Summary: Chapters 24–25
Miss Bingley sends another letter, this one praising the beauty and charm of Darcy’s sister. The letter further states that Bingley will remain in London all winter, putting an end to the Bennets’s hopes that he might return to Netherfield. Elizabeth is very upset by this news and complains to Jane that people lack “merit or sense,” referring to Bingley for apparently abandoning Jane, and to Charlotte Lucas for agreeing to marry Mr. Collins. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet’s hopes of seeing her daughters wed fade rapidly. Mr. Bennet seems amused: he encourages Elizabeth’s interest in Wickham, so that she, like her sister, can be “crossed in love.”
Mrs. Bennet’s brother, Mr. Gardiner, comes to stay with the family. Immediately recognizing Jane’s sadness, the Gardiners invite Jane to accompany them back to London when they finish their visit, hoping that a change in scenery might raise Jane’s spirits. Jane accepts, excited also that in London she might get an opportunity to see Mr. Bingley. In the course of evenings spent with various friends and the military officers, Mrs. Gardiner notices that Elizabeth and Wickham, though not in any serious sort of love, show a definite preference for each other. Because of his lack of money, Mrs. Gardiner does not think of Wickham as a good match for Elizabeth, though she is fond of Wickham’s stories of his life around Darcy’s estate at Pemberley, which is near where Mrs. Gardiner grew up.
Summary: Chapter 26
At the first opportunity, Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth that Wickham’s lack of money makes him an unsuitable match. She further says that Elizabeth should be careful not to embarrass her father by becoming attached to Wickham. Elizabeth responds carefully, stating that she will try to keep Wickham from falling in love with her and that she devoutly wishes not to upset her father, but concluding that all she can do is her best.
After Jane and the Gardiners depart for London, Mr. Collins returns from a visit to his parish for his wedding. Elizabeth reluctantly promises to visit Charlotte after her marriage. Meanwhile, Jane’s letters from London recount how she called on Miss Bingley and how Miss Bingley was cold to her and visited her only briefly in return. Jane believes that Bingley’s sister views her as an obstacle to her brother’s marrying Georgiana Darcy.
Mrs. Gardiner writes to Elizabeth to ask about Wickham, and Elizabeth replies that his attentions have shifted to another girl, a Miss King, who has just inherited a large fortune. This turn of events touches Elizabeth’s heart “but slightly . . . and her vanity was satisfied with believing that she would have been his only choice, had fortune permitted it.” The narrator then goes on to point out that Elizabeth’s equanimity about Wickham trying to marry for money is somewhat out of joint with her disgust that Charlotte would do the same thing. As for Elizabeth, the very limited pain that Wickham’s transfer of affections causes her makes her believe she was never in love with him.
Analysis: Chapters 24–26
The first three chapters of Book Two introduce the Gardiners, who prove to be Elizabeth’s most sensible relatives. They often seem to act as surrogate parents to Jane and Elizabeth. The nurturing and supportive Gardiners take Jane to London to distract her from her unhappiness over Bingley. However amusing the reader finds him, Mr. Bennet, in contrast, seems to have no real understanding of when his children even need help. He prefers withdrawing into the peace of his library to coping with the problems facing his family. In particular, Mr. Bennet’s amusement at his wife’s distress and his suggestion that Elizabeth develop a crush on Wickham emphasize the extent to which he has abandoned the paternal role in the family. His wit and intelligence make him a sympathetic character in many ways, but he seems to absent himself from important matters. Later in the novel, his negligence allows Lydia to go to Brighton for the summer and then to elope with Wickham. At this point in the novel, Austen compels her reader to contrast Mr. Bennet’s unhelpful suggestion about Wickham with Mrs. Gardiner’s recognition that the officer is not a suitable match for her niece.
Mrs. Gardiner’s observation about Wickham raises an interesting irony. Wickham is not suitable for Elizabeth for the same reason Elizabeth is not suitable for Darcy. Elizabeth’s response to Mrs. Gardiner’s warning is equivocal, suggesting first that she recognizes this irony but also that she is aware that, though social strictures on marriage might be illogical and unromantic, were she to break them she would be negatively affecting her family. Elizabeth and Austen are both saved from having to worry about this moral conundrum when Wickham shifts his affections to the suddenly wealthy Miss King. The narrator’s comment that Elizabeth’s feelings about Wickham’s decision to marry for money do not match her feelings about Charlotte’s similar decision imply that there is a double standard at work in Elizabeth’s logic: though she seems to consider it acceptable for men to marry for money, she believes so strongly in love that she believes her female friends should ignore such considerations.
