Jane Austen’s Lydia Bennet: Her Life Credo

Image of a bonnet from Ackermann\'s Repository, (1817)“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.” Lydia Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 39 

Lydia Bennet is the youngest of the five Bennet sisters being but fifteen, but by her impulsive and unguarded manner she is the most commanding of the lot, and she knows it! Jane Austen gently gives clues to the reader to the impending peril she imposes on her family through her willful actions. My first impression of Lydia was that she was a time bomb of misery and dissipation just ticking away. 

As the novel progresses, her actions become more outrageous to the detriment of the family reputation when she elopes, and then does not marry. After her patched up marriage to George Wickham, she returns to her family home at Longborne and receives mixed reactions from her family. Totally oblivious to what all the fuss is about, she saw no fault in her behavior. This passage from chapter 51 is a great clue to the nature of her feelings on her actions. 

It was not to be supposed that time would give Lydia that embarrassment from which she had been so wholly free at first. Her ease and good spirits increased. She longed to see Mrs. Phillips, the Lucasses, and all their other neighbours, and to hear herself called “Mrs. Wickham” by each of them; and, in the meantime, she went after dinner to shew her ring, and boast of being married, to Mrs. Hill and the two housemaids.  

“Well, mamma,” said she, when they were all returned to the breakfast-room, “and what do you think of my husband? Is not he a charming man? I am sure my sisters must all envy me. I only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get husbands. What a pity it is, mamma, we did not all go.”  

“Very true; and if I had my will, we should. But, my dear Lydia, I don’t at all like your going such a way off. Must it be so?”  

“Oh, Lord! yes; there is nothing in that. I shall like it of all things. You and papa, and my sisters, must come down and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter, and I dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all.”  

“I should like it beyond anything!” said her mother.  

“And then, when you go away, you may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over.”  

“I thank you for my share of the favour,” said Elizabeth; “but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.”  

Jane Austen uses her older and wiser sister Elizabeth Bennet as a sounding board of decorum. Lydia’s way of getting a husband was scandalous, and when I think of her life with Wickham as the year’s progress, I am reminded of her wish to pull her new bonnet to pieces, and surmise that it continued as her life credo.

Image of the cover of Lydia Bennet\'s Story (2008)If you would like to read Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of its most notorious character Lydia Bennet, Austen-esque author Jane Odiwe has embraced Lydia’s spirit and told her side of the story in her novel Lydia Bennet’s Story. The book was released in Great Britain last December and is available through Barnes and Noble. Sourcebooks will be re-releasing it in October for the US and international markets. It is well worth the extra pence if you do not want to wait. Here is a review by Ms. Place, and you can visit Jane Odiwe’s blog dedicated to Jane Austen Sequels and read chapter one of Lydia Bennet’s story.