Characters without Character in Pride and Prejudice

Characters without Character in Pride and Prejudice

If a writer made Darcy behave like Bingley, Elizabeth behave like Jane, Mrs. Bennet behave like Mrs. Gardiner, and Lydia simply behave, it wouldn’t really be a good variation of Pride & Prejudice. Jane Austen created well defined characters. Changing one or two characters is fair, but writers can’t credibly change too many characters without giving a background that explains the change.[1]

Minor characters without clearly defined characteristics are a boon to writers of fan fiction. A favorite character, one often used by writers, is Colonel Fitzwilliam. Writers tend to use him because there is a shortage of eligible male characters in Pride and Prejudice. We know he is charming and a good friend of Darcy. He shows ethics by warning Elizabeth that he must marry someone with money. He is usually given more positive characteristics than Jane Austen gave him. That is not to say that he doesn’t deserve them. We just don’t know.

Not knowing is important. It gives a writer freedom. Consider Mrs. Younge. We know almost nothing about her. She was probably a widow. We don’t know her age or background. I’ve often wondered why she would trust Wickham to reward her properly for her help, since Wickham is intrinsically not trustable. Summer Hanford and I wrote about her in Mary Younge: A Pride and Prejudice Variation. We were free to do almost anything with her, and I am sure the results are not what Jane Austen had in mind.

My favorite character to use is Anne de Bourgh. While she seems like more of a main character than Mrs. Younge, we know very little about her. We don’t know her age. If she was the same age as Darcy, why would Lady Catherine have tolerated Darcy not marrying her for so long? He was at least twenty-seven when readers meet him. If she was considerably younger, it would make more sense. The statement Lady Catherine makes to Elizabeth, “While in their cradles, we planned the union,” could mean there was one conversation. But there could have been two conversations.[2]

We don’t know about Anne’s health. We know she had been sickly, but there is never a hint of actual illness during Elizabeth’s stay in Kent. There is only concern shown for her health. This may be more a matter of a sickly childhood than anything current. She could be healthy, dying, or something in between. We don’t know Anne de Bourgh’s character. Is she smart? Does she have limited practical knowledge because she has little contact with anyone other than Lady Catherine and Mrs. Jenkinson? Does she read books and newspapers and thus is well informed? Does she drive her phaeton or is there a coachman? Is she drugged or stupid? Does she love her mother, loathe her or is she indifferent? We don’t know.

All this limited knowledge leads to one thing: She’s fair game for a writer. That is why Summer Hanford and I put her in so many books. We can do what we like with her without contradicting Pride and Prejudice.

There are other characters that one is free to do something with. Colonel Fitzwilliam either has a living older brother or a living nephew.[3] We don’t know if his parents are alive, but they could be. Thus, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother is implied as having existed, meaning writers can do what they want with him. I had a lot of fun writing Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother in Courting Elizabeth: A Pride and Prejudice Variation. When I started writing him, I intended for him to die, but I liked him too much. I made a few changes and gave him an interesting ending.

There are other characters without much character. Colonel Forster and his wife Harriet have little information about them, although it says a lot about both that Colonel Forster married a woman who was good friends with Lydia.

There are the servants as well. Mrs. Jenkinson, Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Hill, and Mrs. Nicholls all have brief mentions. Mrs. Reynolds speaks a lot and we know a bit more about her. Mrs. Nicholls is described in one source as the housekeeper at Netherfield Park, but I think it just as likely that she is the cook since she was spoken of as going to the butchers and making white soup.

The list of minor characters is long, and other writers have noticed it. There is at least one book about Mr. Hurst and another about Mary King.[4] Jane Austen says Mr. Hurst is “a man of more fashion than fortune,” and we have a few other bits of information about him. We know Mary King has freckles and fell in love with Wickham. That leaves plenty of room for an author’s imagination.

There is another way a writer can approach writing without changing a character in the original. That is to assume that the character is pretending to be something he isn’t. Summer Hanford and I did this with Mr. Collins’ Deception: A Pride and Prejudice Variation. In it, Mr. Collins was an intelligent man who had a good reason for pretending to be a fool. We are planning another book where Mr. Wickham’s behavior is all a pretense. Our tentative title is More Than He Seems: A Novel Reinventing Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham and it probably won’t be published until next year.

What minor character would you like to see given an important role in a novel?

[1] For example, if Mrs. Bennet died giving birth to Lydia and Mr. Bennet remarried a sensible woman with a large dowry who both provided him with sons and made sure the five Bennet girls were well educated, the entire family might have different personalities. Mr. Bennet could be less cynical, Lydia and Kitty should be more sensible, and Elizabeth and Jane might be accomplished to a level Miss Bingley would approve of.

[2] Lady Catherine could have written to Lady Anne when Darcy was ten, “When your son was born, you said if I had a daughter, she should marry him. I just gave birth to a daughter that I’m naming after you. I think she should marry your son.”

