What’s the deal with Wickham?

What’s the deal with Wickham?

As those of you who regularly follow this blog know, I have been going through the characters of P&P and analyzing them, trying to understand them better and perhaps glean a little of their motivation.

I have to admit I’m confused about Wickham. I have always thought of him as an opportunist. Someone who always wants to take the easy way out and would rather spend hours trying to get something for free than spend the same amount of time working to earn the money for it.

Is he this way because he can be? He is good looking and charming and quick to please. Does that mean he simply never had to try very hard and all that ease went to his head?

Or was it just his nature and he would have been that way regardless of his looks or personality?

Was it a combination of the two? I’ll admit that I lean toward this answer.

W 95
Would you trust that face? Me neither.

When the Bennet sisters are staying at Netherfield, before Wickham enters the picture, Darcy says that he believes each personality has a defect that even the best education cannot overcome. I’ve often wondered if he was referring to himself here or possibly thinking of others. Perhaps Wickham? We know he doesn’t really think very badly of himself. Sure, Darcy admits to being resentful, but he doesn’t seem to think that’s a very bad defect to have, so somehow I don’t think that statement was in reference to his own personality. He could have just been speaking in generalities and not about anyone in particular, but what if he was thinking about Wickham?

 According to Darcy, Wickham was given a good education and chose to squander it. But we also know Wickham had a mother who spent too much and kept her husband perpetually in debt, which also tells me that Mr. Wickham Sr. was not a very forceful person and a bit led around by his wife. I mean, come on, in that time period, controlling your wife’s spending wasn’t that hard. It wasn’t like they had a joint checking account or a house with both their names on it.

So Wickham has a smart, loyal, hard-working but not forceful father and a spend-happy, disrespectful mother.

Did he just take after his piece-of-work mother? Or was it learned behavior? Was he just good at grabbing chances when they crossed his path?

This brings me back to the opportunist question. Was he or wasn’t he?

I always thought he was, but something doesn’t fit.


He tried to elope with her after meeting her in Ramsgate, likely by design. Hmm. So if he did in fact follow her there and not accidentally run into his Godfather’s daughter who happens to be accompanied by his own friend who had faked references to get the job, then he is more than an opportunist. He is a planner, a plotter, a strategist.

Of course, his behavior throughout the rest of the book doesn’t really gel with this so I think there are a few options.

One, Austen made a simple mistake while writing and made her own character behave out of character. I highly doubt this option.

Two, Wickham is an opportunist with brains, or as I like to think of it, opportunist 2.0. He heard his friend Mrs. Younge was looking for a job and somehow knew Darcy was hiring a companion. Since she had to do most of the work, he could still be lazy. But he had a good idea and played his part when the time came.

Three, Mrs. Younge was the mastermind. She knew Wickham had a past with the Darcys, she was looking for work, she thought the whole thing up and made all the plans and when it all came crashing down, Wickham scurried off with his tail between his legs and joined the militia while she ran a boarding house. Sounds like she has a slightly better gig, doesn’t it?

Hello, chiseled cheekbones.

I think options two or three are both equally likely, at least I think that today. When I read the book again years down the road I may feel differently.

So if Wickham is an opportunist and/or a plotter, why does he run off with Lydia? Did she have pin money with her that he wanted? Why didn’t he just ask her for it or take it? I doubt that would have been hard to accomplish.

Was he lonely? He does strike me as cowardly. It would be fitting that he preferred the idea of traveling with someone instead of going alone. Was it that simple?

He had to leave because of gambling debts (that’s the only reason I can think of that he would desert – feel free to throw out alternate scenarios), she somehow finds out about it and offers to go with him.

Or maybe he had been feeding her lines about marrying her all along to get her to give up the goods (I think this is VERY possible) and she believed him and when he told her he was going away (likely with the intention of getting a little parting gift), she assumed she was going with him. Coward that he was he didn’t correct her.

He is infinitely selfish and didn’t think of anything or anyone other than the idea that he would have a traveling buddy, a little more money, and a willing bedmate.

After all this thinking and analyzing I am no closer to deciding if he was an evil plotter or just an opportunist. Or if he was a lay-about because he was charming or if being charming simply helped him to be a lay-about. Either way, I can’t really find anything redeeming about this character.

Can you?


