Pride and Prejudice: Part VI (Chapters 51 ~ 61)
We are nearing the end of this widely read and loved novel written a couple of hundred years ago.
I will start where I left off: So Lydia and Wickham are finally married and they visit Longbourn before the Wickhams move to the North. Lydia is pretty much the same: prancing, gloating, loud and generally disagreeable. Oh, Mrs Bennet is all joy, but she is the only one, I daresay.
When Lydia drops a hint that Mr Darcy was present at her wedding, Lizzy immediately writes a letter to Mrs Gardiner in hopes that her aunt might enlighten the matter. She then learns that it had been Darcy who has found Lydia and Wickham, as well paying Wickham’s debt and giving him the money so he could get them married.
Mrs Gardiner writes –
“[…] I fancy, Lizzy, that obstinacy is the real defect of his character, after all. He has been accused of many faults at different times, but this is the true one. Nothing was to be done that he did not do himself […] But in spite of all this fine talking, my dear Lizzy, you may rest perfectly assured that your uncle would never have yielded, if we had not given him credit for another interest in the affair. […]
Will you be very angry with me, my dear Lizzy, if I take this opportunity of saying (what I was never bold enough to say before) how much I like him. […] His understanding and opinions all please me; he wants nothing but a little more liveliness, and that, if he marry prudently, his wife may teach him.
[…] Pray forgive me if I have been very presuming, or at least do not punish me so far as to exclude me from P. I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the park. A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing. […]” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 52)
Isn’t she sweet? Yes, she does not waste time dropping hints all over, but that endeared her to me even more.
Funny is Lizzy’s father’s reaction to this revelation (after Lizzy and Darcy become engaged and have asked Mr Bennet for his consent):
“This is an evening of wonders, indeed! And so, Darcy did every thing; made up the match, gave the money, paid the fellow’s debts, and got him his commission! So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy. Had it been your uncle’s doing, I must and would have paid him; but these violent young lovers carry every thing their own way. I shall offer to pay him to-morrow; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the matter.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 59)
So the Wickhams are off, and a rumor make its round that Mr Bingley is scheduled to come back to Netherfield. And indeed he does – with his friend Darcy at his heels. This turns the whole Bennet household upside down (excepting Mary and Mr Bennet, probably) and the eldest two Miss Bennets are nervous for different reasons.
It takes only a couple of visits for Bingley and Jane to re-recognize their feelings for each other, and with Darcy’s blessing, the couple meets their happy end.
For Lizzy and Darcy, the circumstances are more vexing, because they circle around each other in cautious steps, as if stepping an inch more forward would burn their toes. So when Darcy does not approach her at gatherings and nor gives her any sign of his affection other than silent stares, Lizzy goes back and forth between expectation, hope and despair, like any young girl in love for whom it is uncertain whether the emotion is reciprocated. Here is an example of her agitated state:
“Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied everyone to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against herself for being so silly!
‘A man who has once been refused! How could I ever be foolish enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex, who would not protest against such a wekaness as a second propsal to the same woman? […]'” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 54)
After Bingley’s proposal to Jane (although we don’t get to read how exactly it was done, as the room in which it happened was vacant save for the lovers), Mrs Bennet is dancing in joy – but the only compliment she can pay to her daughter is this – “I knew how it would be. I always said it must be so, al last. I was sure you could not be so beautiful for nothing!” Very nice, Mrs Bennet.
Darcy leaves Longbourn without having said anything of importance to Elizabeth. Soon the latter is visited by the former’s aunt, who has heard (from Mr Collins, as it turns out, who has heard it from the Lucases) that Darcy and Elizabeth might get / are already engaged to each other. She storms in, takes Lizzy out to the garden, and starts talking about how Darcy and her daughter were meant for each other from infancy and how marrying Lizzy will bring disgrace and doom to his name and to Pemberley. When Lizzy – who, I might add, is a fine match for Lady C. in verbal argument – refuses to declare that she does not intend to marry him, Lady Catherine bursts out: “You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody?” (Chapter 56)
Ironically enough, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s interference is what seals the happiness of the couple: Darcy, having heard from his aunt what has happened, harbors a hope which he puts into words in following way –
“It taught me to hope […] as I has scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 58)
And here is the second proposal, which, this time, is readily and immediately accepted.
“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 58)
Darcy also talks about his pride in following manner:
“‘[…] I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves […], allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for non beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. […]'” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 58)
This confession clears quite a few of misconceptions in my mind. When I watched the BBC serialization, and later tried to read the book, I only thought Pride and Prejudice as a love story. To my defence (not that I want one), this, I think, is the general impression on many people; Darcy and Elizabeth are perceived as one of the best couples, and the novel one of the best love stories.
I also used to think that Mr Darcy was in the right, and Lizzy in the wrong. She got all that Wickham business mixed up and accused Darcy – after that problem is cleared up, they confirm their love for each other and live their happily ever after. Oversimplification. This view also casts, inarguably, a unfavorable light over Lizzy.
That was then. Now I think Pride and Prejudice is a novel about people and criticism on their behavior and faults, just like many other novels. The love story is just an added element that was necessary and more interesting to the storyline. It does not take rocket science to figure out that Darcy stands for the pride part and Elizabeth the prejudice one in the title. But the important fact is that these two characters come to understand their critical flaws and change – fueled by humility, gratitude, and love. That’s where the love element comes in – it acts as a catalyst to start a reaction.
I am sure there are more messages centering around minor characters (Mr and Mrs Bennet as well as the other Bennet sisters, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, Mrs Forster, etc.) but I do not wish to go into all the details.
I just want to add that as a contemporary reader, Pride and Prejudice, like other classics, has given me an insight to the strict social procedure that Austen makes fun of, and to the situation for women (see Charlotte and Lydia).