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Lydia in Pride and Prejudice: Character Analysis

The novel “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen is considered to be a masterpiece of classical literature that has gone a long way due to the vivid presentation of the conflicts and interaction of the characters of the protagonists, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. These characters have been the subjects of literary investigations of a great number of literary critics (Neil), (Wolloch), (Morrison), (Haggerty). However, it should be taken into account, that the disclosure of the protagonists’ characters is possible due to the assistance of other characters of the novel, for instance, the complex character of Elizabeth may be analyzed from the perspective of analysis of all five daughters of the Bennets. Lydia and Wickham are called “‘major’ minor characters in Pride and Prejudice” (Woloch 75). The opposition of intelligent and quick-witted Elizabeth and her distorted reflection of the younger sister is a masterful application of the authoress’ literary talent. The significance of the character of Lydia may be proved by the publication of “Lydia Bennet’s Story: Sequel to Pride and Prejudice”, where Odiwe suggests an alternative continuation of the captivating story of the youngest of the Bennets1. Though, her interpretation of Lydia’s character is far deeper than that presented by Austen, at the beginning of the novel Odiwe also states that “Lydia’s greatest desire in life was to be married before any of her sisters” (Odive 1). Thus, the character of Lydia is the presentation of the silly and hypocritical character of a woman caused by poor upbringing and misinterpretation of the values of life and natural shallowness.

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Lydia, along with other sisters, Mary, Jane, and Catherine, belong to the minor characters of the novel. The main technique that is used by the authors in the creation of the girls’ characters resemble of literary technique of grotesque. This may be proven by the author’s resorting to the depiction of only one or very few traits of characters of the girls in comparison with the complex and multidimensional character of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet. Jane However, the interrelation of the girls’ characters in the novel for a semblance of the net, where the ties between the sisters provide additional meaning to the general plot of the novel and the realization of the main ideas. Thus, the analysis of the relationship of other sisters with Lydia will contribute to the general disclosure of her character. Wolloch says that Lydia and Mary have nothing in common “except their minor positions within the novel” (75). He also states that the manner of description of the sisters is the same, it stresses their minor role in the novel with the help of “short, ironic descriptions” (Woloch 75). Austin states that Lydia “seldom listened to any body for more than half a minute, and never attended to Mary at all” (170). In comparison with Mary, the relationship between Lydia and Catherine are very significant. Catherine Bennet is the most insignificant character of the novel. Her presence in the novel may be explained by her necessity for the portrayal of two other characters: Elizabeth’s and Lydia’s. Woloch says that “there is no reason for Chatherine’s presence in the novel; she is an additional sister within the Bennet family but does not add anything to the novel’s semantic plane” (117). However, Catherine is important as she is the distorted reflection of Lydia. Austin says “Catherine, weak-spirited, irritable, and completely under the Lydia’s guidance, had been always affronted by her advice” (Austen 163). Using the portrayal of Catherine, Lydia’s ability to manipulate, intimidate, and oppress people is shown. Catherine bears resemblance to clay that may take any shape under the pressure, and this pressure is constantly exercised by her younger sister. The fact that fifteen-year-old Lydia is the idol to worship, envy, and copy by the elder seventeen-year-old Catherine is nothing but evidence for the strength of Lydia’s character. She is even described by the authoress as a “self-willed” person (Austen 163). As the result they “were ignorant, idle, and vain”, and this is the, evidently, the product of Lydia’s high authority. The revelation of Lydia’s character is partially exercised though the letters she sends “once she is settled amid all of the officers in Brighton”, and “her long letters to Kitty do not reveal much to her family”, directing the information to the reader directly (Devine 101). Nevertheless, in the development of the plot of the novel the shift of authority for Catherine may be observed from Lydia’s pale imitation to the cooperation with Elizabeth and Jane. This shows that the essence and the ground of Lydia’s authority are wrong, that even a primitive amoeba-like sister eventually finds other authorities to follow.

The most picturesque is the opposition of Lydia and Elizabeth. Here the author makes use of the above-mentioned grotesque application, the satire and sarcasm of the novel are built of the opposition of the characters. “Love transforms Elizabeth and Darcy, and creates a marriage of faith and desire” but the marriage of Wickham and Lydia is “the marriage of hollowness and indifference” built based on hypocrisy and desire to get profit (Morrison 88). Just as the character of Catherine serves for the disclosure of Lydia’s character, Lydia enforces the positive traits of character of Elizabeth based on her weak points and shallowness. In its turn, hypocrisy as the chief trait of the character of Lydia is shown in its full force due to the absolute absence of this quality in the protagonist’s character. This may be shown by a great number of episodes, for instance in the first talk of Elizabeth and Lady Catherine, when Elizabeth openly reveals that she is a rotten pianist, or in their final talk about Darcy (Austen 127, 271). Still, no matter how different the personalities of two sisters maybe, among the words that characterize Lydia: “untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless” at least two, “untamed” and “fearless” may be also applied to the character of Elizabeth. Auerbach also stresses the “parallels between Elizabeth and Lydia”, saying that both of them were “attracted to the same seemingly charming man: Capitan Wickham” (138). Thus, the opposition seems not absolute and unshakable; it is just the innate qualities of intelligence and stupidity that make the main difference between the girls.

