Timid Georgiana Darcy has always been one of my favourite Jane Austen characters. Georgiana is Mr Darcy’s young and amiable little sister, and he cares for her a great deal. In Pride and Prejudice, she not only allows Elizabeth Bennet to see another side to Mr Darcy; Georgiana’s close escape from George Wickham’s clutches looms behind Darcy’s dramatic intervention to find his nemesis and make him marry Lydia Bennet. All in all, Miss Darcy’s role in the story is not insignificant, but she is always in the background, rarely coming to the fore.
From the first time I read Pride and Prejudice, I have wondered about timid Georgiana, her story and her motivations. In the novel, Jane Austen leaves us some clues as to her temper, character and even looks. We know that she is ten years younger than Mr Darcy and very accomplished in all sorts of skills, including playing the piano and the harp, singing, drawing and languages. As to her appearance, Elizabeth describes her as follows:
“Miss Darcy was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth; and, though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was less handsome than her brother; but there was sense and good-humour in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle.”Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 44
Above all, Miss Darcy’s defining characteristic is that she is painfully shy, partly due to a reserved nature which she shares with Darcy, but also a result of her circumstances. Georgiana is an orphan from a very early age, and her guardians are two grown men, her brother and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who have many other concerns and may not have the empathy and sensitivity required to deal with a quiet young girl, beyond ensuring her formal education, material comfort and general wellbeing.
As a female offspring of the gentry, Georgiana should have been expected to be taken under the wing of other women in her family. However, the only ones we know of in the novel, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter Anne, live in Kent, a long way from Pemberley. Bearing in mind that Anne is sickly, and therefore not likely to travel much, it is reasonable to think that most of her relationship with them will be through letters. Georgiana’s loneliness is evident, although she is far from alone.
Georgiana is in constant contact with other women, but they are her social inferiors, and therefore provide scarce opportunities for her to cultivate her social skills. There is the staff at Pemberley, headed by loyal Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper. They would probably include the nursemaid and the governess charged with looking after Georgiana until she is sent away to school, where the teachers would take over her education.
Sending young ladies to schools away from the family home was relatively common among those who could afford it. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, both Louisa and Caroline Bingley enjoy the privilege of a school education. In the case of Georgiana, we don’t know much about her experience in the establishment, other than the fact that from London she is sent off to a cottage in Ramsgate in the company of the infamous Mrs Younge. The rest is history: Younge betrays her employer and young charge and delivers Georgiana into Wickham’s arms. Only Darcy’s intervention at the eleventh hour rescues his little sister from disaster.
Georgiana’s elopement has always interested me. In the context of Regency England, her planned escape with Wickham would have been a great scandal. But that she should accept to marry Mr Darcy’s enemy intrigued me even more. Surely, Georgiana must have been aware of the bad blood between both men. At the same time, Georgiana is a naive enough character to pull it off without the reader feeling affronted by her attitude. In fact, the result is rather the opposite: we see her as the innocent victim of a mean ploy, and if anything, our sympathy for her grows.
What’s clear is that Georgiana would have later understood just how close she was to disgracing herself and her family and that she would have surely felt dismayed at her behaviour. The experience would have had a massive impact on her image of herself, maybe even her perception of her judgement. There is also the issue of Wickham never fully disappearing from her life, on account of his having married Lydia Bennet, Mrs Darcy’s youngest sister. The resulting heartache for young Georgiana, and a well-concealed resentment towards Mrs Wickham, were always a given for me.
Miss Darcy’s Beaux is the result of my speculations with regards to the intricate relationships surrounding the Darcy, Bennet, Wickham and de Bourgh families. The potential disagreements and conflicting interests were too juicy to ignore, as was Georgiana’s internal battle to overcome her past. I chose to give Georgiana Darcy a voice, and she surprised me by embracing the spotlight and showing her evolution from the scared girl left behind by Wickham to her much more confident self. Even if she will always be a tad reserved, not unlike her brother, Mr Darcy.
This article was originally published in Babblings of a Bookworm.