P&P encore - character flaws


Written on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

So today, in continuing my examination of Pride and Prejudice, I'm shamelessly piggy-backing Santa and Janga's comments this morning about character flaws.

I talked last week about the major character changes/arcs that Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy go through. But Santa's post got me thinking about the exact opposite - those characters who did not change over the course of the novel.

With the possible exception of Jane, whose perfection showcased Elizabeth's impulsiveness, all of Austen's characters were flawed. Elder Mrs. Bennett was comical in her small-minded desperation to marry off her daughters; Mr. Bennett had given up caring about anyone except Elizabeth and Jane decades ago.

And then we have Lydia. Oh, Lydia. Has anyone else seen "Fool's Gold"? I think Lydia, if living today, would be a lot like Gemma on "Fool's Gold." I love when Kate Hudson points to all the idiot guys chasing after her and says to Gemma, "You see how dumb they are? They can't help it. You can. The end." Perhaps Lydia would have fared better if someone had said the same to her. Then again, perhaps not.

Opposite Lydia is Mr. Wickham, who starts out nice enough, and quickly takes a down-hill turn. Wickham's flaws seem numerous - deceit, gambling, lies, pretension, vein flattery.... But I think Janga was able to sum it up in one word: weak. Wickham had a weak character - he cared nothing for the other people in his life, yet tried desperately to look good in the eyes of others.

So the question on the ship today was about honor and redeeming our heroes. Could Wickham been redeemed? Could he have changed and become Lydia's hero? Austen purposely does not redeem either Wickham or Lydia, and they're doomed to a marriage much like Mr. and Mrs. Bennett's.

I think I'm going to have to go with Janga here that weakness is difficult, if not impossible, to redeem. Wickham had no honor - there was nothing beneath his flaws. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, had plenty of flaws himself, yet the cornerstone of his character was his honor and his willingness to do anything for his loved ones.

Even our most flawed heroes (our wonderful "bad boys") must have some moral code of their one, some sense of honor. It's there in the way they treat a stranger, or they're mother, or any other host of places, but you always have that glimmer that something better is deep inside and waiting to come out. Wickham didn't have that glimmer :)

For example, and to piggy back on the next book I'll analyze for this reading journal - Pamela Clare's Unlawful Contact - Marc Hunter is a definite bad boy. The man is serving life without parole for murder and drug trafficking for goodness' sake! So we have plenty of flaws (the whole killing people thing), yet we root for him through the whole book. I kept coming up with justifications for him, to gloss over the fact that he'd committed first-degree murder. Because it all came back to his honor - he did what he felt he had to do to protect someone he loved. For him, that was the end of it. If that meant he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, than that's what it mean.

There are heroes with strong characters (Mr. Darcy, Marc Hunter), and there are men with weak characters (Wickham). For me, those with weak characters, those who manipulate and use those around them and have not even a glimmer of honor beneath, will never become Mr. Darcy or Marc Hunter.

So, can anyone prove me wrong? Do you have heroes who start out as Wickham and turn into Mr. Darcy? A character with no glimmer of honor who is redeemed by the end? Or do you think it's impossible?

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  1. Lisa |

    On redeemable characters - ones that are weak and are saved ... while not in this genre, and not weak in character, Charles Dickens' Scrooge was highly flawed and very much redeemed in the end.

    Yes, I know it wasn't a romance, yet it was. He had loved (family, friends, his one lady love, then Marley on some level, and of course work/money) and he had lost. He almost lost what would then have been considered the most significant loss, his very soul.

    just a thought.


  2. haleigh |

    Scrooge! Great example Lisa - there wasn't a glimmer of anything in him when the novel opened, and yet he was an entirely different person by the end. Excellent!

  3. terrio |

    I can think of one, but it's not from a book and he didn't really turn into a total hero. But it does have to do with a certain TV show we both know and love.

    Booth's brother on Bones. He was weak and kept getting into scrapes and always let his brother bail him out. All the while, insinuating that his brother was the weak one. When it came down to his brother's life, he still wouldn't step up. Then he did. He put his career on the line to help his brother. So he was kind of redeemed.

  4. haleigh |

    Booth-lite! You're absolutely right, Ter. He starts as a very, very weak character, and *almost* redeems himself in the end. He does do the right thing, which is the important part, but it did take almost getting his ass kicked by Bones for him to find the proper motivation :)

    Great example!

  5. Melissa |

    I needed a week to think about this. lol Mostly, I'm with you - - how can a hero redeem himself if he's not shown "a glimmer of honor?" But I do love Lisa's example of Scrooge. That one definitely works.

    But I can't think of another example so clear cut. I think it's that absence of a "glimmer of honor" that holds me back. Without it, we never would have cared about the hero to follow his path to redemption. And, as I've told you before, I hold grudges. lol Since most stories don't have three ghosts to show the hero the error of his ways, it's usually way too hard to "forget" the bad things a HERO does. But, surprisingly, one of my favorite novels has the hero actually marry SOMEONE ELSE after the heroine had fallen in love with him. And he does it for money. Double whammy. It's in "Once in a Blue Moon" by Penelope Williamson. Your blog post has me wanting to find it again and analyze exactly what it was about the hero, McCady Trelawny, that allowed me to forgive him. One thing was the youth of the heroine when she first fell in love with him. And another was believing in McCady's motivations and his circumstances - - an impoverished nobleman who HONORABLY wants to reopen his family's mine and marries money to do it. So he had not only a "glimmer" of honor, but a bright, shining light of honor. :) And he had big dreams that only the heroine could understand. I could forgive that man anything - - even breaking the heroine's heart. Of course, there was a happily ever after. :)

    Another interesting thing about this story was how another character, the villain, actually had honorable qualities that became lost when his jealousy of the hero made him to act without honor. He became weak, but that glimmer of honor he showed earlier made him sympathetic in a sad way.

    But, when all is said and done, I can't prove you wrong - - at least when it comes to the hero. I agree that he had to have had some glimmer of honor, albeit tarnished, all along. It's what excuses his actions and makes even a reader who holds a grudge forgive him and fall in love with him. :)

  6. haleigh |

    Great example Melissa - I'll have to track that book down, you've got me curious now! It's amazing what we can forgive in a character if we only know *why* they did it and understand their motivations. And it sounds like this hero definitely had honor in what he was doing and why.

    I think the one book I can think of where I never forgave the hero, even after the HEA, is Linda Howard's Lady of the West. The hero got pissed off and slapped the heroine (and by slap, I mean whacked her across the face hard enough she fell down and had a terrible bruise). Even in his POV, I didn't understand his motivation enough to ever forgive that - you hit a woman, you lose any honor you had going for you, and I could care less about the happy ending.

  7. Jessica |

    This is a great post Haleigh! It's so funny that you popped by because I was thinking of you the other day but for the life of me couldn't find the link to your blog. Thanks for commenting!

    Good question. I have to think about it because I believe you're right when you say all heroes have some sort of strength of "code" that they live by. A man who lives by nothing, who has no spine, that would be tough to redeem.
    I think it could be done, but first I think that type of person would have to go through something in which their weak code caused something horrible to happen. And then they'd have to own up and take responsibility, which is something weak (selfish) people rarely do.
    I think there is probably a difference between weak and flawed.

  8. haleigh |

    Hi Jessie! I was having the same problem finding your blog :) I'm glad we have reconnected through cyber-space!

    I agree there's a difference between weak and flawed. A flawed character can grow, change and overcome their flaws. Weak is just weak. Of course, you could consider weakness a flaw to overcome, which just blows my theory out of the water...lol!

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