One of the most significant events in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one which happens before the story starts, and one of which we only hear about after the fact: the aborted elopement of Georgiana Darcy with George Wickham. I would assert that this episode is the single largest factor in helping Elizabeth overcome her prejudice toward Mr. Darcy and see him in a different light. The overthrowing of her feelings concerning the two gentlemen is profound as is her sense of outrage against Mr. Wickham and her pity for a young lady she had never met.
It is a fortunate coincidence that Mr. Darcy arrives to save Georgiana from making a life-altering mistake. It is equally fortunate that no word of Georgiana’s near mistake was made public. Had Mr. Wickham made the news of his actions public he might have ruined her. Even something as simple as someone seeing her with him and learning who he was might have resulted in a very different outcome. If the worst had happened, how would that have affected her? It is that I wanted to discuss in this post.
Just how bad was Georgiana’s misstep? I would argue that it was one of the worst a young woman of her standing in society could make. We don’t know exactly how high in society the Darcys were, as Jane Austen is not explicit. Authors who write adaptations like to speculate as to their position independent of their connection to an earl—I have done some of that myself. The effect of the earl’s connection is almost certainly profound, but even the size of Pemberley itself guarantees their position in society was the envy of many.
A young lady of such a prominent family allowing a steward’s son to pay her such attentions was a recipe for derision among a society obsessed with status and wealth. Georgiana marrying Bingley, by comparison, would have been a minor mistake. At least Bingley was an aspiring gentleman, one who possessed wealth aplenty, even if it was made in the detested realm of trade. Wickham was poor, the son of an employee, and highly unsuitable for a young lady of half Georgiana Darcy’s means.
There were a couple of mitigating circumstances which may have blunted the scorn. The first is, of course, the fact that she did not actually marry Wickham, through Darcy’s fortuitous decision to visit her at the right moment. The second is the season in which it occurred. Nothing would have prevented the scorn of society had she actually married him, but even if her near miss had been known, it would have come at a time when those of society were summering at their estates. Would this have protected her from the gossips over the long term? Not entirely, though it might have blunted it to a certain extent. And the possibility exists that another scandal might have arisen in the meantime, making hers less salacious by comparison.
In all, she made a fortunate escape, not only due to her brother’s interference, but also because for whatever reason, Wickham did not speak of the matter. What, then, would have happened had the matter been at least somewhat known in society?
By now you should all know I rarely post without a plan in mind. The basic premise of my next novel will be exactly that: what would happen if Georgiana’s near miss was not the secret Darcy wished it to be? From there, the changes ripple out in, what I hope, are some surprising ways. It’s scheduled for release the third week on October. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for it!