Character Contrast between Lydia and Catherine (Kitty) in Pride and Prejudice

Dr. A.C. Bradley remarked in a happy moment that the six novels of Jane Austen could be called “The Parents’ Assistant in six volumes.” He meant thereby that her novels have a lesson for parents. Jane Austen does not deal with crime and wickedness which were ‘odious subjects’ for her. There are a few undesirable characters who do not follow the path of righteousness, but their defects are attributed by the novelist to wrong training during their childhood. Everything amiss is due, according to Jane Austen, not to an essential defect in character, but to wrong direction. Even Mr. Darcy remarks that he was proud and haughty because he had been trained by his parents to look upon himself as the most important person in the world. It seems to be the view of Jane Austen that children are what their parents make them. This theory, with which we cannot agree in full, is exemplified best in the characters of Lydia and Kitty.

Character Contrast between Lydia and Catherine (Kitty) in Pride and Prejudice

The two are the youngest daughters of the Bennets and their character may be analysed together, since Kitty is merely a pale shadow of the other and has no marked individuality of her own.

As is characteristic of Jane Austen, she gives us an idea of their character from the very beginning, as in the case of all others. Lydia is the livelier of the two, though younger. She has plenty of animal spirits, a buoyant temper, a rapidly flowing tongue, and a fairly attractive person. But that is all that can be said of her. Her father who is a shrewd judge of persons, remarks of her and Kitty that “they are two of the silliest girls in the country.” He hits the truth accurately in this remark and all the words and actions of Lydia bear it out.

She is a born flirt and appears to have become an expert in the art by the time she is sixteen. As was characteristic of many silly girls of the period, she is strongly attracted by the officers that have their camp at Meryton. There is not a word that she speaks that is not concerned with the officers. It is not that she is attached. to any officer in particular. She is more in love with the idea of being in love with persons in uniform. Accordingly, her talk is full of them and she is actively encouraged by her foolish mother in this respect. Mrs. Bennet indeed provides a defense for her daughter by referring to her own feelings for the officers when she was young. With such indulgence on her part, and nothing more than sarcastic remarks on the part of her father, Lydia grows to be a confirmed coquette. None but Elizabeth realizes the danger that might befall such an unsteady character and not only Lydia but the entire family reaps the fruit of the folly of the girl.

Her defects do not threaten to be serious in the earlier parts of the novel. She talks about this officer and that; but all this is taken to be comparatively harmless and ‘silly. Next to officers, the girl takes interest in dances and parties. She shows her ill- breeding by demanding of Mr. Bingley the ball which he had promised and such forwardness, is mocked at by Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy. But this want of breeding is found not only in her but in all the members of the Bennet family, with the exception of Jane and Elizabeth. When she can neither dance nor have the company of officers, she goes shopping to Meryton, where she has an ally for gossip in her aunt Philips. Walking to Meryton whenever she is tired of life at Longbourn, shopping there with her money or someone else’s and having a look at the romantic military figures, if she is not fortunate enough to have their company, form the daily round of her activities and her be-all and end-all in life. Any one not in scarlet, the colour of the uniform of the militia in England cannot interest her. This explains her absolute indifference to the arrival of Mr. Collins who is after all a clergyman. Lydia is positively rude to him by talking about something else while the clergyman desires to entertain his fair cousins by reading some divine book. Though it is true that Mr. Collins richly deserves such a treatment, Elizabeth and Jane are ashamed of their sister’s want of manners.

It is surprising that Mr. Bennet is not aware of what such an unsteady character will lead to. Being a person who takes the line of least resistance, he does not prevent her going to Brighton with Mrs. Forster. The fault is not entirely his, since Mrs. Bennet is the ally of her daughter in the scheme and proposes that all should go to Brighton. Mr. Bennet does not permit all to go there. But he thinks it a good riddance for Lydia to be away from the house for some time. He uses a strange argument when Elizabeth pleads with him in private not to allow Lydia to go by herself. He thinks that Lydia would learn her insignificance by the slight and indifference which she would suffer at the hands of the officers in comparison with other girls and thereby be cured of her vanity. Elizabeth is not convinced of this argument for letting her go. But she is helpless in the matter.

Her fears prove true when she learns that Lydia has run away with an officer and that too, Mr. Wickham. It is then that Mr. Bennet realizes the folly of having been lenient towards her. Lydia’s character comes out at its worst when she consents to live with Mr. Wickham without being married to him. Elizabeth is ashamed to confess to think of this possibility; but she cannot but Lydia might be capable of such a sin too. Jane cannot think of such a possibility at all and is sure that Lydia would certainly insist on marriage. But it is Elizabeth’s impression that is proved to be correct. For, Lydia refuses to give up Mr. Wickham and go to her parents when Mr. Darcy persuades her to do so. She declares that she has no objection to living with Wickham without being married to him, since she feels that he would marry her sometime or other. Further, we learn that she was the prime mover in the matter of the elopement.

While her conduct in this affair is reprehensible, her later attitude too is equally disgraceful, if not more. She behaves as though nothing objectionable had happened, even in the house of the Gardiners. She has the face to boast before her sisters that she is the lucky one to be married first and claims precedence over Jane at the head of the table, since I am married, you know.’ She is lost to all sense of shame, and Elizabeth, Jane and Mr. Bennet are not able to express their sense of shame over having such a person in the family. Strangely, even at that moment, Mrs. Bennet is mightily proud of her ‘married daughter’ and boasts about it even before Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Our verdict on Lydia’s character is that she could not have been anything else with such parents to train her up.

Kitty does not merit separate consideration since she has all the defects of the other as long as she is in the company of Lydia. She is equally giddy and silly. The greatest disappointment in her life is that she has not received an invitation from Mrs. Forster to go to Brighton, while Lydia has. But it might be said to her credit that the elopement of Lydia serves as an eye-opener for her as well as for Mr. Bennet. The novelist lets us know that she manages to improve herself in the company of Elizabeth and Jane, and in the absence of Lydia. This again, is illustrative of the theory of Jane Austen that company and example are the main forces which shape the character of a person.

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