Tuesday, March 27, 2012

All I Needed to Know About Men I Learned from Jane Austen, Part 2: Mr. Wickham

"Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."

-Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 18

My Dear Reader,

If you're not sure what this is, make sure you read the intro.

When Pride and Prejudice's protagonist Elizabeth Bennet first meets Mr. Wickham, she is very taken with him. In a world where she is rarely appreciated, he makes her feel special. What she doesn't know, of course, is that a Mr. Wickham is never, never a good thing.

From a literary standpoint, Mr. Wickham shares elements with a lot of characters in the romance genre. Essentially, he's the bad boy. He is the kind of person who believes that rules do not apply to him, which gives him an illusion of strength. This becomes dangerous because it plays into the cavewoman instinct. If he is strong enough to buck the system, this cavewoman instinct tells you that he is strong enough to protect you. This is not the case.

Still, we all fall for it. Until we don't.

Because eventually, via the school of hard knocks, we learn that Mr. Wickham is actually a coward. He doesn't rebel against the rules because he is serving some higher cause; he is rebelling against the rules because he doesn't have the spine to become a productive member of society. While he appears to be rebelling, he is really in constant retreat. He will come to a new place, wreak havoc, and leave when it becomes uncomfortable.

A Mr. Wickham is always running from his past.

A Mr. Wickham is a man who prefers it if other people suffer the consequences of his actions.

A Mr. Wickham is a man who thinks that the world (including you) exists just for his amusement. He likes to be pleased, and is therefore always seeking pleasure.

Most importantly, Wickham is a master of deception. He likes being liked, and is very good at it. He is charming enough to make you think that he is good, and then when he gains your trust, he tells you lies that you willingly believe. This way, he can move you like a chess piece on a board, manipulating you into doing things that will help him keep up the scam he's running. Eventually, he loses interest and disappears. And when that happens, you will find that he has left you in a very, very bad place.

At first, of course, it's hard to see any of this. He isn't some element of destruction; he's your ally. He forges this alliance by strategically hating things that you also hate. This puts you on the same team. He can do this with such subtlety that you feel like you have a duty to be loyal to him. You feel like you have to hate what he hates. And a Mr. Wickham always hates something.

He makes sure that you think he is shy about it, of course. He wants you to think that he is a positive influence in your life. So, he gets you to coerce him to spill. And when he finally tells his story, he is careful to make himself a victim, so that you will feel the need to comfort him. He tells you one sad story, and you suddenly find yourself with a new enemy. Suddenly, you find yourself with a need to put your new enemy in his/her place. You want to protect and avenge him.

But, of course, Mr. Wickham can't allow that. If you confront his villain, you will quickly find out that he has told you a great pack of lies. He has not told these lies so that you will fight for him; Mr. Wickham has told them in order to separate you from the one person who can expose him as the scoundrel that he is.

It's an old, but very effective trick. Say Mr. Wickham likes two girls, and wants to date them at the same time. So he goes to Girl 1 and tells her that he really loves her, but he is obligated to spend time with Girl 2, who is ugly and boring. Then he goes to Girl 2 and tells her that she is this one true love, but this Girl 1 chick is obsessed with him and won't just leave him alone. So, naturally, Girl 1 and 2 are repulsed by each other. This is exactly what Mr. Wickham wants. The second these two girls actually have a conversation, they will realize that they've been had. Mr. Wickham can't have that.

It would be too hard to swallow if this hadn't literally happened to several friends of mine. Mr. Wickhams are everywhere.

And they all work the same con: to get you to trust him, and only him. He can even get you to the point where you believe that it is you and him against the world. He can get you to see an enemy everywhere you turn. That way, when people try to warn you of his dark secrets, you will not believe them. That way, he can do whatever he likes with you.

But this house of cards he has built will not last long. At some point, one of them will refuse to hold the rest of the weight, and the whole thing falls to pieces. Someone from his past will show up and spread his recent exploits, or someone will be smart enough to realize that they are being manipulated. Sometimes, all it takes is someone being at the wrong place at the right time. However it happens, it is inevitable.

And when it does, the best case scenario is that only Girl 1 and Girl 2 have been victims. In Pride and Prejudice, the original Mr. Wickham managed to victimize an entire town before anyone got wise. He was so good at isolating people that they had no idea that their friends and neighbors were victims because no one was willing to compare notes.

But luckily, Jane Austen has taught us that this very tactic of isolation is what makes a Wickham easy to spot. It's natural for most couples to start falling off the face of the Earth while they're falling in love with each other, but if your boyfriend is getting you to revile and avoid people, you need to ask yourself what he's hiding from you. Because if he's filling your heart with trust for him and suspicion for everyone else, he is most certainly a Wickham.

And, he will leave you. The moment he is outed, he will pack his bags and vanish. If he gets bored, he may leave even sooner. And when he abandons you, you will have lost the only person you trusted, and you will understand that he was not worth trusting. And unless you are very, very lucky, that will tear you apart.

So, the way I see it, you need to learn how to spot a Wickham, and when you spot one, you need to take your loved ones and run for your life.

It's a lot easier than having to pick up the pieces.

Now, you want a guy who will tell you the truth and be almost impossible to get rid of? Next time, when we discuss Mr. Collins, I'm sure you will get your fill.

Regards, best wishes, and someone you can trust,

-Cecily Jane


lina said...

I know a Mr. Wickham. He destroyed one of my best friend's relationships with her family and friends alike, it took him going to prison for her to finally wake up, and months later she's still trying to repair all that damage...

Kate said...

This is amazing! Cecily, can't wait to read the rest of them. You nailed it.