[3] Colonel Fitzwilliam could even have an adult nephew. The Lucases have children at least twenty years apart, since Charlotte is twenty-seven and the Lucases had a seven-year-old son. It is not stretching things to imagine Colonel Fitzwilliam with a nephew that is Bingley’s age. Also, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s nephew could be the product of a second marriage, making a larger age gap probable.

[4] I’m not avoiding naming these books. I’ve simply forgotten.


20 Responses to Characters without Character in Pride and Prejudice

  1. I really like it when a minor character is used to change up things in a variation. I can usually skip over the parts that are always written in the story. Wickham’s lies about Darcy for one example. Georgiana’s almost elopement for another. But the new things make the book more exciting! I always know the books written by you and Summer are going to be really good!

  2. I love when minor characters are fleshed out or when original characters are added (like your example of Mr. Bennet marrying a sensible woman) to see how differences impact the characters and story. I would like to read a story where one of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s sons lived. I also am intrigued by your mention of Mr. Wickham having a reason for acting the way he does and look forward to reading.

  3. Your book idea about Mr. Wickham sounds great and I look forward to be able to add it to my Goodreads TBR List in the future, for now it’s on my mental TBR List.

    I love books that further explore Mary Bennet as well as books about Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.

    • It is nice to know that someone will read it. I emailed Summer this week (we work by email) that I was concerned that our usual readers’ reactions would be, “A book where Wickham is the hero? Ugh!”

  4. Aside from those mentioned above-Probably Mrs Anne Darcy. If she is a very prideful person or a down-to -earth/modest person in a story that would have greatly impacted FD’s personality and the events that followed.

    Given that she grew up in such nobility, would she really consider EB as fit to replace her? (esp if she sees her in her skirts with mud)

    • That’s an interesting speculation. I’ve assumed that Darcy got his good character from his father and his pride from his mother, but it might be interesting if he got his pride from his general environment, that is how people treated him. If his mother was a “-earth/modest person” his regrets about his behavior might have been swifter.

  5. I’ve read all three of your books and I am still mad that you made me sympathetic toward Mary Younge. That was not cool. Grrr!!

    In ‘Courting Elizabeth,’ I enjoyed the Fitzwilliam cousins. For some reason I enjoy watching Richard interact with his siblings and cousins.

    ‘Mr. Collins’ Deception’ was a hoot. I really enjoyed watching the ‘Superman Syndrome’ as he hid his true self in plain sight. That was really cute.

    I’ve tried to read a story about Maria Lucas but didn’t enjoy it. I think you can’t go very far beyond the primary and secondary characters. Tertiary characters [Maria Lucas, Mary King and Kitty] just do not interest me. I’ve read stories about Lydia and Wickham; however, they are like walking on shaky ground. Stories with Mary aren’t too bad if… and I do mean if… she’s not having a relationship with Darcy. I’ll never… never forgive that one author that did that. No, NO, NOOO!!!

    Certain ideas seem to take spells like the NSNJ [not-so-nice-Jane] and the sensible Collins. I have also read several with a nicer Wickham and a not so nice Colonel Richard [that was hard]. Characterizations are not a static. Only one thing has to happen for me in JAFF… Darcy and Elizabeth HAVE to be together. I’ll tolerate secondary and even tertiary characters in whatever manner an author wishes to write them… just make sure D&E are together with an abiding love.

    • I can’t say that I’m sorry you became sympathetic toward our Mrs. Younge, since that was our intention. I am sorry you’re still mad about it, but at least it didn’t keep you from continuing to read our books and give us thoughtful reviews.

      Were not planning to tamper with Darcy and Elizabeth in “More Than He Seems: A Novel Reinventing Pride and Prejudice’s George Wickham,” but they are definitely not the focus. Almost everything that happened in Pride and Prejudice happens in the same way it did in the novel, at least as far as Elizabeth and Darcy are concerned.

    • I enjoyed Mr. Collins’ Deception as well and have Courting Elizabeth on my TBR List and am looking forward to reading about the Fitzwilliam Cousins in it now. I haven’t encountered a lot of particularly likeable older brother characters for Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.

      I am glad to say that I haven’t come across any books that pair Mary Bennet with Mr. Darcy before.

  6. Great post! My favorite “side” characters to write about are also ones you’ve listed—Col. Fitzwilliam and Anne de Bourgh. But, I LOVE including Mrs. Gardiner as well. She is so ripe with good advice and guidance, I love making her almost be Lizzy’s ‘Jiminy Cricket.’

  7. I enjoy boooks that flesh out a minor, especially Colonel Fitzwilliam. Thanks for the insight into the process!

  8. I like the book about Wickham idea or maybe Mr Bingley or Mary or one of the other Bennett sisters! Mr Bennett might be fun too maybe a story through his eyes!That would probably be

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