Betting on Mr. Wickham

One of my favorite parts in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is when George Wickham runs off with Lydia Bennet and everyone learns the truth about his character.

From a writing craft perspective, it’s one of the best story twists in all of literature, and it showcases Jane Austen’s masterful use of what we in the 21st Century call “the climax” in a story arc.

From a reader’s perspective, it’s just great storytelling. Of course our heroine, Elizabeth Bennet is blindsided by the revelations of Wickham’s true character, and we get to discover the delicious details of his perfidy along with Lizzy and her family and friends.

When Wickham first appeared in the novel, Austen described him in this way:

He had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address.

In short, Wickham was a charmer. He easily sweet-talked the good citizens of Longbourn and Meryton into doing his will. He was even able to charm his way into Mrs. Philips’ drawing-room, despite the fact he had never met the woman.

Debonair George Wickham (1995).

Wickham must have learned at a very early age that good looks and good manners could get you anywhere you want to go in life, including a life of richness and style.

Darcy, in his letter to Elizabeth at Hunsford, reveals that Wickham may have learned his spendthrift ways from his mother, writing:

My father supported him at school, and afterwards at Cambridge—most important assistance, as his own father, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to give him a gentleman’s education.

Darcy hints that from a young age Wickham spent money imprudently and extravagantly, without any plan or intention of honoring his debts.

Mr. Wickham in uniform (2005).

In Meryton he was “in debt to every tradesman in the place” —scandalous as well as dangerous behaviour because with such debts Wickham ran the risk of being sent to a debtors’ prison.

Even worse (as everyone discovered after Wickham eloped with Lydia), Wickham also left behind “debts of honor.” Jane Bennet heard the news with horror:

“A gamester!” she cried. “This is wholly unexpected. I had not an idea of it.”

As a man with unpaid debts of honor, Wickham ran the risk of being shunned, because people who didn’t honor their gaming debts were considered repugnant and deceitful. As his wife, Lydia would have shared his shame.

Mr. Darcy paid out £1,000 to settle Wickham’s debts, which was a lot of money at the time. Allowing for cost of living and inflation, that’s the equivalent of over £46,000 in today’s money (according to the U.K. National Archives).

The value of one-thousand pounds

Thanks to Mr. Darcy, George Wickham and Lydia Bennet embarked upon their married life together debt free and with their reputations intact. But that clean slate did not last long.

By the end of the book, we learn Wickham and Lydia were “always spending more than they ought,” and they regularly applied to Elizabeth and Jane for money to help them get by.

Lydia and Wickham (1995)

Unfortunately, that’s where Austen ended Wickham’s story. After all the mayhem and distress he caused, Wickham escaped having to make any atonement for his bad behavior. Nowhere in the story was Wickham punished for his “vicious propensities” and “want of principle,” as Darcy would say.

That never did seem right to me.

Luckily, in the JAFF world we can write our own endings to Pride and Prejudice, and make Wickham pay for his foolishness and dishonesty, so I’ve been trying to come up with a suitable punishment for him.

Perhaps Wickham ends up doing hard time in a military prison after he swindles the wrong person.

Or maybe he abandons Lydia for an heiress, only to be caught and tried for kidnapping and sent to prison. (I am a little partial to the prison idea.)

What do you think? Did Karma finally catch up to George Wickham at some point? Did he receive the punishment he so richly deserved?

What do you think would have been a good punishment for him?

20 Responses to Betting on Mr. Wickham

  1. I am late to this party but I think having Lydia become everything he wants for himself somehow would be the best revenge.

    • Very true! And since Lydia was a young woman used to getting her own way (just as Wickham usually got what he wanted), I imagine the two of them had some pretty lively rows! Thank you for commenting.

  2. It’s hard to check my more bloodthirsty impulses when it comes to Wickham! Sometimes I just want to let Colonel Fitzwilliam have at him and leave the rest to readers’ imaginations. For Wickham, though, he is so vain that a good public shaming would probably hurt just as bad as any wounds.

