Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reader Question #14: Willoughby vs Wickham

It's that time of week again! This is another Reader Question from Charity from Austenitis. Charity asked:
What are the similarities and differences between Willoughby and Wickham?

Ah yes, two of my least favorite characters in all of classic literature/period dramas. When I look at both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility in general, I can recognize a lot of similarities between the two: for example, what happens to Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters when her husband dies is essentially what would happen to Mrs. Bennet and her daughters if Mr. Bennet died without any of the daughters married. But pertaining to this reader question, another one of the similarities in the two stories is the villains. Both Wickham and Willoughby are very similar characters. They do have some differences, but the similarities are striking.

Lydia Wickham
1. Both Misuse Ignorant, Young Women
Eliza Williams and Lydia Bennet... Two young women roughly the same age that are taken advantage of by dishonorable men. Granted, Eliza Williams is more sympathetic than Lydia Bennet since she was abandoned by Willoughby when she was with child, but I think if the situation with Lydia and Wickham had gone on much longer, Lydia may have found herself in the same situation as Eliza. Of course, we don't really know Eliza as much as Lydia. Could it be possible that she was a flirt like Lydia? Maybe. Or maybe, like Kitty Bennet, she was a good person but under the influence of a determined flirt.

Lizzy begins to see past Wickham's mask
2. They Wear a "Mask" Before Everyone Finds Who They Truly Are
Everyone loved Wickham and Willoughby when they first knew them. The people that knew them thought that they were charming and pleasant young men that they would be happy to see their daughters wed to them. Hey, even when they would spin stories about the honorable men that they didn't like (like Mr. Darcy and Colonel Brandon), they were even believed. But once everyone finds out about their true character, they are severely disliked. Willoughby was married to the rich Miss Grey, but everyone knew what he did to Marianne and wished that Miss Grey would plague his heart out. And everyone knew what happened with Lydia and Wickham, so neither of them were liked very much in the end (and Lady Catherine even used this against Elizabeth when she was trying to convince Elizabeth not to marry Mr. Darcy).

3. Both Get Punished For Their Sins
Wickham ends up marrying Lydia, but they soon grew indifferent to each other. Willoughby is rich, but he is married to a woman he doesn't love and the woman he loved? She married a far more deserving man. Why did these misfortunes happen to them? Because of their misdeeds. If they hadn't behaved and acted the way that they did, both Wickham and Willoughby could have had a happier ending.

But even with all these similarities, there are still enough differences between the two villains that might cause some to dislike one more than the other.

Willoughby's Confession from the 2008 adaptation of Sense
and Sensibility
1. Willoughby Shows Remorse
By the end of Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby realizes that he not only could have married Marianne and have his inheritance when his wealthy aunt died, but that he is also married to a woman that he doesn't love. He admitted that he wrote the "break-up" letter to Marianne only because his wife (then fiancee) made him. He realizes his wrong, but it is too late. Wickham, on the other hand, shows no remorse when he visits the Bennets after his marriage to Lydia. He (as well as Lydia) pretend that they did everything right and that there was no scandal in their marriage and they expected to be treated as such. (Though Mrs. Bennet was the only one to give them that treatment; Mr. Bennet and the four other Bennet girls were not pleased at all). In some ways, there is some hope for Willoughby to redeem himself if his story was continued, but for Wickham it is highly unlikely he would ever show remorse.

2. Willoughby Can be More Sympathetic
Though, truth be told, even by the end I still have no sympathy for Willoughby. The way I see it, he was the author of his own misery: it's pretty much his fault that he got himself in the situation he was in. However, because he cared enough about Marianne to visit her when she fell ill and because he explained more about his past, the reader or viewer can feel some sympathy towards Willoughby. Wickham, on the other hand, is simply selfish and didn't really love either Georgiana Darcy or Lydia Bennet.

The New Mr. and Mrs. Wickham
3. Wickham Was Never Out for Love
Was Wickham ever in love in the whole course of Pride and Prejudice? Nope, can't say that he was. He only wanted to marry Georgiana to get her fortune. He got himself involved with Lydia, but had to be bribed by Mr. Darcy to marry her because she was not rich. And, let's face it, if Mr. Darcy hadn't bribed him, he would have abandoned Lydia to marry a wealthy lady (sound like Willoughby and Eliza Williams much?). While Willoughby never intended to fall in love with Marianne, he did love her, which is probably why he is more sympathetic because he had that love.

So that is my break down on how Willoughby and Wickham are similar and different. Feel free to comment any others that you can think of in the comment section below!

Thank you, Charity, for sending in your question. If you have a question you would like to submit for me to do a post on, leave a comment. Just follow these guidelines. It can be about anything related to this blog: period dramas, blogging, reviews, etc.  

 God Bless,
God Bless, Miss Elizabeth Bennet


  1. Interesting post and convincing arguments all! Don't you think Wickham was maybe (on the way to) falling in love with Elizabeth?

    1. Interesting point... I might use this as a Reader Question if you don't mind.

  2. Could it be possible that she was a flirt like Lydia? Maybe. Or maybe, like Kitty Bennet, she was a good person but under the influence of a determined flirt.

    Or perhaps Eliza Williams as never a flirt and simply a young woman, whose naivety Willoughby managed to exploit.


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