia's elopement with Mr. Wickham comes as a great shock to the whole Bennet family, and especially to Elizabeth. It is true that much of the blame for this elopement rests upon Lydia herself; but Mr. Wickham cannot be exonerated. According to the information supplied by Mr. Wickham's friend Mr. Denny, Mr. Wickham had no intention to marry Lydia. Thus, Mr. Wickham's real purpose in running away Lydia had been only to seduce her and to satisfy his lust for her. If Mr. Wickham does marry Lydia ultimately, it is because of the role played by Mr. Darcy in the whole affair. Mr. Wickham states certain terms and conditions on which he is prepared to marry Lydia; and Mr. Darcy goes out of his way to fulfil those terms and conditions. Of course, Mr. Bennet too has to satisfy certain conditions laid down by Mr. Wickham, but the major role in bringing about the marriage is that of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Wickham also reveals at this time that he had incurred certain debts which are also now paid by Mr. Darcy. Thus, Mr. Wickham shows himself to be a mercenary man, besides being unscrupulous in his relations with girls.
A Shameless Man
After getting married in London, Mr. Wickham and Lydia pay a visit to Longbourn. The behaviour of neither Mr. Wickham nor Lydia shows any sense of shame. In fact, both behave as if nothing extraordinary had taken place. Mr. Wickham is a hardened and seasoned man to whom all shame has become something alien. He speaks to the members of the Bennet family without feeling embarrassed in the least; and he even speaks to Elizabeth as if he had done no wrong at all. In the last chapter of the novel we learn that Mr. Wickham soon afterwards becomes indifferent to Lydia, and that Lydia's love for him also does not last for a long time.
His Role in the Novel: the Villain of the Piece
Mr. Wickham is the villain of the piece. There are deficiencies, shortcomings, and faults in all the characters in the novel; but Mr. Wickham is a rogue, and a rogue whom we cannot pardon. Outwardly he is a most amiable young man whose company is a source of pleasure to everybody and whose talk is most delightful. Upon girls, his personality and his behaviour exercise a special fascination; but even the men find him outwardly to be a most likable person. But the reality about him is entirely different. He is a most heartless, callous, and unscrupulous man. He is completely devoid of all sense of gratitude. Instead of acknowledging the favours which Mr. Darcy had done to him, he submits to Elizabeth a regular charge-sheet against that man. Nothing could have been more wicked than Wickham's speaking ill of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth, and speaking in the bitterest possible tones. His conduct in having tried to lure Mr. Darcy's sister was perhaps his most disgraceful deed. But even after that misdeed had been exposed, he did not feel any remorse or repentance. Thus, Mr. Wickham adds to the variety of characterization in the novel. He illustrates the famous dictum: "Appearances are deceptive". He serves to add to Jane Austen's picture of English social life. He presents a striking contrast to Mr. Bingley who is a thorough gentleman; and he presents a striking contrast to Mr. Darcy who is, despite his pride and haughtiness, a man who commands our respect. In the list of the male characters in this novel, Mr. Wickham stands at the very bottom of the moral scale. He is a born fortune-hunter who has no notions of gen­tlemanly behaviour, and who is lost to all shame. His conduct after his attempted elopement with Mr. Darcy's sister, and his actual elopement with Lydia, show him as a brazen fellow.
A Variation on the theme of Love and Marriage
Mr. Wickham has another role to play in the novel also. The major theme of this novel is love and marriage. Now, love and marriage take various forms with various human beings. In this novel, we have the love and marriage of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth; we have the love and marriage of Mr. Bingley and Jane; and we witness also the marriage, though not the love, of Mr. Collins and Charlotte. To these may be added the love and marriage of Mr. Wickham and Lydia. Mr. Wickham is surely not in love with Lydia. His eloping with a girl who has neither much beauty nor much brains, and who is without a dowry to lend her any attraction, shows that it is pure lust on his part. There is no love on Lydia's side also; it is just infatuation. She runs away with Mr. Wickham because she fancies herself in love and because she enjoys a romantic thrill in running away with a man whose reality she does not know on account of her inexperience.
A Didactic Purpose behind the Lydia-Wickham Affair
Indeed, the Wickham-Lydia affair serves also a didactic purpose. This affair is an example and a warning to those girls, who, having no experience of life and not much respect for their elders, think themselves to be wise enough to look after themselves, but who meet a sad end.

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