I think most of us have this vague idea about Miss Darcy from Pride and Prejudice – that she’s a sweet, soft-spoken girl – but that’s hardly a well-rounded, fleshed-out character sketch. The trouble (or maybe it’s an opportunity) is that we’re actually told very little about her in the book. We know she has lost both her parents and she has a devoted brother more than ten years her senior. When Elizabeth meets her (chapter 44), she finds Georgiana exceedingly shy, tall with a womanly gracefulness, not as handsome as her brother, but with sense and good humour in her face, and her manners are unassuming and gentle. That’s about it.
This scene in Lambton and the subsequent interactions at Pemberley are described by narration, not shown in conversation. In fact, poor neglected Georgiana is not given a single line to speak in the entire book, if you can imagine. (I plan to correct that!)
Oh, yes. We know one more thing about her – something that also happened off camera. According to her brother’s letter to Elizabeth (chapter 35), Georgiana nearly eloped with the nefarious Mr. Wickham.
Last summer she went with the lady who presided over [her school] to Ramsgate; and thither also went Mr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design; for there proved to have been a prior acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge, in whose character we were most unhappily deceived; and by her connivance and aid, 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. She was then but fifteen, which must be her excuse…
Basically, this one event establishes the sole reason for Georgiana’s inclusion in the book. Think about it. There is no other logical need for Mr. Darcy to have a sister or for her to be introduced to the reader at all, even in this limited way. It’s her scandalous history with Mr. Wickham that is crucial to the story line. It provides the rational as to why Mr. Darcy secretly (for he naturally wishes to conceal the unsavory truth from the world) despises Mr. Wickham, which in turn causes Elizabeth to misjudge both men and persist in her bad opinion of Mr. Darcy so long. Were it not for this fact, she might have fallen in love with him more quickly and accepted his first proposal = story over.
So now we know why Jane Austen needed to invent Georgiana in the first place. And such a juicy detail should give us some additional insight into her character. But instead, it raises more questions in my mind. Was Mr. Wickham able to convince Georgiana to do something she clearly knew was wrong because she was too young and unsure of herself to resist his persuasion? Or had she been passionate and bold at fifteen, only becoming unsure of herself (quiet and exceedingly shy, as Elizabeth later observed) as a result of her close call with Wickham and her shame over her own foolish behavior in the affair? Interesting possibilities, but maybe the truth lies somewhere between the two.
I’m not the only one struggling to figure her out, though. Her own brother, Mr. Darcy, hasn’t a clue. Here’s what I’ve written in the prologue of the book I’m working on:
When it comes to romance, it seems [Georgiana’s] good sense, considerable charm, celebrated accomplishments, and known sweet temper cannot prevent her tumbling headlong into one scrape or another. Unfortunately, neither can her illustrious brother, try though he might.
Still waters run deep, it is said.
Past events have forced Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy to accept that this disquieting idea is just as true in the case of his young sister and ward as it is in his own. Once Georgiana entered the uncharted territory beyond adolescence, she stopped confiding in him. Now her ways are entirely inscrutable, her thoughts unreadable. Even a year of marriage, gratifying as it has been for Mr. Darcy, has proved insufficient education to acquaint him with the intricacies of the female mind – not his wife’s, and still less so his sister’s. However, a man’s mind and a man’s motives he has no difficulty developing. And, when it comes to Georgiana’s safety, that is what worries him most of all. *
So what is your opinion? Is Miss Georgiana Darcy just what she appears upon our limited acquaintance with her – sweet, sensible, and introverted. Or is her unassuming manner merely a facade hiding a far more complex and possibly less perfect interior landscape?
*For more information on this book and to read chapter 1, see my Work-in-Progress page.