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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Wickham first comes on the scene as the most attractive man Elizabeth has ever met. When he pays attention to her, she is too flattered to be suspicious of how much he is confiding in someone he hardly knows. He tells her about growing up on the Darcy estate, where his father was Darcy's father's steward. He claims that after Darcy's father's death, Darcy refused to provide for him as the elder Darcy had wished. Considering how Elizabeth already feels about Darcy, she is all too ready to believe and sympathize with Wickham. Like most people, she is eager to like and think the best of someone who shows that he likes her, no matter what her judgment might otherwise tell her. She is so prejudiced-against Darcy and in Wickham's favor-that she doesn't doubt Wickham's story for a moment. In fact, however, Wickham is the only real villain in the novel. He is a gambler and fortune hunter, forever in debt and forever seeking to marry a girl with money. As Elizabeth later learns, he once tried to elope with Darcy's sister, an heiress. When he runs away with Elizabeth's sister Lydia, he is in fact running away to escape his debts, and he lets Lydia come along-not because he cares for her, but because she wants to go with him and he doesn't mind having a female companion.

As you read the novel, ask yourself to what degree Wickham's character is the result of his position in society. As an estate steward's son, he was only a little higher in social rank than a farmer, but Darcy's father was fond of him and gave him the education of a gentleman. This raised his expectations and gave him a taste for high living. He tells Elizabeth that Darcy was jealous of his father's affection for him. In fact, Wickham has always been-understandably-jealous of Darcy, who was born to wealth and status. Of course Wickham could have made a life for himself as a clergyman, which was the future that Darcy's father foresaw for him, or in the army, which would have been more to his own taste. But his appetite for pleasure and excitement, so much like Lydia's, makes it certain that he will never behave in a mature, responsible way.

NOTE: By running off with Lydia, Wickham seems at first to have destroyed all hope of happiness for both Jane and Elizabeth. In the end, though, his behavior actually helps bring both pairs of lovers together-thanks to Jane Austen's skill with characters and plot.


Mr. Bennet's cousin and heir to the Longbourn estate is one of Jane Austen's great comic creations. He is an example of how she expressed her criticisms of society through humor. Mr. Collins is pompous, pretentious, and obviously hypocritical in his moral judgments; and he takes every opportunity to flatter and win the approval of his social superiors. He comes to Longbourn in search of a wife, a well-meaning attempt to compensate the Bennets by keeping the estate in the family. But of course Elizabeth won't have him, so he sneaks off across the fields to Lucas Lodge to try for Charlotte, who needs no coaxing to accept him. As you will see, Collins's meddling in the Bennet family's affairs is not only a source of comedy; it also-ironically-helps to bring Elizabeth and Darcy together.


Elizabeth's best friend is intelligent but plain. Like Elizabeth and Jane, she has no fortune of her own; unlike them, she has little chance of attracting a husband of her own choosing. Charlotte shocks Elizabeth by accepting a proposal of marriage from the ridiculous Mr. Collins. Marriage to this foolish, pompous man cannot promise companionship-let alone love-but it does promise security, and that is enough for Charlotte. In her opinion, happiness in marriage is all a matter of chance. In the character of Charlotte, Jane Austen gives us a picture of the reality that the ordinary young woman of her class had to face. While Jane with her beauty and Elizabeth with her wit and charm might win a good man's love, a plain, sensible girl like Charlotte could only try to achieve security and perhaps some comfort in a home of her own.


Darcy's aunt and Mr. Collins's patron, is another of Austen's comic creations. She is a bossy woman who considers it her duty to look into people's affairs and tell them how to manage their lives. She visits Elizabeth for the sole purpose of getting her to promise not to marry Mr. Darcy. In the end, though, her interference-and her report to Darcy of Elizabeth's response to it-give Darcy the courage to propose again.


Elizabeth's uncle and aunt, are Jane Austen's answer to the snobs she makes fun of in the novel. Mr. Gardiner is "in trade" and the Gardiner home is in an unfashionable part of London. But the Gardiner's are as well bred as the born gentry and have better manners than some titled folk-for example Darcy's own aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Edward Gardiner is Mrs. Bennet's brother, but he is nothing like her. He is a sensible, dignified, and responsible gentleman. His wife is fashionable in a quiet way, and a loving adviser to Elizabeth and Jane. The Gardiners bring Elizabeth and Darcy together by chance, and Darcy's politeness to her uncle and aunt lets Elizabeth know that he still cares for her and that he realizes not all of her family are like her mother and younger sisters. The Gardiners are the ones to whom Darcy turns for help in rescuing Lydia, and it is from Mrs. Gardiner that Elizabeth finally learns of Darcy's generosity on behalf of her family.



Lady Catherine's daughter.


Darcy's sister.


Charlotte Lucas's parents.


Mrs. Bennet's sister and brother-in-law.


Bingley's married sister and her husband.

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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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