This prequel to Pride and Prejudice begins with George Wickham at age 12, handsome and charming but also acutely aware that his friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is rich, whilst he is poor. His mother encourages him to exercise his charm on the young Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh in the hopes of establishing a stable of wealthy social connections.
At university, Darcy and Wickham grow apart. Wickham is always drinking and wenching, whilst Darcy, who apparently has everything, is looking for something he cannot find. Wickham runs through the money Darcy gives him and then takes up with the scandalous Belle, a woman after Wickham's own greedy, black heart.
Amanda Grange is one of the most easily recognized names in the Jane Austen game. Her work is prolific and loved, and I own a couple of her books. For whatever reason, I've never really read her. It seems that I did once (Darcy's Diary sounds sort of familiar), but if I did it was in the early days of my Jane mania when nothing held a candle to the original and every adaptation I read made me bitter.
I've gotten over that now (for the most part), so I was fully ready to see what Amanda made of one of the most interesting characters to me, George Wickham.
Wickham is fascinating because he's a little hard to peg down, and opinions of him differ vastly and are always strong: for most, he's either a misunderstood bad boy or the Regency era's #1 scoundrel -there is no in-between. For me...well, he leaves me with questions. There's so much I want to know about his life and how he became Mr Lydia Bennet. I mean, he grew up at Pemberley, he knows Darcy intimately, he's charming and handsome, etc. But he also seems to be a bit of a cad, mercenary and liar. I want to know who Wickham really is, and if anything he says or claims to feel is genuine.
I was hoping to get that in Wickham's Diary, which has the tagline "Jane Austen's quintessential bad boy has his say." I was prepared for a lot of reasoning and misunderstandings and some sympathy, but that's not what this book is about. Grange's Wickham is not the misunderstood almost-hero, but the scoundrel many Austenites sneer at. He's a money-grubbing, manipulative, plotting jackass, with not much likable in his character. Occasionally there are the barest glimmers of something more, some potential in him, but those are quickly quashed.
I'm sure this take on his character will be fine for many people (as I said in my Round 1 response to P&P, we love to be validated in our own ill opinions of people). And though I wasn't getting the subtlety and humanization I was looking for in the story, I was prepared to alter my expectations and go with evil Wickham. But in the end this one didn't really work for me, and it all hinged on one thing: Wickham is (apparently) a mama's boy. Everything he does, the person he is, seems to stem from his mother, who bears no little resemblance to his spendthrift, careless wife Lydia.
The younger years of Wickham's diary are basically just a catalog of Mother Wickham instructing Young George on How to Win Wives and Influence Pocketbooks©. She tells him to make himself charming to any wealthy young ladies, and/or wealthy friends with sisters; to always be pretty; not to drink (which he ignores for a memorable stint); to take note of Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh (just in case), etc., etc. Basically to be as disingenuous and weasly as he can be, and cover all his bases. Why? So that one day, he can take care of her in style. Mama W wants some $$ dolladollabillsyawl. And dutiful, doting son that he is, Wickham follows her advice/instructions to the letter. (Accept for, you know, the drinking thing.)
Though his relationship with his mother was interesting (especially in light of his ending up with Lydia), it was all a
There were things I liked, though. I found Wickham's relationship with Darcy interesting, as it's not always antagonistic, and is sometimes almost brotherly. Also, the glimpses of the feelings and situations of both just prior to the events that lead them to Hertfordshire were really nice, and I liked Darcy's searching wistfulness. There were consistencies, too, in both the book and how it ties to Pride and Prejudice that made sense and expanded Wickham's character. And it's a super quick read, really; like, 2 hours tops. I think many anti-Wickham's and die-hard Janeites will find this one a quick, pleasant read. But there are huge gaps in the diary, which really only hits the key points in his life/development, and I think if these had been used to fill out his character outside of the familiar story, it would have been much more interesting.
To enter, leave a comment telling us either your opinion of Wickham (if you've read P&P) OR why you want to read this (if you haven't) and then fill out this form.
Ends June 30
Make sure to stop by later in the event for a guest post from Amanda Grange!
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