I’ve been learning some surprising things from rewriting scenes from Pride & Prejudice from a different point of view for the P&P200 project, where a group of us are following the course of Pride & Prejudice in real time exactly 200 years after the events of the book. Here’s one example of something I see differently now.
The plot of Pride & Prejudice relies on many coincidences. It’s coincidence that Darcy and Elizabeth meet three times in three different counties in less than a year. There seem to be a lot of coincidences about George Wickham as well. Wickham happens to show up in Meryton, then he chooses Elizabeth and no one else to confide in, then he elopes with Elizabeth’s sister as opposed to any other woman, just at the precise time that Elizabeth would be able to tell Darcy about it. Hmm. That’s a lot of coincidences.
On top of that, I’ve always wondered why Wickham would choose Elizabeth of all the Bennet sisters to favor with his attentions. He seems to like women who are compliant, preferably with money, yet he picks Elizabeth, who is not as beautiful as Jane, nor as flirtatious as Lydia, and who has no money. He doesn’t seem the sort of fellow who would like a woman who challenges and teases him, yet he still chooses Elizabeth. Why?
Working on P&P200 made me realize it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Rewriting scenes from the point of view of another character forces me to break down scenes line by line to figure out the precise action. Often Jane Austen doesn’t give us any stage directions for a scene, but for Wickham’s first appearance, she gives us incredible detail, so she must have thought that scene through very carefully. Let’s break it down together.
Elizabeth, her sisters and Mr. Collins are walking down the street when they spot Denny and Wickham coming the other direction. Kitty and Lydia want to meet this new handsome fellow, so under the pretense of wanting something from a shop, they lead the others across the street. They have just reached the pavement where they encounter Denny and Wickham who have now changed direction and are coming back – an extraordinarily detailed and unnecessary stage direction, but when you play it out, it means Denny and Wickham are now facing in the direction that they will see someone riding from Netherfield in the direction of Longbourn. Darcy and Bingley ride down the street on their way to Longbourn and distinguish “the ladies of the group.” They come forward, Bingley converses with Jane, and Darcy corroborates with a bow. Then Darcy, who would have been missing Elizabeth’s presence at Netherfield, “was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth,” so one can assume that until that point his eyes were in fact fixed on her. Presumably he’s paying no attention to the men in ordinary dress, but when he looks away from Elizabeth as part of his determination not to look at her, he notices Wickham.
Now let’s take the same scene from Wickham’s point of view. He is being introduced to some pretty ladies when Darcy and some other fellow ride up to the group, and Darcy’s gaze is fixed on one of the ladies. Wickham would notice Darcy’s presence right away. Observant and enterprising fellow that he is, he would also notice who Darcy happens to be staring at in his lovestruck way. Wickham knows Darcy very well, much better than Charlotte Lucas who is able to recognize Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth. Would he not see it as well, and perceive both a danger and an opportunity there?
The very next time Wickham sees Elizabeth, he singles her out and asks her “hesitatingly” about her acquaintance with Darcy. She doesn’t mince words in her reply. What an opportunity for Wickham – he can pour his poison into the ear of the woman Darcy wants for himself, and then he’s going to charm her to boot. He’d derive a lot of pleasure from making Darcy’s love interest fall in love with him instead.
After Elizabeth returns from Kent, she tells Wickham in late May that she and Darcy became better acquainted at Rosings and that she has changed her mind about him, and she is openly amused when he refers to Darcy’s supposed engagement to Anne de Bourgh. Wouldn’t Wickham, knowing of Darcy’s past interest in Elizabeth, assume that their relationship might now be romantic? Fast forward to Brighton, where Wickham out of the blue starts romancing Lydia, in whom he has never shown interest before. Is it because she’s easy or because he sees her as Darcy’s potential sister-in-law, and therefore a source of both revenge and money? Suppose, then, that Lydia happens to mention to him in late June the news that Lizzy, who was supposed to go to the Lakes, is going to Derbyshire instead. Why would Elizabeth unexpectedly be going to Derbyshire, and to a village not five miles from Pemberley? Well, duh! Wickham sees opportunity knocking, and he elopes with Lydia just over a month later on August 1. Pretty fast work on his part, I must say.
It seems likely, broken down that way, that Wickham actively targeted Elizabeth and later Lydia as a means of revenge on Darcy. So that’s the kind of thing I’m learning from working on P&P200. What do you think?