Summary: Chapters 50–51
Elizabeth realizes that her opinion of Darcy has changed so completely that if he were to propose to her again, she would accept. She understands, however, that, given Lydia’s embarrassing behavior and the addition of Wickham to the Bennet family, such a proposal seems extremely unlikely.
Mr. Gardiner writes to Mr. Bennet again to inform him that Wickham has accepted a commission in the North of England. Lydia asks to be allowed to visit her family before she goes north with her new husband. After much disagreement, the Bennets allow the newlyweds to stay at their home. The ten-day visit is difficult: Lydia is oblivious to all of the trouble that she has caused, and Wickham behaves as if he has done nothing wrong. One morning while sitting with Jane and Elizabeth, Lydia describes her wedding and mentions that Darcy was in the church. Elizabeth is amazed and sends a letter to Mrs. Gardiner asking for details.
Summary: Chapters 52–53
Mrs. Gardiner replies to Elizabeth that it was Darcy who found Lydia and Wickham, and Darcy who paid Wickham the money that facilitated the marriage. She drops hints that Darcy did so because of his love for Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s surprise is immense, and she is unsure whether to be upset or pleased.
After Wickham and Lydia depart for their new home in the North, news arrives that Bingley is returning to Netherfield Park for a few weeks. Mr. Bennet refuses to visit him, much to the family’s discomfort. Three days after his arrival at Netherfield, however, Bingley comes to the Bennets’s home, accompanied by Darcy. Mrs. Bennet is overly attentive to Bingley and quite rude to Darcy, completely unaware that he was the one who saved Lydia. Before departing, the gentlemen promise to dine at Longbourn soon.
Summary: Chapters 54–55
Darcy and Bingley come to dinner; Bingley places himself next to Jane and pays her much attention while Darcy finds a seat at the opposite end of the table from Elizabeth, rendering conversation between the two impossible. Elizabeth accepts that having been refused by her once, Darcy will not ask her to marry him again.
Bingley visits the Bennets a few days later, and Mrs. Bennet invites him to dinner. He tells her that he is already engaged for the day but eagerly accepts an invitation for the following day. He calls so early in the morning that he arrives before the women have gotten dressed. After the meal, Mrs. Bennet manages (clumsily) to leave Bingley alone with Jane but he does not propose. The following day, however, Bingley goes shooting with Mr. Bennet and stays for dinner. After the meal, he finds himself alone with Jane again. This time, he tells her that he will ask Mr. Bennet for permission to marry her. Mr. Bennet happily agrees and Jane tells Elizabeth that she is “the happiest creature in the world.”
The engagement settled, Bingley comes to visit often. Jane learns that he had no idea that she was in London over the winter, and she realizes that his sisters were attempting to keep him away from her. Meanwhile, the neighborhood agrees that the Bennets are extremely fortunate in their daughter’s marriage.
Analysis: Chapters 50–55
Elizabeth’s realization that Darcy is “exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her” is ironic, since she not only rejected his marriage proposal earlier but did so in a manner that made it clear that she despised him. To Elizabeth, the irony is obvious: “she became jealous of his esteem, when she could no longer hope to be benefited by it . . . she wanted to hear of him, when there seemed the least chance of gaining intelligence.” Her feelings toward Darcy are now what his were toward her earlier; she assumes that he has changed his mind and that her change of heart has come too late. For even if Darcy were still interested in her, Lydia’s elopement seems likely to have destroyed any chance of his proposing again. The Lydia-Wickham affair serves as a reminder of Darcy’s original objection to marrying Elizabeth, and Elizabeth believes that he must certainly consider it a symptom of the poor breeding of her family and an example of the embarrassment that association with her family would bring him.
While Elizabeth’s hope of Darcy’s still loving her slowly grows in these chapters, the reader receives hints all along that Darcy’s feelings for her have not altered. He has paid for Lydia’s wedding, and the insightful Mrs. Gardiner, who provides levelheaded analyses of situations at various points in the novel, can think of only one reason for him to do so. Elizabeth’s instincts tell her the same thing: “Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her.” Nevertheless, she insists on squashing that whisper, as her embarrassment about Lydia and her sense of Darcy’s pride compel her to the assumption that Darcy would never connect himself with her family, especially now that the odious Wickham is her brother-in-law.
The happy conclusion to Bingley’s courtship of Jane suggests that Darcy no longer cares about the Bennet sisters’ low social status. As evidence that Darcy has overcome this important obstacle at least to some, he now does nothing to dissuade his friend from tying himself to a disreputable family. Whereas Darcy previously disrupted the romance between Bingley and Jane in order to protect his friend’s social status, he now allows their love to triumph over their class difference, despite Lydia’s elopement scandal, which he could easily have used as an excuse to distance himself and his friends from the Bennets. Austen does not allow Elizabeth to assume anything from Jane’s engagement, but the reader is allowed to assume that another wedding will follow.