Summary and Analysis
Chapters 51-55 (Volume III, 9-13)
Soon after Lydia and Wickham marry, they arrive at Longbourn. Much to Elizabeth and Jane's embarrassment and Mr. Bennet's outrage, the couple acts completely self-assured and unashamed. In observing the couple, Elizabeth notes that Lydia seems to be more in love with Wickham than he is with her, and she surmises that Wickham fled Brighton mainly because of gambling debts, taking Lydia along because she was willing. Unimpressed by Wickham's still-charming manners, Elizabeth politely informs him that she is aware of his past but wants to have an amiable relationship with him.
One morning, Lydia mentions that Darcy was present at her wedding. Intensely curious about Darcy's involvement in her sister's marriage, Elizabeth writes to her aunt to demand more information. Mrs. Gardiner quickly replies, explaining that it was Darcy, not Mr. Gardiner, who found Lydia and Wickham, and he persuaded Wickham to marry Lydia with a substantial wedding settlement — Darcy paid all of Wickham's debts and bought him a commission in the army. Mrs. Gardiner implies that Darcy was motivated not only by a sense of responsibility but also out of love for Elizabeth. Elizabeth wants to believe her aunt's supposition, but she questions whether Darcy could still have strong feelings for her.
Mrs. Bennet laments Lydia and Wickham's departure, but the news that Bingley is returning to Netherfield Hall soon shifts her attention to Jane. While Jane claims to be unaffected by Bingley's arrival, Elizabeth is certain that her sister still has feelings for him. When Bingley visits Longbourn, Elizabeth is surprised and excited to see that Darcy has accompanied him. He is once more grave and reserved, though, which troubles her. Making Elizabeth more uncomfortable is her mother's rude treatment of Darcy, especially when she reflects upon how much Darcy has secretly helped the Bennet family.
Darcy goes to London and Bingley continues to visit the Bennets. He and Jane grow closer, and much to everyone's delight, he finally proposes.
Darcy completely wins Elizabeth over with his involvement in Lydia's marriage. She is ashamed to think of how much he has done for her family, but she is also deeply grateful for his assistance and is intrigued by his possible motivations. Note that despite the fact that Elizabeth has recognized how well-suited she and Darcy are and that she recognizes his generous and thoughtful nature, she still does not believe he can overcome the detriments of her family, especially now that Wickham is her brother-in-law. At this point, Darcy has proven his willingness to sacrifice a little pride for Elizabeth's happiness, especially in his dealings with Wickham. So perhaps Elizabeth's inability to believe in the magnitude of his love for her stems not from any fault of Darcy's, but rather from Elizabeth's own insecurities regarding her family and her seemingly pointless hopes for a life with Darcy. These insecurities paired with the intensity of her feelings for Darcy cause her to do something extremely uncharacteristic — she does not confide in Jane. Considering that she shares everything with Jane except potentially painful matters concerning Bingley, Elizabeth's silence on such important, life-altering matters is significant and seems to indicate the depth of her uncertainty.
Elizabeth's insecurities are not relieved at all by Darcy's visit to Longbourn with Bingley. His retreat into silence frustrates and confuses her, but instead of attributing his reticence to pride, Elizabeth fairly considers that "perhaps he could not in her mother's presence be what he was before her uncle and aunt."
Austen cleverly builds the reader's sense of anticipation to mirror Elizabeth's as she is continuously prevented from speaking with Darcy. Throughout the novel, Austen has conditioned the reader to expect witty, intelligent, and rapid dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy in the scenes in which they are together. She has made their exchanges central to the development of the characters and the plot. When Austen restricts their ability to interact here, she withholds one of the most enjoyable aspects of their relationship. The result of this technique is a heightened identification with Elizabeth and Darcy's obvious frustration as they are forced to prolong their uncertainty and suspense regarding their feelings for each other.
Unable to question Darcy about his attitude toward Bingley and Jane, Elizabeth instead watches closely as Bingley's presence revitalizes the relationship between him and her sister. Earlier, Darcy had objected to Jane and Bingley's marriage, but now as he accompanies his friend to the Bennets' home, it seems as if he is encouraging it. Elizabeth is not certain, but she feels strongly that Darcy is using his influence to bring about a proposal. Darcy's apparent support of Jane and Bingley's relationship again emphasizes the reversal that Darcy has undergone.
Austen's marriage theme, which up to this point has been a bit bleak, becomes more positive with Jane and Bingley's engagement. Finally, readers witness a love match, one of the few happy marriages in the novel. Jane and Bingley's relationship is based on genuine love, understanding, and a similarity of feelings and perspectives on the world. Such a relationship stands in obvious contrast to the marriages of the Bennets, the Collinses, and the Wickhams, which all lack this type of emotion or compatibility. From the beginning of the novel, both Jane and Elizabeth have repeatedly stated that they want to marry for love. From the indisputable happiness caused by Jane's engagement, it seems that Jane and Elizabeth's view of marriage is the one approved of by Austen. Such a marriage naturally enhances the lives of the couple, but it also enriches the lives of their family, friends, and future children.
alacrity eager willingness or readiness.
austerity a severe or stern look or manner; forbidding quality.
parade to walk about ostentatiously; show off.
the first of September the beginning of bird-hunting season.
distracted insane; crazy.
cogent forceful and to the point, as a reason or argument; convincing.
stratagems tricks or schemes for achieving some purpose.
comprise to include; contain.
racked to trouble, torment, or afflict.
imputed to attribute (especially a fault or misconduct) to another.
quit to leave; depart from.
obstinate unreasonably determined to have one's own way; stubborn.
attendant accompanying as a circumstance or result.
supplication a humble request, prayer, or petition.
abominate to feel hatred and disgust for; loathe.
liberality willingness to give or share freely; generosity.
saucy rude; impudent.
gallantry the courtly manner of one who is stylish.
twelvemonth [Chiefly British, archaic] one year.
simpers smiles in a silly, affected, or self-conscious way.
prodigiously in a way indicating great size, power, or extent; enormously; hugely.
canvassed examined or discussed in detail; looked over carefully.
tidings news; information.
partake to take part (in an activity); participate.
covies small flocks or broods of birds.
hither to or toward this place; here.
sanction support; encouragement; approval.
confederacy people united for some common purpose.
abhorrent causing disgust or hatred; detestable.
rapacity greed; voraciousness.
concurrence agreement; accord.
solicitude the state of being solicitous; care or concern.
circumspection cautiousness; carefulness.
cordiality cordial quality; warm, friendly feeling.
panegyric a formal speech or piece of writing praising a person or event.