I’ve always thought Lydia’s real problem is that she’s spoiled. Her mother never says no to her, her father ignores her, essentially letting her have whatever she wants, and she picks on her older sister without anyone stopping her, reinforcing her bad behavior.
Now, what I find interesting about the Bennet family is how all the daughters are so different. Yes, Kitty and Lydia are both rude and ridiculous, but Lydia is much brasher than Kitty.
I see a basic break down like this: Jane is good and serene; Elizabeth is clever and lively; Mary is pious and boring; Kitty is whiny and lost; Lydia is bold and unruly.
Now, what I find interesting is that most people are happy to throw rotten tomatoes at their parents for the younger girls being so awful, especially Mr. Bennet who was raised to know better and was intelligent enough to see the problem and find a solution, but no one really gives them credit for the wonders that are Elizabeth and Jane. In fact, many JAFFs have the two eldest girls turn out so well because of the influence of their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.
I think it is entirely possible that the Gardiners had a lot to do with Elizabeth and Jane, possibly before they had their own children or only had one or two and had more time and resources to spare for their nieces, which would explain the younger Bennets not getting as much attention from that quarter.
But what if nurture has nothing to do with it and it’s just their individual natures? Each girl is different and it’s not a huge stretch to imagine they were raised somewhat similarly, especially those close in age, like Mary and Elizabeth, who couldn’t be more different, and Kitty and Lydia.
If it was the raising, I think Mr. and Mrs. B deserve a little credit for their first two. If it’s just the girls’ temperaments, what could be done?
I agree with Darcy in P&P when he tells Elizabeth at Netherfield, “There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil — a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
Was Lydia’s “natural defect” to constantly be the most immature person in the room? Or was she just overly exuberant and a firmer hand would have channeled her energies properly?
I think this is a great question to ask and one I explore in my current work-in-progress. Will Lydia always be Lydia, wild and brash and an embarrassment to every sensible person in the room? Or can she be redeemed? Is there a softer version of her that could have been revealed had anyone taken the time or trouble?
Would regular guidance and discipline have worked on her? Did they try it when she was little and it was just so hard that they let her have her way to get a little peace? She was the fifth child in a family without a governess. No daycare or local school or mother’s day out to send them to for the day. Just the six females in the house, together.
All. Day. Long.
I think it is entirely possible that Lydia could have been a lot better had she come higher in the birth order when her mother had more energy to deal with her. That or they would have stopped having kids altogether and there would have been fewer people to be embarrassed by.
As a parent myself, I think each child, as wondrous as they are, has something in them that we’ll constantly need to work at. One of mine tends to sulk and think so many things are unfair. Another will always want her way and to NEVER share. Another is sensitive and cries at every slight, perceived and imagined. What to do?!
I remember at the end of P&P when Darcy and Elizabeth are walking and he tells her about his parents raising him to do what was right but not teaching him to correct his own character. That has always stuck with me.
I can safely say that my parents did not teach me to correct the defects in my character. My mother occasionally complained about me when I was an adolescent, but there was zero guidance or instruction in the areas I needed it most. Talking to others of my generation (I was made in the eighties), I see that is a common theme.
So when I read Darcy’s words, from Netherfield and the final talk with E, I can’t help but think it is excellent advice and attempt to put it to use with my own children. Because he proves his own theory wrong, doesn’t he?
He says there is something in everyone not even the best education can overcome, and yet the book is filled with people overcoming and growing and maturing. Elizabeth learns not to snap judge and not to let her vanity lead her on a merry chase; Darcy releases some pride and arrogance and outright rudeness and learns to look past a person’s situation and see the value beneath; Jane finally sees the Bingley sisters for what they are; Mr. Bennet realizes his mistakes as a parent and feels the weight of those consequences, even if it’s fleeting.
There are also those that don’t grow, or at least we don’t see it. Lydia and Wickham, Charlotte and Collins (while I love Charlotte, I don’t see her doing much changing), Lady Catherine, Mrs. Bennet. Each of these characters was given a chance to change and let it pass them by.
So is it that those who want to change, can? And those who are happy in their ignorance and blindness, or who are too scared to really look at themselves, don’t? Which was Lydia? I have seen nothing that makes me think she was stupid – just foolish and naïve. Not surprising considering her age.
She was selfish and thought only of herself and what she wanted, not unlike her parents. Mr. Bennet did much the same. He didn’t care what trouble his children caused as long as they stayed out of his way. He did what he wanted when he wanted and with, or often without, whom he wanted. Is Lydia behaving any differently?
Mrs. Bennet was led by her feelings. She was tired, she went to bed – even if it was the middle of the day. She felt overwhelmed, she got her smelling salts and inconvenienced everyone around her. She was scared and she made everyone do her bidding to relieve her own feelings without giving a second thought to their comfort or contentment. Sound like Lydia?
Did she simply inherit the worst of each of her parents’ characters? And was that her fault? After all, she was only 15 when she ran off with Wickham. Didn’t we all have bad attitudes at that age and do something at least somewhat stupid?
So again I have to ask myself: Can she be saved?
What do you think?