I'm usually pretty good at guessing what words mean, but have no clue about exigence. What is it?

You've probably dealt with an exigence (or exigency) at one time or another. It means (1) urgency, (2) an emergency or crisis, (3) the demands or needs of a certain situation. The root is the Latin verb exigere (to drive out or expel, finish).

Have a look at examples of the three usages:

  • In The Age of Innocence, Mrs. Welland tries to balance her time between her husband and her daughter May:
    Another of her principles was that parents should never (at least visibly) interfere with the plans of their married children; and the difficulty of adjusting this respect for May's independence with the exigency of Mr. Welland's claims could be overcome only by . . . ingenuity . . .
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bennet solicits her uncle's help in searching for her youngest sister, who has run away with an older man:
    " . . . circumstances are such that I cannot help earnestly begging you all to come here as soon as possible. . . . In such an exigence, my uncle's advice and assistance would be everything in the world."
  • The Scarlet Letter has an example of the third usage:
    For, though bred a lawyer, . . . the exigencies of this new country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman and ruler.