Austen’s Most Infamous “Bad Boy,” George Wickham ~ What Do We Know of Him?

Austen’s favorite bad boy, Mr. George Wickham, is a fan favorite, as well. I thought we might take a closer look at George Wickham’s importance to the Pride and Prejudice’s plot. For a minor character, with few lines and little description, the action of Pride and Prejudice greatly rests upon the scoundrel’s shoulders.

What do we know of George Wickham? There is much in Jane Austen’s introduction of Mr. Wickham.

wickham-300x179 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 pretense 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. 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 Bennet’s observation lays the basis for her believing Mr. Wickham’s lies about Mr. Darcy. What we do not see in this passage is what Mr. Wickham notes during the exchange. Some scholars believe Wickham is a good “reader” of Darcy’s notice of Elizabeth Bennet, and the man sets his sights on Elizabeth as part of his revenge on Darcy. At a minimum, Wickham, as Darcy’s childhood friend, would recognize how Darcy would react to Wickham’s presence. Poor Darcy operates within a strict code of behavior, and Wickham holds no scruples in manipulating his former friend. 43620-15188-300x225

Wickham is very much a scoundrel and a cad. He is perceptive. Likely, he has heard of Darcy’s snub of Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly. It was common knowledge among several families in the neighborhood. Such gossip would provide Wickham with the opportunity to build on the general dislike of Mr. Darcy’s manners by coloring Darcy’s actions. Wickham is looking for a rich wife, and gossip is important to him in that cause. He will use whatever he discovers to his benefit.

Mr. Denny confirms that Wickham has spoken ill of Darcy to the regiment when he says, I do not imagine his business would have called him away just now, if he had not wished to avoid a certain gentleman here.

One must notice how Wickham’s attacks on Darcy’s reputation increase after the Netherfield Ball. First, Darcy has withdrawn, and Mr. Wickham no longer fears that anyone will “correct” his insinuations. Secondly, it is likely Denny and the other officers have informed Wickham of Darcy’s attentions to Elizabeth at the ball. Because Darcy has danced with no other female from Hertfordshire, he has labeled Elizabeth as someone he admires. Wickham would understand this fact.

Mr.-Wickham-199x300 Please recall it is Wickham who tells Elizabeth that Darcy will marry his cousin Anne De Bourgh, an assumption of Lady Catherine’s, but never a possibility in Darcy’s mind. Instead of listening to what Mr. Wickham does not say, Elizabeth concentrates on the irony of Miss Bingley’s ill-fated pursuit of Mr. Darcy.

He tells her that he is an expert on Mr. Darcy. You could not have met with a person more capable of giving you certain information on that head myself – for I have been connected with his family in a particular manner from my infancy. Elizabeth’s unexpected obsession with Mr. Darcy leads her to believe Mr. Wickham’s falsehoods. The man later reinforces her prejudices when Austen says, And in his manner of bidding her adieu, wishing her every enjoyment, reminding her of what she was to expect in Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and trusting their opinion of her – their opinion of every body – would always coincide, there was a solicitude, an interest which she felt must ever attach her to him with a most sincere regard. Notice this is right before Darcy and Elizabeth reunite.

After her return from Rosings and Mr. Darcy’s letter, Elizabeth has a better understanding of Mr. Wickham’s character, and she baits him. However, Mr. Wickham is not easily swayed from his goal of destroying Mr. Darcy. “You, who so well know my feelings towards Mr. Darcy, will readily comprehend how sincerely I must rejoice that he is wise enough to assume even the appearance of what is right…I only fear that the sort of cautiousness, to which you, I imagine, have been alluding, is merely adopted on his visits to his aunt, of whose good opinion and judgment he stands much in awe. His fear of her, has always operated, I know, when they were together, and a good deal is to be imputed to his wish of forwarding the match with Miss De Bourgh, which I am certain he has very much at heart.” Needless to say, Elizabeth has first hand knowledge that Darcy does not intend to marry his cousin Anne. He has proposed to Elizabeth and been refused.

wick-468x263-300x168Even after Wickham marries Lydia and returns to Longbourn, he does not abandon his tale. Did you go by the village of Kympton? 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.

So, I ask dear readers what would Pride and Prejudice be without George Wickham’s manipulations? A bland short story? Mr. Wickham is the impetus behind Elizabeth’s continued blindness regarding Mr. Darcy’s true character; the designer of a carefully constructed “revenge” plan that disrupts the lives of each of the story’s families; a scoundrel and a cad; a master manipulator. George Wickham is the man we love to hate.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in excerpt, Great Britain, Jane Austen, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Austen’s Most Infamous “Bad Boy,” George Wickham ~ What Do We Know of Him?

  1. carolcork says:

    Fascinating article, Regina.

  2. Thank you, Carol. I wish I had thought of this post yesterday for I was in a high school English classroom speaking on Jane Austen. That’s what I earn for doing my posts weeks in advance. LOL!

  3. Karana says:

    Without Wickham, Darcy would not have to open himself up and lay bear his experiences, and Sure Lizzie would not hear the lies, but Darcy would still come off arrogant and would still have to win lizzie.

    • I agree, Karana. In fact, I am not so certain that Darcy would have been so willing to continue to pursue Elizabeth if not for Wickham’s influence on Lizzie. I could imagine when he left Netherfield (after her family’s poor behavior at Bingley’s ball), that he might truly think both he and Bingley had made a “great escape.” Good riddance!

  4. P&P would lose most of it’s dramatic tension without Wickham, without a doubt – though it makes me so mad I could scream at how Elizabeth allows herself to be blinded by him! For a very astute girl, in Wickham’s case she’s no cleverer than Lydia! Yep, nice chap, red coat, ‘the best part of beauty… good figure… pleasant address’, oh, yum, he must be a good guy!
    It’s astonishing that she brushes over the extreme impropriety of him gossiping with her about Darcy when they had barely met, just because one is charming and polite and the other scowled and called her tolerable! It’s a natural human reaction to dislike those who seem to dislike us, but shouldn’t someone as clever as Lizzy have seen the warning signs about Wickham so much sooner? And then go and blithely justify him to his aunt when he’s chasing after Mary King’s inheritance! Oh, Lizzy!!!

    I loved your post about the master manipulator, he is exactly that, at every turn. Poison and honey, a bit of truth mixed in with horrible lies just to make them credible. Much as we love to hate him, P&P would be shorter and blander without the horrible man!

    • On Monday, I spent time in an Advanced Placement classroom in our local school district. Half the students had read P&P and half had read Wuthering Heights. I was to speak to the differences and similarities of the two classics. I mentioned some of the points of this post during my presentation.
      I am pleased you enjoyed the post, Joana.

  5. This is very interesting. I love your indepth analysis of the character. I’ve written about Elizabeth Bennet on my blog, so I’ve really enjoyed finding others who write about this novel. Great post.

  6. Deborah says:

    I enjoyed the look into Wickham’s perceptiveness of Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth. That never dawned on me before. It now makes a lot of sense as to why he chose Elizabeth to work on. But without the ‘bad boy’ there would no no story.

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