Category Archives: Lydia Bennet

Damsel in distress

I recently read a description of Mr. Darcy as a rescuer, and that gave me a little pause. Since he wants no notice of his heroic deeds, it is easy to underestimate this part of his personality. But he does seem to be a rescuer, and usually unbidden.

He rescues Georgiana’s virtue from the clutches of Wickham and rescues the Bennet’s reputation and respectability by forcing Wickham to marry Lydia. In both cases, he is unbidden but very welcomed.

There are a lot of positive personality traits associated with someone who comes to the aid of others. Loyalty. Selflessness. Generosity. Responsibility. Tolerance. Darcy has many of these traits (perhaps tolerance to a lesser degree, though), and that is why he is so appealing to Elizabeth and to readers.

Yet, he also “rescues” Bingley from association with Jane and the Bennet family by whisking him off to London. In this case, his interference is both unbidden and unappreciated by Bingley (although Caroline appreciates it to a great degree!).

But there can also be downsides to rescuing personality. It could be construed as, “you need me,” or “I know what’s best for you.” These modern psychological concepts are a little difficult to apply to Regency England, where being both male and wealthy inherently gives you power and dominion over others. Nonetheless, I think these elements are interesting traits in Darcy’s personality.

Does a person like Darcy who rescues others feel burdened? Get exhausted from exerting so much energy for others? Become resentful that no one else can behave responsibly?

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Money changes everything

Cyndi Lauper surmised that money changes everything. In Regency England, I’d say that money IS everything in the dating world. Almost 200 years later, I’d say that is probably still the case.  At least Regency England was straightfoward about their obsession with a persons’ financial status.

Almost all the relationships in Pride and Prejudice have a financial element. It is common knowledge how much yearly income Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy earn, and the size of Georgiana Darcy’s inheritance. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have the entail of Longbourn to worry about. Caroline Bingley is a social climber who ridicules anyone she considers of lower wealth and prestige. Lady Catherine has a compulsive need to show everyone how wealthy she is. Charlotte marries Mr. Collins for financial stability. Mr. Wickham pursues Miss King for her inheritance, and only marries Lydia when Mr. Darcy offers him a financial settlement. Financial situations are common knowledge and in the open.

And yet, money plays a much smaller role in the relationships that Jane Austen holds up as most admirable. Mr. Darcy’s wealth is, of course, well known, but neither of them speak directly of money as reasons for their marriage. Indeed, Elizabeth turns down his first proposal despite the material comfort it would provide for her and her entire family. Even Jane is relatively low key about Mr. Bingley’s wealth.

Jane Austen’s most admirable characters don’t discount the importance of wealth and financial security. But, at the same time, they don’t hold it to be the sole and most important component of life and love.

 

A good sense of humor

In today’s world of dating and romance, a good sense of humor is considered highly desirable. It wasn’t necessarily the same two hundred years ago. Manners, matrimony and class structure were all serious business.

Therefore, laughter was not held in very high regard. Wit and humor were seen as flights of folly. There are several very interesting scenes of laughter in Pride and Prejudice, and in most cases they point to a personality flaw. 

Lydia laughs at the surprise her family will feel when they hear of her running off with Wickham. When she thinks of signing her name as Lydia Wickham, she says, “What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing.” Mr. Bennet’s disdain comes to mind when he says, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst laugh heartily at the society in Meryton and the Gardiners residing in Cheapside, but it is a laughter of condescension and spite.

But Lizzy’s love of a good laugh is depicted much differently. She is as quick to laugh at herself, and her good humor highlights the liveliness of her mind and the fineness of her eyes. Mr. Darcy in particular is drawn to her laughter, as it indicates an intimacy with her that he craves. “Her lively, sportive manner of talking” and “open pleasantry” demonstrates her deep affection.

 

What happens in Brighton…

I just saw an ad for the new Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz movie, called “What Happens in Vegas.” In the movie, their characters get hitched in Las Vegas after a night of drunken debauchery. One of them wins a $3 million jackpot using the other’s quarter, and hilarity ensues as the newlyweds try to undermine each other and get away with the cash.

Naturally, my mind wandered to Mr. Wickham and Lydia Bennet. Today, people who marry impulsively in Vegas can brush it under the carpet with an annulment and a shrug of the shoulders. In fact, the Las Vegas tourism industry has capitalized on this theme, with their popular “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” ads. Unfortunately for the Bennet family, couples who eloped to Gretna Green weren’t able to keep things as hushed up.

The entire Bennet family would be ruined by Lydia’s impulsively living with Wickham in London. Lizzy recognized this reality immediately upon receiving Jane’s letter. She thought it “improbable” that she and Mr. Darcy “should ever see each other again on such terms of cordiality,” due to the humiliation of Lydia’s affair. Jane and Elizabeth could be secure respectable husbands with such a sister. Indeed, Mr. Collins says it would be better if Lydia had died.

I guess what happens in Brighton doesn’t stay in Brighton.