30 Responses to What’s the deal with Wickham?

  1. Thanks for the great post Elizabeth. I missed it while I was in Bath, but I’m glad I caught up with what I missed, this was a great read. I can’t quite see Wickham as an evil mastermind, more like a lazy opportunist who exerts himself when it’s worth his while. Can’t find anything redeeming in him either. The only Wickham I like is the one from ‘Lost in austen’ 😀

  2. I agree with Jennifer just above – Wickham was used to having a lot handed to him. I am sure as an only child and a son at that he was spoiled by his mother and looked on with indulgence even by his hard working father. And to have old Mr. Darcy give him so much, it is not a hard leap to want more…even to think he deserved it. Spoiled children don’t often think rationally in my opinion. And he was bright and insightful in looking for opportunity or making such up as needed. (I know I am late to the conversation. Sorry. Sometimes life just gets in the way.)

    • Life is always in my way, so don’t worry about being late! I agree that spoiled children are often out of touch with reality. I only know 2 only children that aren’t rotten little beasts. 🙂 I’m sure there are more, but I haven’t been lucky enough to cross paths with them.

  3. I enjoyed this post. I feel that Wickham is both a plotter and opportunist and that his behavior was learned. He also lives beyond his means, like his mother. He pulled the wool over old Mr. Darcy’s eyes as well as most people he meets, even those with ‘discernment’, Lizzie and her father.

  4. Conniving and extremely evil in his intent. He has feelings of grandeur thinking everything is owed to him. It is a shame, but Darcy’s father did him a disservice to raise and treat him as a son. He came to expect more than what he received. The more he got the more he wanted. His jealousy of Darcy and want of revenge for perceived wrongs cause him to fail in his attempts for the most part. The guy is slimy. He’s not the guy you want your daughter to bring home to meet mom and dad.

  5. I think he was both. He certainly plotted the Georgiana/Mrs Younge thing, but she was probably the only young lady of high family that he would have plotted for, because he knew her far better than other young ladies of fortune. He would also have known that Darcy wouldn’t have been likely to cut his sister off financially so even if he spent all of her dowry he would probably have been set up for life. I think the Lydia elopement was pushed more by her than by him. I think he flirted with her because of his vanity – he’s certainly a vain man, and when he had to leave he wasn’t going to turn down some company. I don’t think he particularly had a beef with the Bennets, and I certainly don’t think the elopement with Lydia was directed at Darcy, though that’s an interesting idea to explore in a what-if story, I don’t see it being the case in canon.

    As for how he is treated by Elizabeth later, I’m sure she is still very angry at both him and. Lydia, and fully aware of what type of man he was but she can’t be rude to her father’s guests. If anybody has a go at Wickham it should be Lydia’s father and if Elizabeth did more than she had it would have been a snub to her father. She says as little to him as possible and let’s him know that she is aware of his lies. I think she does all she can under the circumstances. A large part of society then would have been being outwardly polite to people you don’t have a lot of value for. Whether she likes it or not, she is stuck with Wickham in her family and there is no point making the situation worse than it needs to be. Lizzy is a very philosophical person, if you can’t change it you need to put up with it.

    • I agree so much with all of this that I wonder if we somehow had a conversation that I’ve forgotten about. 🙂 Yes, yes, and yes, to all of the above. I just don’t see how hurting the Bennets could be seen as hurting Darcy, especially by Wickham who I don’t actually think is very clever, though I know several people will disagree with me. I think he is too vain to be truly brilliant. His vanity and need for constant admiration will ruin any actual efforts before anything can come of them. Bottom line, I don’t think he thought far enough ahead about the repercussions of eloping with Lydia, then E finding out, possibly telling Darcy who she might see again and then D coming in to bribe him. I think Wickham just took the easy road with most things and escaping with Lydia was very easy. No pun intended.

      • I am in complete agreement with you 🙂

        I think the school of thought that sees eloping with Lydia as being directed at Darcy is mostly that it will mean he wouldn’t marry Elizabeth as her family would be ruined, but I reckon W would have thought that Darcy would marry well, not for love. Darcy struggles with the idea for some time himself, so I just don’t see it as plausible. I think Wickham eloping with Lydia is a decision made by his vanity, and the point of it is to allow not just a big gesture of saving Elizabeth’s sister, but the huge gesture of Darcy being willing to have a life-long tie to his greatest enemy, all for the love of Elizabeth (sigh!)