  3. There’s a wonderful short story which sets up a scene at an inn. An older dissipated looking Wickham tries unsuccessfully to catch the eyes of some young ladies traveling. He rests in a room and meets an elegant mother. A Lady with her children. The reveal is that the Lady is an older Georgiana who has married Lord (cannot remember the name) but she did not even recognize Wickham. He was so insignificant to her that he was just another traveler in the Inn. Nothing about Lydia but this story always memorable.

    • That’s an intriguing story thread, Linny. Maybe Wickham’s greatest punishment is that he ends up so far on the other extreme of what he once was: not handsome, not charming, not memorable, and unable to scam anyone with his tired old tricks. I wish I knew the story title or author; I’d love to read it. Thanks for commenting!

  4. As said in previous post he did marry Lydia if he did stick around that would be punishment for the both of them because she would also bear the consequences. JA did not really much just being poor Lydia without her ribbons would be hell to live with.
    The punishment I read was when Wickham got packed off to the navy not the army his reaction was great to read.
    I always thought he would get abusive later but not read much of that story line may be Lydia would strike back as she would not be a passive wife I think.

    • You made some good points about both Wickham and Lydia. I never thought Lydia was “bad” like Wickham; she was just immature and thoughtless, but I bet she had a “wake-up” moment somewhere down the road when she realize the true character of the man she married. Like you, I think she would not have tolerated any mistreatment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with with, Terri!

  5. Having Lydia for a wife will serve him as punishment for a lifetime. She is Mrs. Bennet made over. When she finally grows up and realizes what she ‘gave up’ in order to marry Wickham… his life will be heck for sure. She is so young, it may take her a while to really see him for what he is. Bless her heart. I place this squarely at the feet of M/M Bennet. Shame on them both for allowing her to be that way when they could have redirected her life. She was her mother’s favorite and because of her own lack of action and direction has subjected her daughter to a life of cleaning up after Wickham’s messes, scandals, and treachery.

    I remember when I read that climatic scene with Elizabeth reading Darcy’s letter. I can still feel the shock of hearing of Wickham’s actions. OMG! To this day, I still feel that hurt and betrayal that I felt with learning of his desolate lifestyle. I never saw it coming even with Austen’s clues. I was so naive and trusting. Dang! I wanted to string him up by his thumbs.

    JAFF authors have been very creative in punishing this man. I’ve read all manner of devious, creative and sometimes frightful punishments. I’ve also read a few stories where Wickham finally saw the light and tried to turn his life around. We have to remember, no one is exempt from redemption. These stories are rare but I have seen them. I think the pendulum will swing in the other direction because we have just about exhausted the evil this man can do. It has all been done. However, there aren’t many where he isn’t so bad. This was an amazing post. Thank you for that insightful perspective. I suppose Austen just didn’t have the heart to punish him too severely. Or, perhaps she felt Lydia was enough punishment.

    • I really enjoyed reading your comments, and couldn’t agree more! Like you, I was surprised to read Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth, and I couldn’t decide who to believe – Darcy or Wickham! I don’t think I put the book down again until I’d read it all; I just HAD know what what happened next.

  6. Weaknesses: Elopes with fifteen year olds.

    That was funny 🙂

    Thank you for the monetary chart, by the way. I like it!

  7. Great post, Nancy!

    Wickham is indeed the baddie we all love to hate, and I for one believe his life of dissipation caught up with him eventually.

    In Miss Darcy’s Beaux, I very much enjoyed writing the scene where Georgiana Darcy runs into Wickham years after their failed elopement. At first, she is afraid she might still be in love with him, but then she realises what a pathetic man he is.

    • I tend to agree with you; sooner or later Wickham’s past has to catch up with him. I remember he and Lydia were up to their old tricks and created plenty of drama in *Miss Darcy’s Beaux.* It was such a good story!

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