Pride and Prejudice: Part V (Chapters 41 ~ 50)
As a reader, I have the right not to analyze a book. I have the right to simply enjoy, to let the words wash over my mind and not scrutinize them in hopes of glimpsing the meaning behind them.
(<- Alas, I could not help but do this.)
Because there were so many things that caught my attention in those ten chapters (about 56 pages) so this post will be long.
Soon after Lizzy’s return to Longbourn, Lydia receives an invitation from Mrs Forster (the wife of Colonel Forster) to stay with the regiment in Brighton, who is scheduled to move in fortnight. Upon hearing this, Lizzy immediately seeks her father and says:
“Our importance, our respectability in the world must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia’s character.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 41)
She then pleads her father to do something with Lydia and her character before she brings ridicule upon the whole family.
Do not these words remind you one someone else’s?
My brain traced them back to a certain gentleman’s, who criticized “the total want of propriety so frequently” (Chapter 35, in Darcy’s letter) from all members of her family except for Jane. (He is very severe on etiquette and how one behaves oneself to outside, isn’t he? I think Darcy wouldn’t have survived the 21st century.) He named this criticism as one of the factors why he discouraged Bingley’s intention.
I’ve seen Lizzy cringe inwardly and outwardly as her younger sisters embarrassed her and her family but never before has she spoken so frankly about the collateral (or rather the main) damage the family must be suffering from. Maybe Darcy’s words have made her see her situation through different eyes.
There is another change in Chapter 42, when Elizabeth mentions “the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband”. Apparently Mr Bennet had married Mrs Bennet for her youth and beauty, and when he found out how intolerable her chatters could be, well, it was too late. Since then, he just amuses himself with her fits of hysteria and ignorance, otherwise he retreats to his library and peace. While Lizzy perfectly understand his reasons for his behavior, she has “always seen it with pain” because he let her lose her respect among her own children and in the society. This is the first time Lizzy openly criticizes her father’s faults.
But there have been changes in Darcy, too. After the regiment’s leave (and an awkward conversation between Lizzy and Wickham, who, after abandoning Mary King as a suitable prospect, has turned to Lizzy for “idle and frivolous gallantry” – and thus has brought further disgust to her), Lizzy leaves with the Gardiners, her uncle and aunt, for Derbyshire because their original plan for the Lakes fell through. They stay a few days in Lambton, a town in which Mrs Gardiner grew up in. And a town not far away from Pemberley, whose grounds they decide to explore after ensuring the master won’t be there.
It is from the housekeeper that the party of three hears what a good master, landlord, brother and gentleman he is; he is also a well-tempered man, Mrs Raynold says, never having said a cross word to her in their twenty-something years of acquaintance. Elizabeth, who has known him only as either a standoffish or a passionate man, is much surprised by this praise of character.
Everyone is surprised when Darcy makes a sudden appearance, having returned earlier than scheduled. Lizzy fears he might hate her for that fateful afternoon, so she is astonished when he addresses her “if not in terms of perfect composure, at least of perfect civility.” (Chapter 34) When they meet each other the second time while taking a walk, he asks Lizzy to introduce her friends to him, and when she reveals the family connection, she expects him to turn away from “such disgraceful companions”, as they were the “very people against whom his pride had revolted in his offer to herself.” Yet against this expectation Darcy continues to walk with them, as if chatting with people of lower standing didn’t irk him at all (really, what is it with him and his strict social role?). Darcy treats them with respect and civil manner, which pleases and amazes Lizzy. It must be added that while not rich (I’d say middle-class?), there is no fault to be found in Mr and Mrs Gardiner’s manner and behavior.
The ultimate proof of Darcy’s opinion of Lizzy is his request to get her acquainted with his sister, Georgiana. Darcy is a very protective and loving brother to Georgiana, and wouldn’t let anyone go near her who didn’t have his approval. (Also, Georgiana later reveals that she has heard so many good things about Elizabeth that a string of complaints about Lizzy from Caroline Bingley couldn’t taint her opinion of Lizzy.)
All seems to be going well when Lizzy receives dreadful news from Longbourn: Lydia and Wickham have eloped, but they show no sign of getting married. Lizzy is wished back and the assistance of Mr Gardiner most fervently sought after. Mr Darcy sees Lizzy in great agitation and after relating the matter, he offers his consolation (which is useless, and he knows it) and leaves. She later regrets having told him about the affair, as she believes that her chances “must [be] sink[ing] under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace” and comes to realize that “never ha[s] she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be vain.” (Chapter 46) Well, Lizzy is finally catching up, I’d say. And if we were talking about the Old Darcy, I might just agree with her. But as the New Darcy has just as much changed as Lizzy’s opinion of him, and since he had defended her against Caroline’s sharp words quite admirably, her desperation is rather unfounded. But of course Lizzy doesn’t know of this little incident.
So Lizzy and the Gardiners make their way back as quickly as possible, and a search party (comprised of Mr Bennet and his brother-in-law) is sent for London.
At first the eloped (unofficial) couple is not to be found, and a letter from that Mr Collins arrives. I would have skipped over this insignificant person’s letter if it hadn’t been so offensive. He writes –
“[…] No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe a misfortune – or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of all others the most afflicting to a parent’s mind. The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this.
And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace. […]” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 48)
How arrogant, how egoistic, is that? And why write such a mean and condescending letter at all? Seriously, this Collins is just… despicable. (I know it was a big no-way-no-how to live together without getting married till latter part of the 20th century, but to wish a child of another person dead? That’s just not done, even if it was meant to be kind for that person.)
Moving on. In the end, Mr Gardiner finds those two runaways and implies that if Wickham’s debts were paid off and Lydia’s annual income granted, he would be willing to marry her. The problem now is how Mr Bennet should scrape 10,000£ together to pay back Mr Gardiner, who, it is generally believed, already paid off Wickham. When Mr Bennet mentions this to his wife, she replies: “it is all very right; […] and it is the first time we have ever had anything from him [Mr Gardiner, a.k.a. her brother], except a few presents. Well! I am so happy! In a short time I shall have a daughter married.” And so on. Isn’t that an impudent reaction? She does not even have it in her to be grateful.
This review ends with a remark on one aspect of the British language as portrayed in the book that I found strange: While in a conversation, both Jane and Lizzy refer to “my mother” and “my uncle” and so on, but never “our mother”. Was it so uncommon to say “our”?
Favorite quotes from this section:
“[Elizabeth] wanted to compose her own, and to make herself agreeable to all; and in [this] object, where she feared most to fail, she was must sure of success, for those to whom she endeavoured to give pleasure were prepossessed in her favour. Bingley was ready, Georgiana was eager, and Darcy determined, to be pleased.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 44, Lizzy upon receiving the three visitors in her room a the inn)
“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 50)