Elizabeth was much too embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, “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 forever.” Elizabeth feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand, that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances.
This proposal and Elizabeth’s acceptance mark the climax of the novel, occurring in Chapter 58. Austen famously prefers not to stage successful proposals in full, and the reader may be disappointed in the anticlimactic manner in which the narrator relates Elizabeth’s acceptance. It is important to remember, however, that the proposal and acceptance are almost a foregone conclusion by this point. Darcy’s intervention on behalf of Lydia makes obvious his continuing devotion to Elizabeth, and the shocking appearance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the previous chapter, with her haughty attempts to forestall the engagement, serves to suggest strongly that a second proposal from Darcy is imminent.
The clunky language with which the narrator summarizes Elizabeth’s acceptance serves a specific purpose, as it captures the one moment of joyful incoherence for this supremely well-spoken character. She accepts Darcy’s proposal “immediately,” the narrator relates, but “not very fluently.” As Elizabeth allows herself to admit that her love has supplanted her long-standing prejudice, her control of language breaks down. The reader is left to imagine, with some delight, the ever-clever Elizabeth fumbling for words to express her irrepressible happiness.