*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
There much to be said about someone with an easy charm, a warm smile and an outgoing demeanor. Most people would say that this person is a likable person whom they might want to spend more time with. Jane Austen was convinced that these people are not what they seem to be and should not be trusted.
As a writer, Jane Austen was known for her bad boys. Her most famous bad boy is George Wickham. Mr. Wickham is introduced to the reader in Pride and Prejudice early on in the book. Wearing an easy smile and looking good in his military uniform, Mr. Wickham catches the eye of the Bennet sisters. Elizabeth is still burning after Darcy’s diss and is all too eager to learn how Darcy ruined Wickham’s life.
If there is one thing George Wickham knows how to do well, it is to tell a sob story where he is the victim.
But looks are deceiving….
In the end, Wickham is revealed to be a ruthless cad who nearly married Georgiana Darcy (who was 15 at the time) for her fortune and is paid to marry Lydia Bennet (who is the same age as Georgiana) after she runs away with him.
From a writing perspective, especially writing romance, Jane Austen knew what she was doing. Each her books contain a similar narrative: a young woman of marriageable age who has the potential to marry one of two men: one of the men appears to put all of their cards on the table, the other keeps his cards to himself, at least in the beginning of the novel. Highly suspicious of people with just a little too much charm, Austen created her bad boys with a warning label: they may have a warm smile and an easy demeanor, but in the end, it will not end well.
To sum it up: Appearances can be deceiving. Jane Austen knew this all too well. In creating Mr. Wickham, she created a character that would not only deceive the audience, but also the other characters. Similar to a magician’s sleight of hand, while the reader (and Elizabeth by extension) was falling for Mr. Wickham’s charming smile and relaxing manner, they were not questioning if the stories he was telling matched reality. When the rug is pulled up and Mr. Wickham’s true nature is revealed, it is a shock that has sent jaws dropping to the floor for more than 200 years. That is the genius of Jane Austen and that is one of the reasons why readers keep going back to Pride and Prejudice again and again.