Lydia Bennet: A Caricature

When reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for the first time, young female readers are often drawn to the Bennet sisters, recognizing in them much of themselves. Jane's sweetness and shyness, Elizabeth's fierce and critical perspective on life, Mary's sober and rational demeanor, and Catherine's lightheartedness and easy laughter are all character traits that are easy to relate to. Such empathies can even extend to the other young women portrayed in the novel, such as Georgina's naivety and lack of judgment or Charlotte Lucas' sobriety and capacity for embracing and accepting her destiny as a woman in the 19th century. However, despite the fact that many of her feelings and actions are not alien to many girls of her age, most young women find it difficult to relate to Lydia Bennet. These first impressions tell us a great deal about how Austen constructed Lydia Bennet's personality.

It is common knowledge that Pride and Prejudice is not about Lydia and her personality at all, but is, in fact, about the revolutionary female presence of Elizabeth Bennet and her relationship with Mr. Darcy, in which they overcome their pride and prejudices to build a solid, well-considered, and calculated relationship at the end.

Elizabeth Bennet is one of the most famous heroines in classic literature. She is often portrayed as a feminine and feminist icon. Lydia Bennet, on the other hand, is nothing more than her counter-character in many ways. While Lydia is very similar in personality to her mother, aiming to marry early as it is her mother's main goal to marry off all daughters as soon as possible, Elizabeth is her father's favorite, admired by him as a young woman of "lively talents" (Austen 1954:385).

Despite Jane Austen being recognized nowadays as a feminist author, her writing does not escape the common female stereotypes of her time, such as those present in the construction of Lydia. She is stereotyped from her first appearance in the novel. The attentive reader cannot deny that Lydia Bennet is a static and undeveloped character, remaining the same throughout the novel and quickly being portrayed as the daughter who often misbehaves, a flirtatious, imprudent, and inconsequent person. Yet, she serves as a counterpoint to her sisters Elizabeth and Jane.

Charlotte Brontë was among those who criticized Austen concerning the way she presented desire, sexual attraction, and love in both characters' relationships:

The Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress (Brontë, 1850: 128)

Elizabeth and Darcy's courtship progresses slowly through dances, walks, talks, and glances, culminating in a marriage proposal. According to Denis W. Allen's essay "No Love for Lydia: The Fate of Desire in Pride and Prejudice," desire in the novel is governed by an ascetic logic based on an economy of pleasure. This involves the repression or non-acknowledgement of physical and sexual desires, which are suppressed by the older sister and their peers. This repression is compensated when they achieve marriage as a form of reward, having already suffered enough. However, Lydia's actions set a negative example in Austen's perspective. The younger Bennet sister rejects the personal repression that the other Bennet girls naturally went through and ignores the cultural restrictions of her time. Austen reinforces this by defining Lydia's character as possessing "disdain of all restraint" (Austen 1954:260), which leads her to seek immediate gratification and results in her elopement with Wickham. Yet, at the end of the novel, Lydia's marriage has sunk into unhappiness. "Lydia is condemned to eternal want, both romantic and financial. Unrenounced, desire can never be satisfied. It is because she fails to realize this principle that there can be, finally, no love for Lydia." (Allen, 1985:487).

The novel portrays the love journey of its characters with a sense of restraint and retribution that comes with marriage. Lydia, however, becomes the exception as she is portrayed as the bad example, the one who eloped and married a man who possessed no wealth, and the one who was destined to an unhappy life due to her poor decisions and inconsequential choices. She is the personification of the reasons why sexual desire should be controlled and avoided by women. One of her roles in the novel is to illustrate the consequences of succumbing to desire, which are, above all, the public opinion that comes after breaking the social rules.

Lydia's character is portrayed as underdeveloped and static throughout the novel, repeatedly described as a flirtatious teenager, irresponsible, and even ridiculous. Not only do other characters, but most readers also do not know much about Lydia. This can be seen as the way Austen intended to construct her character. What is known by the other characters in the novel and the readers is mostly the reaction of society and other people to Lydia's actions, and it is a convenient position for most of the characters. The readers get to know Lydia through the stereotypes expressed by her own family, which forms an opinion about her and her actions until the end of the novel, focusing on her flaws, while her possible good attributes are not mentioned.

These flaws are not only a product of the view that both her father and Elizabeth have of her, but also a consequence of the society in which she is inserted, and the way she, as a person, had her personality shaped. Lydia was most likely raised to understand the importance of marriage as an ultimate goal toward happiness, which is especially strong when considering the Bennet's position in society. They are middle class, with no male heir in their line to take care of the sisters in a financial sense if their father died. It is understandable that Mrs. Bennet is so focused on finding her daughters a good husband, as she does not want to see them go through poverty on the margins of society and have to work as working-class women. Therefore, she raises her daughters to find a husband as soon as possible, as confirmed by Judith Lowder Newton in her book Power, Fantasy, and Subversion in Jane Austen:

The first two sentences of Pride and Prejudice, for example, make subtle and ironic point of that distinction and suggest the weight of it in shaping male and female life: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."3 Some single men, it would appear, have independent access to money, but all single women, or "daughters," must marry for it. Families with daughters, therefore, think a great deal about marriage, while single men with fortunes do not. Families with daughters may try to control men too, to seize them as "property," but it is really "daughters," the sentence implies, who are controlled, who are "fixed" by their economic situation. Single men, in contrast, appear at liberty-at liberty to enter a neighborhood, for example, and presumably to leave it. Single men have a distinct mobility and a personal power that daughters do not. (Newton, 1978:28)

Mrs. Bennet's main objective was to marry off her daughters. Consequently, she introduced Lydia to society at a very young age, earlier than her sisters. Lydia had access to balls, trips, and gossip without proper parental guidance or assistance, such as a governess, which was common in the 19th century. Lady Catherine comments on this, "No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing" (Austen, 1954:201).

Lydia is described as an "uneducated, naive, untamed, unabashed, and noisy girl of fifteen" (Blumenroth, 2006). Although she is not mischievous, if she had cultivated deeper interests beyond men in the military, balls, and marriage, she would have been less likely to bring shame to her family. However, by choosing her pleasure, Lydia was almost lost forever. Jane Austen constructed her character with strong criticism in the form of satire.

Lydia is nothing more than another of Austen's satirical critics. Her character is shallow and underdeveloped, not by mistake or poor writing. Austen aimed for this specific effect on the reader. Lydia's limited interests in young men and meeting new acquaintances make her a caricature of a young woman who values pleasure over intelligent choices. She is the bad example, the one who sets her goals wrong, and, at least in Austen's point of view, has to pay for it.


Blumenroth, Isabel. Lydia's Elopement and Its Functions in Jane

Allen, Dennis W. No Love for Lydia: The Fate of Desire in Pride and Prejudice. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 27, no. 4, 1985, pp. 425–443. JSTOR,

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. J. M. Dent. London, 1954.

Brontë, Charlotte. Letter to W. S. Williams, 12 April 1850, rpt. in B. C. Southam, ed., Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.

Newton, Judith Lowder. ‘Pride and Prejudice’: Power, Fantasy, and Subversion in Jane Austen. Feminist Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, 1978, pp. 27–42. JSTOR,


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