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.
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?
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.