  6. I like what you all have said. My take on Wickham is his behaviors were quite learned. He had role models who took care of him – mom, dad, and Mr. Darcy whenever he misbehaved. He was comic relief to a point. Once Mr. Darcy and his father died, there was no one left to fund him or entertain this selfish behavior. True, he showed the younger Darcy his true self. Should the younger have said something to his dad to help teach Wickham some self restraint? Possibly, we all know that this was a blind spot for Mr. Darcy.

    Wickham’s behavior at Pemberley and college should have clued them in also. I believe the younger spent too much time cleaning up after his childhood friend and got too burnt one too many times.

    I think Wickham masterminded the whole Mrs. Younge hiring and Ramsgate. Planning these events did not cost him as much as it did Mrs. Younge. He was used to charming his way in and out of situations. This time it did not work. I believe he planned Lydia’s ruin because he may like his women young. Think college, Georgianna, and Lydia. He could read Darcy better than any person in the Meryton area. He saw from the get go that Darcy had the hots for Lizzy. Once Lizzy called him on his past, he moved on to Lydia. Lydia is known to think Wickham is handsome, and he is a military officer. So she helped him out with her gullibility.

    Wickham was all about having the easy life as he saw Darcy’s life. He was not around to see all of the work it took to make and keep Darcy’s riches.

    • I like how you call him comic relief. That’s very apt. It makes me wonder if he had ever been taken seriously and had expectations of him beyond being charming. Maybe if everyone around him had raised the bar and made their support and company based on that, he would have done better. Of course it would have also been a great opportunity for him to show his true colors and if he didn’t play ball, everyone would have seen what a lout he was and that could have been the end of his meal ticket. Maybe.

  7. I think he is a satire of what Jane Austen sees regency society valuing – form over substance. Remember what Lizzie said about Wickham & Darcy: “One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.” Wickham is the consummate faker, a man without conscience or scruples but who can ape both, and because upper class regency society is more concerned with appearance than reality, he succeeds for a time. He’s an opportunist, sure, but he is also a narcissistic jerk because there is nothing that is important to him except himself and faking his way through life. He’s a classic sociopath, and one must pity poor Lydia for being stuck with him – she is shallow, silly and juvenile, but no one deserves Wickham.

    • I agree that he is a total narcissist and that no one deserves that, even someone as silly as Lydia. You make a very good point of him being a model of society at the time. And I think it wasn’t just during the regency that they valued form over substance…

  8. On another Wickham note, I’ve always thought his whole mantra was to get revenge at Darcy. Darcy (proverbially) won’t give him the candy he wants at the grocery store, so he becomes like this sadist and attacks everything Darcy loves most– first goes after his sister, but is foiled by Darcy, then goes after Elizabeth because Darcy likes her (I mean, Lizzy, really, how blind are you when WICKHAM can ascertain Darcy loves you and YOU can’t?! #fail) , and then when Darcy saves Elizabeth from the really horrible decision of letting Wickham get any closer, and then Wickham decides if he can’t get HER, he can AT LEAST ruin her reputation by ruining her sister. Darcy saves ALL THREE before Wickham is really able to do the damage he wants (sure Lydia DOES have to spend the rest of her miserable life with that worthless piece of –, but even Lady Catherine admits the whole thing was hushed up well. Thanks to Darcy.)

    • So do you think Wickham knew Darcy was in love with Lizzy? I’ve never been sure about that. I mostly think no, simply because they are hardly ever together. When they meet on the street in Meryton, Darcy isn’t even talking to anyone, and any strange reaction could be chalked up to shock and anger at seeing Wickham.

  9. The thing I have NEVER understood about Wickham’s arc is WHY on earth Elizabeth can even stand to be in the same room with him — let alone talk to him or walk with him — after his whole dealing with Lydia. To me it is BLEGH.

    • OMG I completely agree!!! How she can be polite to him at the end is remarkable to me. Is she just doing it for appearances, or is she fickle, or charmed again, or just glad it’s behind her… I don’t know.

  10. I’ve always thought Wickham was simply “a bad seed”, as
    they say back in Indiana, where I grew up!
    I know people who want it all, but refuse to work for it . They complained and whined all their lives about how unfair life is. So I believe Wickham is a bad seed.

