We all know that Jane Austen writes a really engaging multidimensional heroine. Are you Elizabeth- intelligent but proud? Or are you Emma- charming but clueless?
The leading ladies are all different and wonderful. Yeah, Jane Austen is the bomb.
But what about the leading men? Well, some of them are horrible– Edward I’m looking at you sunshine. But for the most part we seem to really like Darcy for Elizabeth and Mr Knightley for Emma. So why do we prefer these men over the Wickhams’?
In this blog post I wish to talk to you about Churchill, Elliot and Wickham and their connection to Knightley, Wentworth and Darcy respectfully. Looking at just one of these bad boys might just show us an awful lot about their heroic counterparts. And in more than one case, maybe the villain and the hero are too alike for comfort.
Yes, Frank Churchill is on this list even though I really love his character. I understand that he used pretty much everyone, but then why did I like him so much? Why do we all love this particular bad boy?
The answer is twofold. The first reason is that Frank Churchill is really good at talking. In fact, a lot of Austen’s villains are. Frank says things to please others instead of the truth. For example when he talks to Emma about Jane Fairfax. He is very friendly, if you are under his wing he treats you very charmingly, and because he is more vocal and outwardly spirited than Mr Knightley, Frank has a very handsome reputation.
The second reason why we do actually like Frank Churchill is that in the end, his behaviour is seen as juvenile instead of villainous. His motive is not villainous, he is just very careless along the way.
But all these things mean that Frank Churchill can be differentiated from Mr Knightley very easily.
Emma has a very strong inner voice that guides her, and her purpose in her society is to make decisions for other people, examples of this are of course her matchmaking and when she misreads people like Mr Elton. So when she comes up against a personality like Frank Churchill, she can act very differently to him than she would Mr Knightley.
But it does end up blowing up in her face when on their trip to Box Hill, Emma makes fun of someone who is beneath her social standing. And because the guiding force of Mr Knightley is there, we see her being punished for what she says. The difference between Frank and Mr Knightley is that to Emma, Frank is her partner in crime and Mr Knightley is her teacher. These two characters represent two different things, Frank is youth and Mr Knightley is superior for experience.
Now we move on to Mr Elliot, not Sir Elliot who is also a douche but, Mr Elliot. Mr Elliot also tells you exactly what you want to hear. He says everything agreeably and because Anne is very perceptive, this is exactly why she doesn’t trust him. But this doesn’t mean I didn’t trust him. Oh no no no. I was willing to put aside my better judgement, (my family’s expectations, the inferiority of your birth by rank and circumstance) all these things I was ready to dismiss! Even though Anne should be held as the light in everyone’s life. Shame on me.
Something quite interesting is that Jane Austen writes Frederick and Mr Elliot very similarly. Both have been away from the Elliot family for some time– admittedly Mr Elliot has been away marrying a rich heiress, and Frederick has been away in the wars making his own fortune, but both come back into Anne’s life very suddenly.
We know that both of them have deceived women, Mr Elliot led on Elizabeth, whilst Frederick has that mishap with Louisa. These things seem to happen very simultaneously in the novel Persuasion. So, you can kind of see why I was led on so much by Mr Elliot’s character if both Frederick and he are likened to one another.
So what is so different about these two characters? In one argument, you could say not much is different about them, the only one who is different is Anne. And as we know, these two characters mean completely different things to Anne.
But another argument, and frankly, the one I like better, is that there is something intrinsically different in these two men. And it is one huge thing, it has to do with a big theme in the novel.. Frederick. Is. Constant.
Now let’s talk about the wickedness of Wickham. For me he is the most villainous villain we see in an Austen novel. His intentions are purely evil. But more than any other hero and villain we are constantly comparing Darcy and Wickham. But why? It’s because these two men were very close in their upbringing. They could have both turned out to be equally as good natured, but they didn’t and so there must be something reasonably different in their characters.
Jane Austen says as much: “There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
It is true they are the anti-other, but for a long time in Pride and Prejudice we see that Elizabeth thinks that Darcy is a douche, and that Wickham is very agreeable, which is reinforced more so when Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy squandered him out of the living that he was intended. So, Wickham and Darcy’s relationship, and their differences, is what the whole plot is pivoted on.
Because of Wickham we have one of the greatest narratives ever written in literature. Thanks Wickham!
Something very interesting that Claire Tomalin said of Wickham, Claire Tomalin being the awesome scholar lady who wrote Jane Austen: A Life, is that Wickham is so villainous that it almost seems artificial. It is one of the very few drawbacks in the novel Pride and Prejudice.
She says that: “Wickham hesitates between possible brides and possible careers and shows himself to be more agreeable than reliable. His actions seem frivolous rather than steeped in cold hearted villainy.”
She also says: “There is a puzzling weakness in the way in which Darcy, a fastidious and educated man, accepts the many crude conversational manoeuvres of Bingley’s sisters.”
So is it odd that Darcy cannot tolerate Wickham, but will tolerate Bingley’s sisters? And that he tolerates Georgiana Darcy being in the company of them, but not of Wickham?
The answer is: yes of course. It is very odd, but in the end we see that Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth for her intelligence and wit and that she would be better company for Georgiana. And Elizabeth is attracted to Darcy for his
goodness of character (and his vast estate).
So there we are! Those are some of Austen’s best bad boys. All of them function so well in Jane Austen’s plots. Because of them we get to compare the heroes to the villains and what we end up with is a very well developed heroine who finds out the speciousness of men in militia uniforms.
Tell me who your favourite Austen bad boy is down in the comments. (Mine is Mr Elliot if you couldn’t tell). You can also chat with me over on my twitter, just click the link here and you will magically apparate there! I’m very friendly I promise; not at all as two-faced as these bad boys.