Elizabeth keeps encountering Darcy during her walks through the park and is bothered when, rather than leaving her alone, he continues to join her. One day, she meets Colonel Fitzwilliam as she's walking and they begin discussing Darcy's character. When Fitzwilliam relates the story of "a most imprudent marriage" that Darcy saved Bingley from, Elizabeth infers that he is speaking of Jane and reflects upon Darcy's actions with anger and tears when she returns to her room. Feeling unfit to see Lady Catherine and especially wanting to avoid Darcy, Elizabeth decides not to go to Rosings that night for dinner, telling Charlotte that she has a headache.
After everyone has left for Rosings, Elizabeth is startled by the arrival of Darcy, who inquires about her health. After a few minutes of silence, Darcy shocks Elizabeth with a declaration of love for her and a proposal of marriage. Initially flattered by his regard, Elizabeth's feelings turn to outrage as Darcy catalogs all of the reasons why he has resisted his feelings for her — namely how her inferior social class would degrade his own standing and the problem of her family. Elizabeth in turn stuns Darcy by refusing his proposal, stating, "I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry." She condemns him for separating Jane and Bingley, for treating Wickham poorly, and for his arrogance and selfishness. He accepts these accusations without apology, even with contempt. However, he flinches when she accuses him of not behaving like a gentleman and when Elizabeth finishes her denunciation of him, Darcy angrily departs. Overwhelmed with emotion, Elizabeth cries for a half hour afterward and retreats to her room when everyone returns home.
As Elizabeth is walking the next morning, Darcy approaches her, gives her a letter, and leaves her alone to read it. In the letter, Darcy does not renew his marriage proposal, but instead addresses Elizabeth's two main objections to him: his involvement in Jane and Bingley's breakup and his treatment of Wickham. Regarding Jane and Bingley, Darcy states that he believed that Jane did not love Bingley, and he consequently persuaded Bingley that it was so, as well. He admits that he wanted to save Bingley from an imprudent marriage, but he stresses that he felt that Jane's feelings were not deeply involved because her calm nature never displayed any indication of her strong attachment. Darcy adds that Jane's mother, her three younger sisters, and even her father act improperly in public and create a spectacle of themselves.
As for Wickham, Darcy states that he is a pleasant but unprincipled man who is greedy and vengeful. Contrary to Wickham's account, Darcy asserts that he did not deprive Wickham of the clergyman position without compensation. Instead, as Wickham's request, Darcy gave him 3,000 pounds to use to study law. Wickham squandered the money, tried to get more from Darcy, and when that failed, tried to elope with Darcy's sister. Darcy directs Elizabeth to ask Colonel Fitzwilliam for confirmation of anything she questions in his letter.
At first, Elizabeth refuses to believe the letter, but after rereading it and thinking back on the circumstances Darcy recounts, she soon realizes, with a great deal of shock and chagrin, that it is completely true. Reflecting upon her former behavior and views, she is horrified and ashamed and exclaims, "I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself." Depressed and ashamed, she finally returns to the parsonage, and learns that both Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had visited and gone.
These chapters are among the most important of the novel. They present the plot's climax — the turning point of the action of the novel — and the beginning of the denouement — the resolution of the plot. Here, Elizabeth experiences her great self-revelation about her prejudices, and Darcy receives a similar blow to his own expectations and perceptions of the world.
Austen has carefully structured the plot so that Darcy's proposal comes at the height of Elizabeth's anger toward him. Elizabeth's conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam leaves her so upset and resentful of Darcy that she makes herself sick thinking about how he has harmed her sister. Her feelings are such that she cannot bear the thought of seeing him. At the same time, Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth have reached the point of compelling him to go to her and expose his heart, leading to his outburst, "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
The proposal itself is filled with pride as Darcy refers to all the obstacles which he has had to overcome in order to make himself take this step. Rather than emphasizing his love for Elizabeth, he focuses on the negatives of the situation and makes disparaging comments about her family. Meanwhile, the proposal completely stuns Elizabeth. She has been blind to Darcy's affections for her because she has been so prejudiced against him. Note that throughout the scene, Darcy accuses Elizabeth of pride, while Elizabeth accuses him of prejudice — an ironic reversal of the way readers have viewed each character. Elizabeth tells him that he was prejudiced against Wickham, against Jane, and against things that do not fit into his social world. In turn, he tells her that she would not be so adamant "had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession." This ironic reversal emphasizes that both Elizabeth and Darcy have been guilty of both pride and prejudice.
Darcy's letter is important in three ways. First, it clarifies plot points from earlier in the book by explaining exactly what Darcy's role was in Bingley's sudden departure and Wickham's job problems. Secondly, the letter provides the reader with invaluable insights into Darcy's mind and personality. Because most of the story is told from Elizabeth's perspective, readers have little chance to know Darcy beyond his outward behavior. But the most important aspect of the letter is the impact it has on Elizabeth. Through Elizabeth's reactions to the letter, Austen masterfully displays the process of revelation and self-discovery.
Watch the gradual method by which Elizabeth comes to a self-revelation of her own pride and prejudice. She begins reading the letter "with a strong prejudice against everything he might say." Then as she reads the letter a second and a third time, one or two things begin to strike her as being true. After she has brought herself to accept one statement as being true, she realizes that she must ultimately accept every fact as true or reject them all. Her final realization is that she has been "blind, partial, prejudiced and absurd." Previously, she had called Jane blind, and now she has gained a moral insight into her own character and sees that she has also been blind. This, therefore, is her crucial recognition about herself. Consequently, Elizabeth's character increases in depth as she is able to analyze herself and come to these realizations.
haunt a place often visited.
rencontre a casual meeting, as with a friend.
pales narrow, upright, pointed stakes used in fences; pickets.
tractable easily managed, taught, or controlled; docile; compliant.
prodigious wonderful; amazing.
conjecture an inference, theory, or prediction based on guesswork.
scrape a disagreeable or embarrassing situation; predicament, especially when caused by one's own conduct.
officious offering unnecessary and unwanted advice; meddlesome.
avowal open acknowledgment or declaration.
tumult great emotional disturbance; agitation of mind.
plantation a large, cultivated planting of trees.
depravity a depraved condition; corruption; wickedness.
pecuniary of or involving money.
in lieu of in place of; instead of.
obtruded to offer or force (oneself or one's opinions) upon others unasked or unwanted.
connivance passive cooperation, as by consent or pretended ignorance, especially in wrongdoing.
acquit to clear (a person) of a charge, as by declaring him or her not guilty.
affinity similarity of structure.
grossest most glaring; most flagrant; very worst.
infamous causing or deserving a bad reputation; scandalous.