The fabulously funny Who Needs Mr Darcy? publishes this week. Taking in London, Paris and Brighton, it details the charming, lively and somewhat dastardly further exploits of the youngest Bennet sister − Mrs Lydia Wickham.
Here, author Jean Burnett tells us what it is about Lydia that makes her a bad girl we just love to love. And speaking of bad girls we love, let us know which bad girls are your favourite or who your favourite Jane Austen character is via twitter using the hashtag #WhoNeedsMrDarcy.
When you have finished, make sure you click on the bottom link to read the opening to this charming novel.
Lydia Bennet is not everyone’s favourite Austen creation. “Oh, that silly little Bennet Sister, I don’t care for her,” is often the reaction of the admirers of intelligent Lizzie Bennet and sweet, caring Jane. The two older sisters in Pride and Prejudice have all the looks and the character and they are rewarded with the appropriate Prince Charming – the rich and affable Mr. Bingley and the even richer but less affable Mr. Darcy. The younger sisters are plain and dull, or in the case of Lydia, silly, frivolous and man obsessed. But weren’t most of us like that at sixteen?
Lydia’s elopement with the charming, dastardly Wickham was a much more serious breach of morality than we can imagine today. She obviously did not think of the consequences, but that is typical teenage behavior.
Of course, teenagers had not been invented in the Regency era. Girls made the leap from childhood to early marriage with nothing in between, but the moralists could not put old heads on young shoulders. Jane Austen passes over Lydia’s marriage and on to the great Elizabeth/Darcy nuptials. This leaves any writer of sequels free to take the character and run with it. Lydia has a lifetime of adventures ahead and we know in our hearts that her marriage will not last.
Lydia was followed in literature by Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair- another young girl without a fortune who was forced to live by her wits, although Becky is a less sympathetic character than Lydia. Nineteenth century novelists gave short shrift to ‘bad’ girls but they could not make them totally abhorrent to the reader.
Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind is a worthy descendant of Lydia and Becky. She is pretty, penniless, man hungry and anxious to better herself in the only way possible – by making a good marriage. In addition she has an estate to worry about.
Naturally, such forward females must be taken down a peg or two but a hopeful note is allowed at the end of their story. Becky embraces matronly respectablity in Bath, Scarlett returns to Tara vowing to win back Rhett Butler, and Lydia becomes an acceptable married woman thanks to Darcy’s intervention. One suspects that these states will not last forever for any of them. How dull the good girls seem in these novels. Their role is to act as foils to the girls with spirit.
I adopted the character of Lydia Bennet because there was so much scope for development. She becomes older and a little wiser- street wise, we would say today, but her ambitions remain the same. She is never quite able to become the worldly sophisticate she yearns to be, money slips through her fingers and the estate will always be mortgaged. But she has adventures all over the world, meets everyone of consequence and her memoirs will be worth reading!
To read a snippet of Who Needs Mr Darcy click here
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