When we want to see good in everyone — a lesson from Pride and Prejudice
Some people assume the best to a fault. Sometimes they even do this to the detriment of others. Some of us may have been like that, or maybe still are. It’s a trap for young players on this earth, especially young females and Christians who are taught it is wrong to think anything slighting about anyone.
For anyone who hasn’t read Pride and Prejudice — the character George Wickham is an unscrupulous, lying, conniving, crafty, cad who charmed the genteel community of Lizzy Bennet and her sister Jane. Jane is a tender-hearted young lady who always wants to see good in everyone.
Lizzy had initially been charmed, and even romantically interested, in George Wickham. Wickham had ‘confided’ (actually lied) to Lizzy by accusing their mutual acquaintance, Mr Darcy, of having failed to remit to Wickham the valuable gift which Darcy’s father had bequeathed to Wickham some years previously.
But Lizzie’s eyes were eventually opened to Wickham’s black heart by means of a letter she received from Mr Darcy who gave her a full and convincing account of the real history between himself and Wickham. Darcy’s account cleared his own name and showed Wickham to be a scoundrel. Here is Lizzie talking confidentially to Jane about the letter Darcy sent her.
‘The lifting of the fog’
She [Lizzy] then spoke of the letter, repeating the whole of its contents as far as they concerned George Wickham. What a stroke was this for poor Jane! who would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual. Nor was Darcy’s vindication, though grateful to her feelings, capable of consoling her for such discovery. Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear one without involving the other.
“This will not do,” said Elizabeth. “You never will be able to make both of them good for any thing. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Mr. Darcy’s, but you shall do as you chuse.’’
“I do not know when I have been more shocked,” said she. “Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Mr. Darcy! dear Lizzy, only consider what he must have suffered. Such a disappointment! and with the knowledge of your ill opinion too! and having to relate such a thing of his sister! It is really too distressing. I am sure you must feel it so.”
“Oh! no, my regret and compassion are all done away by seeing you so full of both. I know you will do him such ample justice, that I am growing every moment more unconcerned and indifferent. Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament over him much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather.”
“Poor Wickham [said Jane]; there is such an expression of goodness in his countenance! such an openness and gentleness in his manner.”
“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
“I never thought Mr. Darcy so deficient in the appearance of it as you used to do.”
“And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one’s genius, such an opening for wit to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying any thing just; but one cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.”
“Lizzy when you first read that letter, I am sure you could not treat the matter as you do now.”
“Indeed I could not. I was uncomfortable enough. I was very uncomfortable, I may say unhappy. And with no one to speak to of what I felt, no Jane to comfort me and say that I had not been so very weak and vain and nonsensical as I knew I had! Oh! how I wanted you!”
“How unfortunate that you should have used such very strong expressions in speaking of Wickham to Mr. Darcy, for now they do appear wholly undeserved.”
“Certainly. But the misfortune of speaking with bitterness is a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging. There is one point on which I want your advice. I want to be told whether I ought, or ought not, to make our acquaintance in general understand Wickham’s character.”
Miss Bennet [Jane] paused a little and then replied, “Surely there can be no occasion for exposing him so dreadfully. What is your own opinion?”
How very typical that after realizing Wickham’s real character, Jane is then perplexed about whether the community should be informed that he is actually a licentious and covetous manipulator.
Here is where Lizzy reflects to herself about her initial perceptions of Wickham and Darcy. This comes much later in the book, when Lizzie is analyzing and humbly learning from her mistakes. She realizes how little basis she had for believing Wickham to be a man of truth when they first conversed and he ‘confided’ in her. And how quickly all her thinking and perceptions were skewed by Wickham’s crafty words and smooth presentation. She shamefully realizes how naive she’d been, and how she had presumed too much too quickly.
She had never heard of him [Wickham] before his entrance into the —-shire Militia, in which he had engaged at the persuasion of the young man, who, on meeting him accidentally in town, had there renewed a slight acquaintance. Of his former way of life, nothing had been known in Hertfordshire but what he told himself. As to his real character, had information been in her power, she had never felt a wish of enquiring. His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in the possession of every virtue. She tried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him from the attacks of Mr. Darcy; or at least, by the predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors, under which she would endeavour to class what Mr. Darcy had described as the idleness and vice of many years continuance. But no such recollection befriended her. She could see him instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but she could remember no more substantial good than the general approbation of the neighbourhood, and the regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess. After pausing on this point a considerable while, she once more continued to read. But, alas! the story which followed, of his designs on Miss Darcy, received some confirmation from what had passed between Colonel Fitzwilliam and herself only the morning before; and at last she was referred for the truth of every particular to Colonel Fitzwilliam himself — from whom she had previously received the information of his near concern in all his cousin’s affairs, and whose character she had no reason to question. At one time she had almost resolved on applying to him, but the idea was checked by the awkwardness of the application, and at length wholly banished by the conviction that Mr. Darcy would never have hazarded such a proposal if he had not been well assured of his cousin’s corroboration.
She perfectly remembered every thing that had passed in conversation between Wickham and herself in their first evening at Mr. Philips’s. Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory. She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger, and wondered it had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward as he had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with his conduct. She remembered that he had boasted of having no fear of seeing Mr. Darcy — that Mr. Darcy might leave the country, but that he should stand his ground; yet he had avoided the Netherfield ball the very next week. She remembered also, that till the Netherfield family had quitted the country, he had told his story to no one but herself; but that after their removal, it had been every where discussed; that he had then no reserves, no scruples in sinking Mr. Darcy’s character, though he had assured her that respect for the father would always prevent his exposing the son.
How differently did every thing now appear in which he was concerned! His attentions to Miss King were now the consequence of views solely and hatefully mercenary; and the mediocrity of her fortune proved no longer the moderation of his wishes, but his eagerness to grasp at any thing. His behaviour to herself could now have had no tolerable motive; he had either been deceived with regard to her fortune, or had been gratifying his vanity by encouraging the preference which she believed she had most incautiously shewn. Every lingering struggle in his favour grew fainter and fainter; and in farther justification of Mr. Darcy, she could not but allow that Mr. Bingley, when questioned by Jane, had long ago asserted his blamelessness in the affair; that, proud and repulsive as were his manners, she had never, in the whole course of their acquaintance — an acquaintance which had latterly brought them much together, and given her a sort of intimacy with his ways — seen any thing that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust — any thing that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits. That among his own connections he was esteemed and valued — that even Wickham had allowed him merit as a brother, and that she had often heard him speak so affectionately of his sister as to prove him capable of some amiable feeling. That had his actions been what Wickham represented them, so gross a violation of every thing right could hardly have been concealed from the world; and that friendship between a person capable of it, and such an amiable man as Mr. Bingley, was incomprehensible.
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. — Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”
I shall leave this already-too-long post here by simply inviting readers to share what it brings up for them or how they may relate to it.