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|Wickham’s charms and Darcy’s failures (Long)
Written by Robbin
(5/10/2007 8:13 p.m.)
But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance, walking with an officer on the other side of the way. (Chapter 15)
There have been several discussions on why Lizzy does not recognize Darcy’s change of behavior so I have been thinking about it a great deal. I think Wickham’s entrance into Meryton society and how he is accepted can be used to illustrate that Darcy’s behavior at the assembly was not just stupid but wrong and it had an effect beyond that evening. In Chapter 15 Lizzy, like her sisters was interested in Wickham as soon as she saw him. It reminded me that everyone was impressed by Darcy at first too and how his behavior revealed his distain for others and turned the tide of opinion against him. A part of Wickham’s charm is that he appears to be the exact opposite of Darcy. Look at these two descriptions if you will:
The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley…Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and every body hoped that he would never come there again. (Chapter 3)
His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. The introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of conversation -- a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming; and the whole party were still standing and talking together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their notice… (Chapter 15)
Wickham projects the mien of a gentleman and soon makes good on it by behaving like a gentleman unlike Darcy who appeared to be a gentleman of the finest caliber but soon belied that image by his words and actions. Where Darcy was unwilling to meet with people and give attention Wickham is more than willing but that is not all. Wickham goes out of his way to compliment Meryton society whereas Darcy only despised it. I realize the following citation indicating Darcy’s judgment of Meryton society is not specifically said at the assembly but his behavior broadcasted it to everyone in attendance:
Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. (Chapter 4)
Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics, Meryton, the neighbourhood, the society, appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter especially with gentle but very intelligible gallantry…"It was the prospect of constant society, and good society," he added, "which was my chief inducement to enter the -- -- shire. (Chapter 16)
Wickham’s behavior is able to soothe over every injury which Darcy heaped upon Meryton society and upon Lizzy herself. Darcy refused to be introduced to Lizzy and deemed her unworthy of attention on all counts and reinforced this at subsequent meetings by looking at her only to criticize (which she is aware of in Chapter 6) and silently eavesdropping on her leaving his behavior to be interpreted as no more than satirical—he looks to criticize but perhaps to despise also. By the time Darcy decides to be a little attentive to Lizzy the image he has created is solid and his attentions are suspect since his general behavior to other people has not changed at all. It is not a wonder to me that Lizzy should think he continues to single her out for criticism. On the other hand, at the Phillips’ card party in Chapter 16, Wickham seeks Lizzy out twice for conversation making “her feel that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker.” Not only is he pleasantly attentive and entertaining but he gratifies her curiosity and taps into her sympathies.
"Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeable man Sir William is, Mr. Bingley -- is not he? so much the man of fashion! so genteel and so easy! -- He has always something to say to everybody. -- That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important, and never open their mouths, quite mistake the matter." (Chapter 9)
I think the importance of a gentleman being both attentive and pleasing in manner cannot be undervalued when looking at how Darcy and Wickham are judged by Lizzy and all of Meryton. Darcy’s failure to act appropriately is addressed several times in the chapters so far. Darcy was above his company in Chapter 3 and Lizzy ponders his silent eavesdropping and feels he is up to no good in Chapter 6. Mrs. Bennet’s comment in Chapter 9 is both imbued by her shallowness and the a subtle truth that Darcy’s behavior has fallen short of what is expected of a gentleman and again in Chapter 10 Lizzy wonders why he stares at her. With no hint of explanation from Darcy she still assumes he looks only to criticize. Finally to push the point home, Darcy ignores Lizzy her last day at Netherfield, barely ten words to her hardly comprise gentlemanlike behavior. Whether Lizzy is offended or relieved by his behavior is immaterial because it once again enforces that Darcy is a gentleman by birth but not always by manner.
The gentlemen did approach, and when Mr. Wickham walked into the room, Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him before, nor thinking of him since, with the smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. The officers of the -- -- shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but Mr. Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk, as they were superior to the broad-faced, stuffy uncle Philips, breathing port wine, who followed them into the room. (Chapter 16)
I think learning that Darcy and Wickham were raised in the same environment under the same care of the kind Mr. Darcy leads Lizzy to conclude Darcy’s failures to act like a gentleman are indications of a bad character and Wickham’s fulfillment of his gentlemanlike obligations are indications of his good character. Darcy’s ungentlemanlike behavior paves the way for Lizzy to believe Wickham’s story and leaves him open to accusations of worse offenses than refusing to dance when gentlemen were scarce. I think there is a lot more than infatuation with a charming man behind Lizzy’s declaration in Chapter 17 of “Besides, there was truth in his looks.” ;D
Any thoughts? ;D
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