Idle, irresponsible, cunning and dissolute are all words that spring to mind when thinking of Mr Wickham. Even at the end of the story, he doesn’t lose that charm which initially won over the whole of Meryton, leaving with many ‘affectionate’ adieus as though his presence will be missed!
But before his true colours are revealed, he seems to have the makings of a romantic hero: a handsome stranger with happy manners, interesting conversation and the esteem of our beloved heroine. Are we not just as engaged by these as Elizabeth? Does he not set our hearts beating just a little faster with the thought of his ‘fine countenance…good figure, and very pleasing address’?
Adrian Lukis as Mr Wickham in 1995.
We might be taught not to be deceived by appearances but why err on the side of caution when our spirited and intelligent heroine spurs us on? Even if we do not always agree with her view of the world, we tend to lead where she follows; her convictions and opinions are so well, and so playfully, expressed that the reader can’t help but admire her!
So when Mr Wickham appears in Meryton, has that very awkward first meeting with Mr Darcy and proceeds to detail his side of the story to Elizabeth, are we not drawn in? Outraged by Mr Darcy’s disregard for his late father’s will? Saddened that Mr Wickham has been robbed of the livelihood to which he was entitled? And quietly confident that this is the man Elizabeth will eventually marry?
Rupert Friend as Mr Wickham in 2005.
Knowing the story in its entirety, it’s very unsettling to think how Mr Wickham deceives us all! Oh yes, Jane Austen is clever, and outsmarts us all. She allows, actually wants, us to think badly of Mr Darcy for the first half of the story to add weight to everything Mr Wickham says.
When he talks of Mr Darcy’s ‘high and imposing’ manners we recall that gentleman’s haughty reserve at the Meryton Assembly and the Lucas’ party. When Mr Wickham says Mr Darcy ‘hates him’, we remember that gentleman has a ‘resentful’ temper. No, it doesn’t look good for Mr Darcy; his nemesis takes the first blood and appears as his complete, and much more likeable, opposite.
Mr Wickham’s temperament, by his own admission, is ‘warm’; he has no wish to speak ill of Mr Darcy out of respect of his late father’s memory (no resentful temper on display here at least); and everything about Hertfordshire society pleases him – we know Mr Darcy doesn’t share that particular opinion!
So like Elizabeth, do we not pity Mr Wickham’s situation, and warm to him as a result?
There are warnings that all may not be as it seems such as Jane Austen’s reference to his ‘skill as a speaker’. This may allude to his manipulative nature but who would know at this point? All his positive attributes seem to be physical too so does that suggest there’s something darker lurking under the surface? Perhaps, but we’re not likely to notice these suggestions until at least the second read.
What we do learn is a good lesson in judging others too quickly; something Elizabeth has to learn too!
The big question I want to ask is: did you believe Mr Wickham on first reading Pride and Prejudice?
You can cast your vote below – and please don’t be afraid to be honest – my answer is ‘Yes’!