A week after Bingley and Jane become engaged, Lady Catherine de Bourgh visits the Bennets. The noblewoman wants to speak with Elizabeth and insists that they walk outside to hold a conversation. There, Lady Catherine informs Elizabeth that she has heard a rumor that Darcy is planning to marry her. Such a notion, Lady Catherine insists, is ridiculous, given Elizabeth’s low station in life and the tacit engagement of Darcy to her own daughter.
Elizabeth conceals her surprise at this news and acts very coolly toward Lady Catherine. She admits that she and Darcy are not engaged but, despite the noblewoman’s demands, refuses to promise not to enter into an engagement to him. Lady Catherine claims that Elizabeth is bound to obey her by “the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude.” She presents the familiar objection: the Bennets have such low connections that Darcy’s marrying Elizabeth would “ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.” Elizabeth defends her family, declaring, “I am a gentleman’s daughter,” and then asserts her independence from the exasperating control that such snobs as Mr. Collins, Miss Bingley, and Lady Catherine herself always attempt to exert over their social inferiors. “I am . . . resolved,” she says, “to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” Lady Catherine leaves, furious and frustrated, and Elizabeth keeps their conversation secret.
“My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”
A short time later, a letter arrives from Mr. Collins that suggests that an engagement between Darcy and Elizabeth is imminent. The letter comes to Mr. Bennet, who reads it to Elizabeth and comments on the absurdity of the idea of an engagement with Darcy—“who never looked at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life.”
A little while after Lady Catherine’s visit, Darcy again comes to stay with Bingley at Netherfield. The two friends visit the Bennets, and everyone takes a walk together. Elizabeth and Darcy lag behind, and when they are alone, Elizabeth thanks him for his generosity in saving Lydia’s good name. Darcy replies that he did so only because Lydia is her sister. He then says that his feelings toward her have not changed since his proposal. Elizabeth tells him that her own feelings have changed and that she is now willing to marry him.
That night, Elizabeth tells Jane about Darcy’s intention to marry her. Jane, stunned, cannot believe that Elizabeth truly loves Darcy. Elizabeth promises Jane that she does. The next day, Darcy and Elizabeth walk together again, and that night Darcy goes to Mr. Bennet to ask him for his consent to the match.
Like Jane, Mr. Bennet needs Elizabeth to convince him that she does indeed care for Darcy. After she assures him of her love, she tells him how Darcy paid off Wickham. Mrs. Bennet then learns of her daughter’s engagement and is actually struck dumb for a time before bursting into cries of delight.
Darcy and Elizabeth discuss how their love began and how it developed. Darcy writes to inform Lady Catherine of his engagement, while Mr. Bennet sends a letter to Mr. Collins to do likewise. The Collinses come to Longbourn to congratulate the couple (and escape an angry Lady Catherine), as do the Lucases and Mrs. Phillips.
After the weddings, Bingley purchases an estate near Pemberley, and the Bennet sisters visit one another frequently. Kitty is kept away from Lydia and her bad influence, and she matures greatly by spending time at her elder sisters’ homes. Lydia and Wickham remain incorrigible, asking Darcy for money and visiting the Bingleys so frequently that even the good-humored Bingley grows tired of them. Elizabeth becomes great friends with Georgiana. She even comes to interact on decent terms with Miss Bingley. Lady Catherine eventually accepts the marriage and visits her nephew and his wife at Pemberley. Darcy and Elizabeth continue to consider the Gardiners close friends, grateful for the fact that they brought Elizabeth to Pemberley the first time and helped to bring the two together.
Lady Catherine is the last of the many obstacles facing the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s confrontation with her marks the heroine’s finest moment. This encounter crystallizes the tensions that their difference in social status has created. All of the qualities that Elizabeth has embodied thus far—intelligence, wit, lack of pretense, and resistance to snobbery—are evident in her dialogue. Lady Catherine, with the weight of birth and money on her side, responds to Elizabeth’s brazenness with a snobbishness that reflects her unassailable preoccupation with social concerns and demonstrates her lack of appreciation for the richness of Elizabeth’s character. Elizabeth, of course, has not yet received a new proposal of marriage from Darcy and has no way of knowing if one is forthcoming, but her pride in herself and her love of Darcy allow her to stand up to the domineering Lady Catherine. With the expression of her beliefs, Elizabeth demonstrates the enduring strength of her will and self-respect.
After the dynamic confrontation between these two firebrands, Darcy’s proposal, theoretically the climax of the novel, is almost a letdown. As noted previously, Austen rarely stages successful proposals in full; accordingly, the narrator summarizes Elizabeth’s affirmative response to Darcy’s bid in a brief paragraph. Some critics argue that the novel becomes simplistic in this third and final part—that Darcy’s character changes too drastically from the arrogant figure of the opening chapters. One can also argue, however, that his initial pride feeds to some extent off of Elizabeth’s initial prejudice, and that as one dissolves as its bearer matures, so does the other.
It is the nature of Austen’s novels that romance must win out over all of the obstacles, whether social or personal, that it faces. Just as love triumphs over pride in social status for Darcy, it triumphs over prejudice for Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s friends and family, thinking that she dislikes Darcy, ask her if she is marrying for love; in the end, in Austen, despite the undeniably relevant social issues of class, money, and practicality, this question always proves most important.