  11. Ah, nature or nurture. I doubt it is either/or. It’s not that way in most of life and Austen was very good at pointing that out. In the same way that I don’t think Darcy was all prejudice/resentment/pride, neither was the character of Wickham. I think he’d throw-in and plot with someone just as easily as he would play it by ear and take off with a Lydia on the spur-of-the-moment.

    I think Austen saw sociopaths a plenty plying their trade in her little part of the world and she liked studying the mayhem they devised in her stories. Good for us!

    • I think you’re right about Wickham being an equal opportunity baddie. He’ll screw around in whatever way presents itself. Who knows, maybe he gets bored and needs a little plotting every now and then. 🙂

  12. I lean towards opportunist 2.0/mastermind. He thought he had a plan, not just an opportunity, with giving up the living. Then he thought he could get it back once it was open. Not just a “hey, I’d like to be considered for the opening” but a “your Dad really wanted this and I know how much you loved him and sought his approval.” I think he gave up the living thinking all along that it was still a viable contingency plan and/or his ultimate plan all along. Scam Darcy out of an extra 3,000 pounds for fun times at the moment and then be given a “second chance” again. I certainly know people like that. When it comes to Georgiana, I do believe Darcy’s opinion that it was also done for revenge which requires Wickham being the person with forethought. I think it’s possible he may not have even known Mrs. Younge before she was hired. But I think Wickham did keep tabs on what Darcy was up to from time to time, at least when he needed money. He could have asked around the household, heard about the new companion and charmed her.

    I think Lydia could either be totally be design to hurt the Bennets. I think he was upset at Elizabeth, who seemed to suddenly believe Darcy over Wickham when she returned from Kent. I mean, he had to think at some point in the whole flirtation/elopement thing what it would mean to the Bennets. I could believe it possible that he and Lydia had sex long before the elopement. At any rate, the elopement seemed quite planned given her parting note and didn’t she hint at it in letters to Kitty? It’s not like she saw Wickham leaving and jumped on board and no one had a minute to think about it.

    I’m not so sure Austen meant it this way, but I see wiggle room in fan fiction for it, but I think he could at the very least have thought there was a possibility that he could get Darcy’s attention, and therefore money, out of the thing. He eloped with Lydia, who Darcy knew and Elizabeth seems to have a greater intimacy with Darcy in her last conversation with Wickham. Surely there were other idiot women in Brighton with a few pounds he could have preyed on.

    As much as I’m convinced Lydia also made her own bed a bit, I don’t think she was so unique from other young women. We see Georgiana who had the benefit of an attentive brother and riches and she nearly made the same choice. She had known him longer, but as Marianne Dashwood would tell us and Elizabeth and Lydia would agree, length of acquaintance is not the only measure of intimacy. Eliza Williams did something similar with Willoughby. Maria eloped with Crawford while married. Yes, I’m quite convinced that Lydia is no different than most unthinking and unhappy ladies of the era. All this leads me to think that Wickham must have targeted Lydia for a reason.

    I don’t think Austen was so haphazard as to have such critical moments in her stories built on coincidence. Even Lizzy and Darcy meeting at Pemberley is by design of Mrs. Gardiner previously living in the area and only recently reforming old acquaintances. It’s not as though they met at an airport where they each had different destinations.

    /end essay.

    I love your character posts!

    • This is why Wickham is such a conundrum! How much was he plotting? Was revenge on Darcy the main goal or just an added bonus with G’s elopement? Was Lydia delusional in her letters to Kitty or was there an actual plan? And if there was, WHY???? That question drives me crazy. I don’t think it looked like there was anything going on between Darcy and the Bennets and W likely thought he’d never act on it if there were. However, you may be on to something with him being angry at Lizzy for essentially defecting. He can ditch her for Mary King, but she needs to always want him. smh

  13. Does pleasant to look at count? Personally, I think party, party, party was his hidden montra. GW would never have been satisfied even had he been born in Darcy’s shoes.

    • I think you’re right about him never being satisfied. Some people are just never happy, no matter how much or what they have. Is it just an inability to appreciate, or is it something deeper in their innate character? I’ll admit I spend a lot of time thinking about that with the real-life people I know who just can’t ever be happy.

Your thoughts are precious!