What do we learn about the character of George Wickham in chapters 15-18?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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We first get to meet George Wickham in chapter 15 of Jane Austen'sPride and Prejudice.He shows up with his friend, Denny, and at first we get an interesting impression of him, partly because he reunites quite interesting qualities: he is handsome, he wears a uniform, and he seems to be quite sociable.

His appearance was greatly in his favor; 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.

This all works for him because Wickham is a master of delusion. He uses his charm and looks to entice girls, preferably heiresses. However, the information that we get from him in chapter 16 presents us a Wickham who would be a young lady's dream come true; for not only is he handsome, but the story that he feeds the ladies makes him a "victim", in need of "salvation".

[Darcy's] behavior to myself has been scandalous, but I verily believe I could forgive him anything and everything rather than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the memory of his father.”

From this moment on, a very smitten Eizabeth begins to buy the story that Wickham tells about how Mr. Darcy, the son, actually has deprived him of assets that the elder Mr. Darcy promised Wickham upon his death. To the casual listener, Wickham has been viciously victimized by Darcy. Wickham's story-telling techniques are believable until the moment that we realize that they are not true stories after all. This, however, happens much later in the novel.

Yes; the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best living in his gift. He was my godfather, and excessively attached to me. I cannot do justice to his kindness. He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere.

Wickham's character gains color when Elizabeth misses him at the Netherfield ball and, after revealing to Darcy her partiality towards Wickham, she gets into a confrontation with Miss Bingley, who already seems to have an idea of Wickham's ways. Elizabeth defends Wickham, thinking that Miss Bingley's prejudice is more directed towards Wickham's father being a steward, than anything else.

His guilt and his descent appear, by your account, to be the same,” said Elizabeth, angrily; “for I have heard you accuse him of nothing worse than of being the son of Mr. Darcy's steward, and of that, I can assure, he informed me himself.”

So, adding together the impressions that Wickham's character cause when we first meet him, we can conclude that he comes across as a handsome victim of the unfair mega-rich aristocrats. However, we also know that this image begins to get jaded as early as chapter 18.


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