Character Foil between Darcy and Wickham in the Novel Pride and Prejudice
In order for a reader to connect to the characters in a book and understand each of their individual qualities, authors decide to use characterization. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, she uses both direct and indirect characterization; this being, telling the reader exactly how she wants to portray a certain character, but also including characters who contrasts with other characters, most often the protagonist, in order to bring out certain qualities. This also known as character foil. One example of this is brought about with the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Austen uses their relationship to play each other’s opposites. Darcy is characterized as being secluded and cold while Wickham is said to be charming and amiable, hence viewed as polar opposites in the eyes of many. As the reader gets to know these characters through their relations with Elizabeth, one notices that Darcy is much more of the loving and kind gentlemen and Wickham is the fortune-hunter who seeks only wealth. Wickham and Darcy are first introduced as foils to each other at the Netherfield ball as they interact and approach Elizabeth Bennet. Their first impressions create opinions formed beforehand, which are not easily changed.
Elizabeth has her first encounter with Mr.Darcy as he makes his entrance into the ball, “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by fine, tall, handsome features…the gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man” (Austen 7).Mr. Darcy’s mentioned physical features elaborate on his wealth and fortune. Elizabeth then has the opportunity to listen to Mr.Darcy’s conversations with other guests of the ball, which are less of conversations and more statements of superiority and dominance, “his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company” (Austen 7). It is from these conversations that make Elizabeth’s hatred for Darcy enlarges. She views him as haughty and inconsiderate. On the other hand, Mr. Wickham is described much differently at the ball, he “was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned and the agreeable manner in which he immediately fell into conversation…that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered interesting” (Austen 69). Elizabeth is pleased with his charm, gentlemanly manner, and ability to make friends. She becomes more drawn to Mr.Wickham due to his first impression and his good manners, which Mr.Darcy complements, “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends” (Austen 84).
The contrast in this passage between Darcy and Wickham is rather ironic because Elizabeth eventually decides to marry Darcy, the one she despised at first. Elizabeth’s impression of Wickham change once she receives Mr.Darcy’s letter. The letter reveals Mr.Wickham’s true nature for his visit at Pemberley, “unquestionable my sister’s fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds; but I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging himself on me was a strong inducement” (Austin 183). Elizabeth quickly questions all she had thought of Mr.Darcy and changes her opinion of Mr.Wickham. She is appalled with the news that Wickham attempted to wed Georgiana, Darcy’s sister, in order to obtain his fortune after Darcy did not provide him any wealth after his father’s death. His doings makes her question why she would ever trust him, but also make her feelings toward Darcy suddenly grow. After the roles of Wickham and Darcy switch in her mind, she decides to visit Pemberley. It is here where she reunites with Mr.Darcy, “they soon drew form those enquires the full conviction that one of them at least knew what it was to love… overflowing with admiration was evident enough” (Austen 225). She expresses her feelings for him and the admiration from Darcy. The foil between Mr.Darcy and Mr.Wickham accentuates the bias of opinion of society and first impressions which hide the truth.
The history between the two men demonstrates a difference in path to their own personalities. Wickham and Darcy come from very different backgrounds; Mr.Wickham being the son of Mr.Darcy’s father’s steward. The juxtaposition of being the son of Mr. Darcy’s father versus the son of the individual who worked for his father, displays the contrast of Darcy and Wickham’s personalities. These differences in lifestyles shaped their personalities which are shown within Darcy’s letter, Mr. Wickham “had some intention…of studying the law, and I must be aware that the interest of one thousand pounds would be a very insufficient support therein” (Austen 182). Mr. Darcy’s father left one-thousand pounds to Wickham but it turned out to not be enough to allow him to survive through his years, so Darcy decided to give him three-thousand in order for him to attend law school, but the law soon declined Wickham and was not a beneficial field for him to enter. Wickham returned to Darcy for assistance but got denied of money. Wickham seeking reprisal, “he so far recommended himself to Georgiana, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child, that she was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement” (Austen 183). It was not love he was looking for but rather only fortune from Ms. Darcy as revenge against Mr. Darcy because he did not help him through his years of extreme anxiety. The satire within Austen’s writing is brought about through the contrast between evil intentions and pure hearts. Blinding love is emphasised in this novel through the irony of one falling in love with a corrupted man while being true at heart. Jane Austen conveys her perspective of social life, the poor and wealthy, through Darcy’s and Wickham’s first impressions of Elizabeth.
Due to her prejudice and pride, Elizabeth is unable to realize the truth behind Darcy and Wickham because it blinds her. The foils of Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy, portrays society as a loveless defect with only money on their minds, seeking wealthy and prosperity over love and affection. Austen introduces Darcy as the selfish, wealthy, and stern man who worries of nothing but success in life. Contrarily, she creates Wickham as a charming, loving, and friendly gentlemen. As the reader indulges further into the novel, they come to see that these men actually portray the complete opposite then how they are introduced. Darcy is considerate, lighthearted, and has nothing but the utmost affection for Elizabeth while Wickham does everything in his power for wealth and never love. These characters act as ideal foils for each other because they truly are polar opposites, contrasting against one another to bring out their true inner personalities. While Austen could have told her audience straightforward what these men valued in life, her use of character foil allows the reader to put themselves in the position of Elizabeth; seeing these men at first glance and then reflecting on how she really feels about them after she understand their true morals. One is able to see that the beauty on the outside of one does not equal to the beauty the lies within.