Lydia Bennet (later Lydia Wickham) is the youngest child of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. She is married to George Wickham and has four sisters, Jane Bingley, Elizabeth Darcy, Mary Bennet, and Catherine Bennet. She is sister-in-law to Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy. She is a distant cousin of William Collins, a clergyman. Lydia was born in June and is 15 at the start of the novel.
Lydia is her mother's favorite child and Mrs. Bennet adores and spoils her. Mr. Bennet did not take it upon himself to properly raise her, so she was allowed into society far earlier than what would be deemed appropriate—as usually the younger sisters don't have their come-out before the elder are married.
Arrival of Mr. Bingley
Mr. Bingley's arrival in Hertfordshire does not excite Lydia as it does for other female members of her family; her excitement lying more toward officers than gentlemen. She became acquainted with Mr. Wickham while he stayed in Hertfordshire, but didn't show any particular interest in him.
She somehow managed to browbeat Mr. Bingley into hosting a private ball at Netherfield Park and was ecstatic that it would include officers.
Travels and elopement
Mr. Bennet allows Lydia to travel to Brighton with Colonel and Mrs. Forster, much to Elizabeth's disapproval and dismay. Later, the Bennet family receives a letter from Colonel Forster that Lydia and Wickham have eloped to Gretna Green. However, Colonel Forster later finds out that Wickham was running away to avoid his gambling debts, and led Lydia to believe they were going to Gretna.
It is obvious to the rest of her family that Wickham never intends to marry her, but she is always under the impression that he will. They're shocked later when Mrs. Bennet's brother, Mr. Gardiner, writes back and says he has found Lydia and Wickham, and they will marry soon. They ask that Lydia get the inheritance of £1,000 on her parents' death, as well as £100 per year that she was to receive when she married. Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth are shocked that Wickham is marrying her for so little, and deduce that Mr. Gardiner paid Wickham's debts and bribed him to marry Lydia.
- "Well, mamma, what do you think of my husband? Is not he a charming man? I am sure my sisters 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, that we did not all go."
- —Lydia to Mrs. Bennet, with her sisters within hearing
Lydia returned home, as insufferable as before. She gloated incessantly about her status as a married woman to all the neighbors in town, and even told her eldest sister that she was more important due to her marriage. While gloating to Elizabeth about her marriage, she carelessly mentioned that Mr. Darcy was at her wedding, even though she was supposed to keep it a secret. Elizabeth later found out that Darcy was the one who found the couple, and offered to take Lydia home without creating a scandal. Lydia, unapologetic, refused to leave Wickham, so Darcy instead bribed Wickham by paying off his debts and getting him a commission in a northern regiment so he would marry Lydia. The move saved the Bennet family from disgrace.
Lydia and Wickham left Longbourn, and went to Newcastle, where Wickham would take up his commission. When Lydia found out about Elizabeth's marriage to Mr. Darcy, she wrote and asked her sister for money. Elizabeth wrote back, refusing to give her any money. Lydia and Wickham never changed, spending more than they had and moving around constantly, to avoid paying their debts and looking for a cheap residence. Whenever they moved, Elizabeth or Jane would pay off the debts they left behind. Lydia would sometimes visit Elizabeth alone, and she & Wickham often would visit Jane and Mr. Bingley. However, both couples couldn't bear to be around the errant couple for long, and would send them away.
Lydia is described as a strong, healthy, well-grown female, with a fine complexion and a good-humored countenance. She also claims to be the tallest of the five sisters, though she is the youngest.
- "MY DEAR HARRIET, You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing."
- —Lydia in a letter to Harriet Forster
Lydia is bold, brash, reckless, and spoiled. She is also silly, flirtatious and girlish past propriety, as Darcy points out to her sister. She runs off with Wickham while not caring about the possible repercussions; social ruin of the entire family and destitution. Because she is just like her mother in her manners, Lydia was over-indulged from infancy, as she was Mrs. Bennet's favorite child, and her father neglected her. Mr. Bennet never taught her to restrain herself as he should have, having retreated by then into his books, leaving his wife to the management of their daughters.
Even Elizabeth, her own second-oldest sister, views her as "vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled", as well as a 'determined flirt', which made her, and even her family, an object of ridicule at times. In fact, Elizabeth believes that because of her multitude of flaws, all Lydia has to recommend herself are her youth, her health, and her good humor.
Jane Austen, the author of the novel, also wrote that Lydia has "high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence" which has been strengthened into self-assurance. It has been speculated that this is Jane Austen's way of pointing out the characteristics of some of the naive debutantes in her era, and satirizing them.
- Lydia - close friends and family
- Miss Lydia/Miss Lydia Bennet - everyone else, when one or more of her sisters is present
- Miss Bennet - everyone else, but only if none of her elder sisters are present
- Mrs. Wickham/Mrs. George Wickham - everyone else, following her marriage to Mr. Wickham
- Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet
- Edward Gardiner & Mrs. Gardiner (maternal uncle and aunt)
- Mrs. Phillips & Mr. Phillips (aunt and uncle)
- 1940: Ann Rutherford
- 1980: Natalie Ogle
- 1995: Julia Sawalha
- 2005: Jena Malone
- 2012–13: Mary Kate Wiles
- 2013: Jenna Coleman
- 2016: Ellie Bamber
Notes and references
- Chapter 51 (pp. 461-462; Project Gutenberg, 2010; Online Ebook)
- Pride and Prejudice, Ch. 5 (pp. 231—232; First Folio edition. Reprint 1996)