Summary and Analysis
Chapters 56-61 (Volume III, 14-20)
Lady Catherine De Bourgh unexpectedly drops by Longbourn one day to talk to Elizabeth. She has heard a rumor that Darcy and Elizabeth are or are about to be engaged and is determined to stop any romance that may exist between them. Declaring that Darcy and Miss De Bourgh have been intended for each other since they were born, Lady Catherine tells Elizabeth that the match between her nephew and daughter will not be ruined by "a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family." Despite Lady Catherine's demands, Elizabeth refuses to be intimidated and she fuels Lady Catherine's outrage by refusing to promise never to accept a proposal from Darcy. Lady Catherine leaves angrily, threatening to approach Darcy on the matter. Shaken by the confrontation, Elizabeth wonders how Darcy will react to his aunt's denunciation of her. She decides that if Darcy does not return to Netherfield, she will know that he has submitted to his aunt's wishes.
The next morning, Mr. Bennet asks Elizabeth into his library, where he shares a letter with her that he received from Mr. Collins. In it, Mr. Collins also addresses the rumored engagement between Elizabeth and Darcy and warns his cousin against it, stating that Lady Catherine does not approve. Mr. Bennet finds the idea of Elizabeth being engaged to Darcy ludicrous and tries to get Elizabeth to laugh with him over the situation, while Elizabeth miserably listens and tries to think of something to say.
Several days later, contrary to Elizabeth's expectations, Darcy comes to Longbourn with Bingley. She and Darcy go for a walk and Elizabeth blurts out her thanks for his involvement in Lydia and Wickham's marriage. In turn, Darcy declares that he still loves Elizabeth and wants to marry her. When Elizabeth responds that her feelings have greatly changed and that she also loves him, Darcy is delighted and the two happily discuss the history of their relationship. Darcy tells Elizabeth that her refusal of his first proposal caused him to examine his pride and prejudices and to subsequently alter his behavior. They also discuss Bingley and Jane. Darcy is happy about their engagement, and he admits to encouraging Bingley to propose.
Darcy and Elizabeth's engagement is so unexpected that the Bennet family has difficulty believing it at first. Elizabeth's criticisms of Darcy were initially so strong that no one except the Gardiners had any idea of the change in her feelings for him. After the family is convinced, however, everyone's reactions are characteristic. Jane is genuinely happy for her sister, and Mrs. Bennet is thrilled at the prospect of Darcy's wealth. Mr. Bennet is saddened that his favorite daughter will be leaving, but he is happy to discover that Darcy paid off Wickham rather than Mr. Gardiner, feeling that, because a family member did not pay the debt, Mr. Bennet is released from his obligation to pay the money back.
After the marriages of Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley, life progresses happily for the newlyweds. The Bingleys move close to Pemberley after about a year, and Elizabeth and Jane are frequently visited by their sister Kitty, who improves considerably under their influence. Back at Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet continues to be silly, Mr. Bennet misses Elizabeth and enjoys visiting her, and Mary appreciates having no pretty sisters at home to compete with. As for the rest of their families, Wickham and Lydia continue to squander money, Lady Catherine is cold to Elizabeth, and Miss Darcy and Elizabeth become very close. Darcy and Elizabeth's happiness is increased by visits from the Gardiners, whom Darcy and Elizabeth feel are responsible for bringing them together.
The confrontation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine underscores Elizabeth's ability to hold her own with those aristocrats whose pride will make them prejudiced against her when she becomes Darcy's wife. From the beginning of the novel, Elizabeth was shown to be capable of resisting others' wills and clearly articulating her beliefs. However, Elizabeth's maturation process has given her a deeper understanding of herself and of others, and as a result she is able to deal with adversity in a much calmer, less confrontational manner. Since she had her self-revelation, Elizabeth has controlled potentially volatile situations with complete confidence. She deflated Miss Bingley's attempts to provoke her at Pemberley, put Wickham in his place after he married Lydia, and now easily routs her most challenging adversary, Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
The ironic result of Lady Catherine's visit is to insure the marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth. Lady Catherine came in order to prevent it, but when Darcy hears the manner in which Elizabeth answered her, he realizes that Elizabeth's feelings must have changed in some degree. If she had felt as she did when she told him that he was "the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry," she certainly would not have refused to say she would never accept a proposal from him. Although Elizabeth and Darcy probably would have eventually made their feelings known to each other without Lady Catherine's meddling, her interference helps to expedite the process.