However, no matter how shallow and silly Lydia might be, she could not be entirely blamed for being a stupid hypocritical little thing. The person who is guilty of the irreparable deformation of the girl’s character is her mother, Mrs. Bennet. Lydia is “a shallow materialist” but she is made by her mother (Morrison 89). The thing of crucial importance is that the youngest girl is “a favourite with her mother”, this is why Lydia was “brought … into public at an early age” (Austen 33). Thus, Mrs. Bennet has brought up the monster by herself due to improper methods of upbringing and false goals set by her before the girls. Mrs. Bennet would have been stupefied by the fact that Bottomer’s diagnosis for Lydia’s behavior was “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (57). Mrs. Bennet’s blind desire to get rid of all the daughters playing it roughly was even mentioned by Lady Catherine who was outraged by the fact that all five daughters were out simultaneously (Austen 127). On the one hand, the mother may be justified by the positive intentions of meaning well by her children, however, unnecessary and hyperbolized desire to marry the girls as soon as possible spoilt not only the mother’s relationship with Elizabeth, not had also deformed Lydia’s view of life and the main values of life. This is the mother, who fostered the development of all-natural negative qualities of Lydia instead of the eradication of them.

However, “Lydia has been already demarcated as the most disadvantaged sister within the competition for marriageable men, because she is the youngest” (Wolloch 76). This shows the guilty of the moral primitiveness of the character on a larger scale. Georgian society where women had access to knowledge and education but were still subjected to the “husband-chase” and finding of a perfect match, is mainly guilty of Lydia’s conduct and lifestyle. Thus, the hypocrisy of society together with the hypocrisy of the mother, beget the highest possible stage of arrogance and hypocrisy of Lydia.

Lydia’s elopement and the subsequent wedding appear to be the utter presentation of hypocrisy on her part. It would be hard to find a more suitable and eloquent statement than that of Auerbach’s: “Not only her [Lydia’s] head but also her heart seemed vacant” (140). She is presented as an immature, silly, self-centered flirt who ignores the fact that her wild freak of elopement could be “an utter disaster for the entire family, from a nineteenth-century perspective” (Haggerty 78). The breach of reputation could have made all the sisters hopeless spinsters but it is not in Lydia’s nature to think about anyone else, because she cannot even think of the consequences of the deed for herself. Gottschall and Wilson state that by her escape Lydia lowers the social standing of the whole family even further, and there is an evident possibility that by an inevitable progression Lydia would be abandoned by her beloved and would “come on the town”, “living as a prostitute and in all likelihood dying early of disease and abuse” (99). Luckily, Lydia managed to avoid this sad situation solely due to Darcy’s contribution. The culmination of Lydia’s hypocrisy may be observed when she comes to her home alone with her shameless and mercenary beloved after their wedding. The fact that “she behaves very arrogantly and looks down on Jane and Elizabeth” is the eloquent characterization of her poor personality (Schmidt 10). Finally, her cherished dream has come true; she got married earlier than all other sisters. Now she is enjoying her “superiority” and she believes that she is worth more than the sisters and Lydia is eager to hear “herself called Mrs. Wickham by each of” the neighbors. Lydia “boast[s] of being married, to Mrs. Hill and the two housemaids” (Austen 241). She is searching such primitive people as she is herself as it may be possible to convince them of her victory. However, Mrs. Bennet, though realizing the true nature of things, is still satisfied by her favorite daughter who has managed to marry before the elder sisters (Schmidt 10).

Lydia’s happiness and pride caused by the fact that “she has married a profligate2 man who stays with her only because he is paid to do so” is the result of her inner poverty, primitive desires, and bad upbringing (Auerbach 140). The character of Lydia Bennet is employed by Jane Austen to show “the danger of a young woman having no moral principles, no conscience, and no belief of in a higher power” (Auerbach 140). The hypocrisy is the main means of the character’s conduct, it is the essence of her personality, it is the main weapon and the secret of the charm of Lydia Bennet.

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Notes

  1. Jane Odiwe offers her vision of the events after the end of the story created by Jane Austen. In her version, Lydia is reunited with the family after the discovery of the rotten nature of her beloved.
  2. Wickham is involved in the net of debt as the result of his excessive extravagance.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Emily. Searching for Jane Austen. Madison, Wisc.: Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2004.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. James Kinsley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Bottomer, Phyllis Ferguson. So Odd a Mixture: Along the Autistic Spectrum in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007.

Devine, Jodi A. “Letters and Their Role in Revealing Class and Personal Identity in Pride and Prejudice.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal (2005): 99-105.

Gottschall, Jonathan and David Sloan Wilson. The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative. USA: Northwestern University Press, 2005.

Haggerty, Andrew. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2008.

Morrison, Robert. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: a Sourcebook. NY: Routledge, 2005.

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Neil, Edward. The Politics of Jane Austen. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.

Odiwe, Jane. Lydia Bennet’s Story: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2008.

Schmidt, Katrin. The Role of Marriage in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Berlin: GRIN Verlag, 2008.

Woloch, Alex. The One vs. Many: Minor Character and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 7). Lydia in Pride and Prejudice: Character Analysis. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/lydia-in-pride-and-prejudice-character-analysis/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 7). Lydia in Pride and Prejudice: Character Analysis. https://studycorgi.com/lydia-in-pride-and-prejudice-character-analysis/

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1. StudyCorgi. "Lydia in Pride and Prejudice: Character Analysis." November 7, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/lydia-in-pride-and-prejudice-character-analysis/.


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