It is a truth universally acknowledged that the love triangle trope is as popular now as it was when it was first invented. No matter how many versions, how many different settings, and situations—it never grows old. We like it when the heroine feels torn between two different men and must make a heart-wrenching decision. Jane Austen was perhaps the queen of the love triangle since it featured so often in her novels. My favorite of hers is in Pride and Prejudice, because the Lizzy, Darcy, and Wickham are so closely linked. The introductions of Darcy and Wickham propels Lizzy’s story forward, and it’s a catalyst for Lizzy’s prejudice against Darcy and preference for Wickham.
Elizabeth—Lizzy—Bennet knows her own mind and speaks it often. As the second of five daughters, she is neither the prettiest nor the most charismatic, but she is intelligent and isn’t afraid to conceal her wit. A new neighbor, Mr. Bingley, moves into the area, her older sister Jane falls in love with him. Lizzy, however, feels continually insulted and challenged by his haughty friend, Mr. Darcy. Darcy’s appalling manners soon puts him at odds with everyone in Meryton. Every encounter triggers an argument of some sort. Lizzy then crosses paths with another young man, George Wickham. Darcy’s polar opposite, Wickham makes friends wherever he goes, and this includes Lizzy. She is astonished when he shares his history, informing her that Darcy refused to allow him a church living promised to him. His present dire circumstances are because of Darcy’s meddling. What began as dislike of Darcy soon evolved into a full-blown prejudice.
I don’t have to delve into the whole plot, because it is so universally well-known. Darcy makes an insulting proposal to Lizzy and Lizzy rejects him, for obvious reasons. Lizzy learns the truth that Wickham is deceitful and an opportunist. She and Darcy set aside their pride and prejudice and later marry. Instead, I’d like to inspect Lizzy’s relationship with these two men and what it might have been like if Austen had taken the story in a different route.
Austen is clear that Lizzy and Wickham could never have formed a romantic attachment. They both must marry well. He has enlisted in the militia, but that would not be enough to support a gentleman’s daughter. Wickham must find an heiress to marry. Likewise, Lizzy will only receive fifty pounds a year from her mother and hopefully will make a match suitable to her station. Still, Lizzy can’t help but like Wickham and knows if things were different–if Darcy hadn’t ruined Wickham’s chances–that they could have had a chance.
For a moment, let’s play the “what if” game. What if Lizzy and Wickham found a way to marry? Lizzy is no Lydia and she wouldn’t have lived with Wickham out of wedlock in London. Due to her scruples, she would object. But for the sake of “what if,” let’s imagine Lizzy and Wickham did elope, they made it to Gretna Green, and they married. Their affection for each other might help them early on in their union, but it wouldn’t sustain them. Lizzy would try to be prudent and economize, as well as care for any children they have, but with a husband such as Wickham, his extravagance and immoral behavior would drive them apart. At some point, she would learn of his deceit about Darcy’s treatment of him–that in reality Wickham was the one to reject the church and live wildly, then schemed against Darcy’s sister to gain her inheritance. And can you imagine Darcy, having to live with the fact that the love of his life married his mortal enemy? Wickham’s revenge on the Darcy family would have been complete.
But thankfully, Austen created a heroine who would not compromise her ethics nor would she chase after a first crush. Lizzy was wise enough to not indulge her initial feelings for Wickham and they remained friends. And while her prejudice of Darcy was great, when presented with the truth, with facts and witnesses, Lizzy acknowledges her mistakes and repents. “Till this moment, I never knew myself!” she exclaimed. She lays down her prejudice and forgives Darcy for the wrongs he committed towards her. She begins to see Darcy for who he really is: a moral, devoted, albeit socially awkward man who wanted to share every part of his life with her.
On Lizzy’s rejection of him, Darcy went on a personal journey of his own. He reexamined himself and his life and didn’t like what he saw. While he was a good, devoted friend, loving older brother, and generous landlord and master, he could be proud and arrogant and snobbish. While he dearly loved Lizzy and wanted to spend his life with her, he came to understand that love expects nothing in return. Love is sacrifice. When he learns of Wickham and Lydia’s “elopement,” he springs into action. He can only think of Lizzy and the Bennet family and what he might do alleviates their troubles. Darcy arranges a marriage between Wickham and Lydia and believes that will have to be enough. As long as Lizzy is happy, his feelings don’t matter.
Thankfully, fate intervenes in the form of Darcy’s aunt. With the intention to prevent a union between Lizzy and Darcy, she inadvertently helps them. With their pride and prejudice laid aside, Lizzy and Darcy are able to move fall further in love, marry, and have a marriage of true minds. Wickham will never be truly out of their lives, and I doubt he will ever stop making trouble, but together Lizzy and Darcy would be able to face any adversity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.