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Mrs. Gardiner’s observation about Wickham raises an interesting irony. Wickham is not suitable for Elizabeth for the same reason Elizabeth is not suitable for Darcy. Elizabeth’s response to Mrs. Gardiner’s warning is equivocal, suggesting first that she recognizes this irony but also that she is aware that, though social strictures on marriage might be illogical and unromantic, were she to break them she would be negatively affecting her family. Elizabeth and Austen are both saved from having to worry about this moral conundrum when Wickham shifts his affections to the suddenly wealthy Miss King. The narrator’s comment that Elizabeth’s feelings about Wickham’s decision to marry for money do not match her feelings about Charlotte’s similar decision imply that there is a double standard at work in Elizabeth’s logic: though she seems to consider it acceptable for men to marry for money, she believes so strongly in love that she believes her female friends should ignore such considerations.
While Elizabeth may forgive Wickham for chasing Ms. King’s money, the reader is more likely to see him as a simple fortune hunter. By establishing this aspect of his character, Austen prepares the reader for the revelation that Wickham attempted to elope with Darcy’s sister in order to obtain her fortune. In this seemingly minor fact, which Elizabeth herself seems to brush aside, resides a clue to Wickham’s generally poor character.