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The True Tragedy of Mr Wickham

A Character Study

By Natasja RosePublished 21 days ago 3 min read
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The True Tragedy of Mr Wickham
Photo by Elaine Howlin on Unsplash

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Wickham's story genuinely is a tragic one, but it's a tragedy of his own making.

George Wickham had every advantage in life, far above his station. Honestly, he was given significantly above even what might be expected to be given to the godchild of a gentleman. All he had to do, in order to be set for life, was put in a bit of hard work, and then avoid running up debts beyond his income.

The Godson of a wealthy gentleman might expect some favours from the connection, but what Wickham received from childhood onward was as much as most younger sons of the Gentry, and more than some!

(Younger sons bound for the Navy often only received what education they could get in the schoolroom, before being sent off on a ship with their commission, especially if they had multiple older brothers being university educated.)

Sharing schoolroom lessons with Young Master Darcy rather than attending the Parish School or learning from his father might be expected for a Gentleman's Godson, followed by either learning his father's trade or being gifted the cost of an apprenticeship. Remember, Mr Wickham is the son of Pemberley's Steward; very much a (Light)Blue-Collar trade.

The expense of a University education for a non-Legacy is considerable, as were the connections Wickham could have made there. There is a reason that attending Oxford or Cambridge was the mark of a Gentleman, and why so many wealthy Tradesmen were willing to pay for their heirs to attend.

With an inheritance of 1,000 pounds and a valuable living worth hundreds of pounds per year - Kympton was never given a set amount, but Jane Austen's father had a living worth 700 pounds per year; the income of some smaller estates and nearly triple what a single gentleman required to live in comfort - all Mr Wickham needed to do was pass the exams needed to qualify as a clergyman, then hire a curate to do all the actual work while he lived off the income.

Or charmed other landowners into additional livings. Some clergymen were the recipients of multiple livings, either living at one or travelling between them, while a curate handled the day-to-day affairs. Once given, a living couldn't be revoked unless the holder retired; Wickham's charm is almost certainly sufficient to gain favour long enough for such a gift to be bestowed. Whether the favour lasted much beyond the gifting is up for debate...

Having received a Gentleman's education, Wickham would have already been taught Latin and probably Greek, as well as History, Philosophy, and a number of other subjects. He had a gift with words that would allow him to write a sermon. All he'd need is a few popular biblical quotes and to be able to answer questions on religious theory (which he could probably bullsh*t his way through with enough charm and a strong argument), and he's set.

Would Wickham have been an absolute disaster as a Parson and probably only showed up to dip his sticky fingers into the Poor Box? Probably. He'd still be living on Easy Street.

By Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash

Even Wickham's marriage to Lydia - decidedly not a fate to be envied! - is his own fault.

If he'd kept it to light flirting while she was in Brighton, they'd have parted ways when Lydia eventually went back to Longbourn with no-one the wiser. She might have learned something about believing a Charmer's promises, he'd be free to go on to his next conquest.

Instead, he saw ruining Lydia as a way to hurt Mr Darcy, by rendering the woman he loved all but un-marriageable (a young lady's ruin extended to her unmarried sisters - if Lydia remained ruined, any chance of an non-scandalous marriage to Elizabeth is shot). He ran away with her, promising marriage, a promise that Lydia put in writing to her sister.

It's hinted in the text that Wickham had been the ruin of more than one young lady, beyond Georgiana and Lydia. From what we know of Wickham's character, it's probably true.

It's just unfortunate for him that Mr Darcy holds enough of Wickham's debts to see him in Newgate or Debtor's prison for life, and doesn't care enough about Lydia to try harder to talk her out of her determination to marry Wickham.

Mr George Wickham: A Tale of (Entirely Self-Inflicted) Woe.

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About the Creator

Natasja Rose

I've been writing since I learned how, but those have been lost and will never see daylight (I hope).

I'm an Indie Author, with 30+ books published.

I live in Sydney, Australia

Follow me on Facebook or Medium if you like my work!

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Comments (2)

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  • Phil Flannery20 days ago

    There has to be a fool, a villain and a hero/heroine. This story has them all. Jane Austen created the cad brilliantly in Wickham, she maybe had to stretch reality a little to make us hate him enough.

  • Ah, Wickham--both wicked & a ham. (Or is that "a pig"?) Sound analysis & reasoning.

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