One of the elements I find very interesting in Jane Austen’s novels is her punishment and reward system. We all know that she is a fan of sweet and happy endings and that the heroes and heroines in her stories are rewarded in the end with love and happiness. What is less certain, however, is her fairness in dealing with her villains.
Take Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park for instance. After their affair becomes known, Maria is the true sufferer. Her husband divorces her and she is banished from her family and sent away to live with an aunt. Mr. Crawford, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer much of a punishment.
Similarly, in Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe pays the price for her unsteady character when Captain Tilney plays with her affections and leaves her behind to face the disappointment, humiliation and gossip.
In Emma, Frank Churchill, despite his dishonesty and manipulations, is forgiven quite easily and rewarded with wealth and happiness in marriage with Jane Fairfax. John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility is another character who doesn’t suffer much for his deeds. It is true that he loses Marianne and has to live a loveless marriage, but I still do not think he gets what he truly deserves.
Finally, in Pride and Prejudice, after all of Wickham’s villainy, Darcy pays his debts and secures a new job for him. Some may argue that being married to Lydia is enough punishment. But I personally do not like the fact that none of the male villains get a proper punishment.
It seems to me that Austen is more severe on her female characters than the male ones. Or perhaps, in her subtle way, she criticizes how her society is more severe on females than males. What do you think?
Below is a short excerpt from my novel, To Love and Cherish, where Mr. Wickham is about to be punished for his deeds. I hope you will enjoy it.
Lord Paisley addressed his friend as soon as the Bingleys left the cottage. “Mr. Wickham here has been entertaining us with all sorts of explanations as to how he happens to be here with Miss Bingley.”
“I am sure he has,” Mr. Darcy said. “There seems to be no end to Mr. Wickham’s explanations and his mischief.”
“Darcy, I had nothing to do with Miss Bingley being here,” Mr. Wickham said hurriedly. “I swear to you—”
“Do not dare swear to me, Wickham,” Mr. Darcy roared as he walked toward the terrified man. “Your word is worthless.”
“Darcy!” Mr. Wickham stepped back until his back hit the wall. “I can explain. Come now. You must allow me a chance…for old times’ sake. For the sake of your father’s memory.”
Mr. Wickham regretted his words, for as soon as he uttered them, he was struck by the gentleman’s fist and found himself on the floor.
“You are to never,” Mr. Darcy bellowed as he stood over his body, “never, speak of my father again.”
Mr. Wickham could taste his own blood and had no doubt that he had loosened a tooth or two. But he did not dare open his eyes, and nothing could prevail upon him to get up as he was certain Mr. Darcy would deal him another blow. He stayed thus on the floor motionless for long enough for Mr. Audley to become concerned.
“I believe you killed him,” Mr. Audley said as he ran over to inspect Mr. Wickham, but upon seeing signs of life, breathed with relief.
Lord Paisley approved. “I am very impressed, Darcy. But perhaps you ought to wait with the horses while we bring this ordeal to an end. I fear you will kill the man with your bare hands.”
“He deserves nothing better,” Mr. Darcy said angrily.
“True. But you do not want the man’s blood on your hands now, do you? There are far better ways of punishing him.”
Mr. Darcy glared at Mr. Wickham, still lying motionless on the floor. Coward!
“Mr. Wickham owes me a considerable amount of money,” Mr. Darcy said to Mr. Audley. “I want him sent to debtors’ prison.”
“Matthew,” Lord Paisley said, “perhaps you and Darcy can discuss Mr. Wickham’s debts outside. I will keep an eye on him until you return.”
“Of course.” Mr. Audley nodded and walked toward the door.
“Be careful,” Mr. Darcy whispered to Lord Paisley as he followed Mr. Audley outside.
When the gentlemen left, Lord Paisley brought out his snuffbox from his pocket.
“You can get up now, Mr. Wickham,” he said with an amused smile. “Darcy is gone.”
Mr. Wickham struggled to sit up slowly, wiping the blood from his nose and mouth.
“He broke my nose,” he said angrily. “And my tooth.”
“You must consider yourself lucky,” Lord Paisley said calmly as he partook of some snuff. “He meant to break your neck.”
“He is out of control!” Mr. Wickham shook his head as he finally managed to stand.
“You can hardly blame the man,” Lord Paisley said as he leisurely replaced his snuffbox in his pocket. “After all, you were planning to kidnap his sister.”
Mr. Wickham had been dealt a great deal of surprise that day, but nothing compared to the shock of hearing those words from Lord Paisley’s lips. He gaped at the marquess, who returned his bewildered stare with utter amusement.
“Oh, come now, Mr. Wickham.” Lord Paisley chuckled. “Let us be honest, shall we? Allow me to tell you that you are in no position to lie to me.”
“And what is it that you think you can to do to me?” Mr. Wickham challenged resentfully, looking at His Lordship’s fine clothes. “You are nothing but a coxcomb. Do you mean to punish me by criticizing my clothes?”
“I would,” His Lordship replied, holding up his quizzing glass and scrutinizing the older man through it. “Alas! Your tastes in clothes are as poor as your character. Quite beyond repair. Not at all worth my attention.”
“So, what do mean to do with me?”
“Oh, I can be creative.” Lord Paisley sneered as he came to stand directly in front of him. “I can make you disappear. I can have your body disposed of so no one can ever find you. I can have all traces of you wiped away. Your stay at the inn, the people you contacted, the places you were seen. I can pay everyone to deny ever having seen you in Dartfort. And I can do all of that without causing a single crease in my fine jacket.”
Mr. Wickham gulped at the cold expression in Lord Paisley’s eyes.