Austen resolves the plot tidily, wrapping up all of the storylines with a brief snapshot of the characters' futures. Most important of those futures, of course, are the successful marriages of Elizabeth and Jane. Austen's structural symmetry is evident in her concluding the novel with Elizabeth and Darcy's engagement and vision of their life together. In the beginning of the book, Austen presents the reader with the image of the Bennets' unhappy marriage and the sense of a perilous future for the Bennet daughters if they remain unwed. The difficulty of the situation for the young women was that they did not want unhappy marriages, which they knew first-hand to be a miserable way to spend one's life, but they also knew that if they did not marry, eventually they would be homeless and poor and would live miserably on the charity of other family members. As a result, the driving force behind the plot is for the Bennet girls — Jane and Elizabeth in particular — to find husbands they can love and respect.
Jane finds her ideal mate almost immediately, but circumstances keep them apart until almost the end of the novel. Elizabeth also immediately finds the man who will be her husband, but they both need to undergo a process of self-discovery before they can truly understand each other and have a successful marriage. Out of all the engagements and marriages that occur in the book, Elizabeth's takes the longest to come about. In the end, it also seems that her marriage will be the richest emotionally, intellectually, and monetarily — the exact opposite of her parents' marriage. Consequently, Austen concludes her novel with an implied message that marital happiness originates not from a love of security (Charlotte), passion (Lydia), or perfect harmony (Jane), but rather from an honest recognition and love of the whole person, strengths and weaknesses. Before people can find that kind of complete understanding of another, however, they must first fully know themselves.
equipage a carriage, especially one with horses and liveried servants.
the horses were post The horses were normally used by postal carriers but could also be rented out to people who did not want to use their own horses for a journey.
hermitage a secluded retreat.
parasol a lightweight umbrella carried by women as a sunshade.
industriously with earnest, steady effort; in a diligent manner.
foundation the fundamental principle on which something is founded; basis.
borne put up with; tolerated.
he was destined for his cousin The marriage of cousins was an acceptable way to keep wealth and estates within aristocratic families.
tacit not expressed or declared openly, but implied or understood.
brooking putting up with; enduring: usually in the negative.
sphere social stratum, place in society, or walk of life.
incensed made very angry.
oblige to do a favor or service.
prodigiously wonderfully or amazingly.
incessantly never ceasing; continuing or being repeated without stopping or in a way that seems endless.
meditate to plan or intend.
enumerating naming one-by-one; specifying, as in a list.
penetration the act or power of discerning.
sagacity the quality or an instance of being sagacious; penetrating intelligence and sound judgment.
incur to become subject to through one's own action; bring upon oneself.
vice evil or wicked conduct or behavior; depravity or corruption.
denoted was a sign of; indicated.
irrevocably in a way that cannot be revoked, recalled, or undone; unalterably.
frankness the quality of being open and honest in expressing what one thinks or feels; straightforwardness.
abhorrence an abhorring; loathing; detestation.
annexed joined; connected.
devoid completely without; empty or destitute (of).
reproofs things said in reproving; rebukes.
gravity solemnity or sedateness of manner or character; earnestness.
narrowly close; careful; minute; thorough.
epithet an adjective, noun, or phrase, often specif. a disparaging one, used to characterize some person or thing.
vehemence intense feeling or strong passion; fervent or impassioned state or condition.
pin-money [Archaic] an allowance of money given to a wife for small personal expenses.
special license a prestigious type of marriage license that was obtained from a bishop or archbishop.
heedless not taking heed; careless; unmindful.
Discharging getting rid of; acquitting oneself of; paying (a debt) or performing (a duty).
arrear an unpaid and overdue debt; usually in the plural.