While Elizabeth may forgive Wickham for chasing Ms. King’s money, the reader is more likely to see him as a simple fortune hunter. By establishing this aspect of his character, Austen prepares the reader for the revelation that Wickham attempted to elope with Darcy’s sister in order to obtain her fortune. In this seemingly minor fact, which Elizabeth herself seems to brush aside, resides a clue to Wickham’s generally poor character.
Summary: Chapters 27–29
In March, Elizabeth travels with Sir William Lucas to visit Charlotte and her new husband, Mr. Collins. On the way, they spend a night in London with Jane and the Gardiners. Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner speak about Wickham’s attempts to win over Miss King. Mrs. Gardiner is critical of him, calling him a “mercenary,” but Elizabeth defends him, calling him prudent. Before Elizabeth leaves London, the Gardiners invite her to accompany them on a tour, perhaps out to the lakes. Elizabeth gleefully accepts.
When Elizabeth arrives in Hunsford, the location of Mr. Collins’s parish, the clergyman greets her enthusiastically, as does Charlotte. On the second day of her visit, she sees Miss de Bourgh, Lady de Bourgh’s daughter, from a window. The girl is “sickly and cross,” Elizabeth decides, and she imagines with some satisfaction Darcy’s marrying such an unappealing person. Miss de Bourgh invites them to dine at Rosings, a mansion that awes even Sir William Lucas with its grandeur.
At dinner, Lady Catherine dominates the conversation. After the meal, she grills Elizabeth concerning her upbringing, deciding that the Bennet sisters have been badly reared. The failure of Mrs. Bennet to hire a governess, the girls’ lack of musical and artistic talents, and Elizabeth’s own impudence are all mentioned before the end of the evening.
Summary: Chapters 30–32
Sir William departs after a week, satisfied with his daughter’s contentment. Shortly thereafter, Darcy and a cousin named Colonel Fitzwilliam visit their aunt at Rosings. When Mr. Collins pays his respects, the two men accompany him back to his parsonage and visit briefly with Elizabeth and Charlotte.
Another invitation to Rosings follows, and Colonel Fitzwilliam pays special attention to Elizabeth during the dinner. After the meal, she plays the pianoforte and pokes fun at Darcy, informing Colonel Fitzwilliam of his bad behavior at the Meryton ball, at which he refused to dance with her. Lady Catherine lectures Elizabeth on the proper manner of playing the instrument, forcing Elizabeth to remain at the keyboard until the end of the evening.
The next day, Darcy visits the parsonage and tells Elizabeth that Bingley is unlikely to spend much of his time at Netherfield Park in the future. The rest of their conversation is awkward, and when Darcy departs, Charlotte declares that he must be in love with Elizabeth, or he would never have called in such an odd manner. In the days that follow, both Darcy and his cousin visit frequently, however, and eventually Charlotte surmises that it is perhaps Colonel Fitzwilliam who is interested in Elizabeth.
Summary: Chapters 33–34
“My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Elizabeth encounters Darcy and his cousin frequently in her walks through the countryside. During one conversation, Colonel Fitzwilliam mentions that Darcy claims to have recently saved a friend from an imprudent marriage. Elizabeth conjectures that the “friend” was Bingley and the “imprudent marriage” a marriage to Jane. She views Darcy as the agent of her sister’s unhappiness.
Alone at the parsonage, Elizabeth is still mulling over what Fitzwilliam has told her when Darcy enters and abruptly declares his love for her. His proposal of marriage dwells at length upon her social inferiority, and Elizabeth’s initially polite rejection turns into an angry accusation. She demands to know if he sabotaged Jane’s romance with Bingley; he admits that he did. She then repeats Wickham’s accusations and declares that she thinks Darcy to be proud and selfish and that marriage to him is utterly unthinkable. Darcy grimly departs.
Analysis: Chapters 27–34
Mrs. Gardiner tends to function as the voice of reason in the novel, and her criticism of Wickham counters Elizabeth’s unwillingness to question his purposes. Mrs. Gardiner ascribes a mercenary motive to Wickham’s interest in Miss King, whereas Elizabeth defends him by asking her aunt “what . . . the difference [is] in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive.” This does seem a fine question, and not one her aunt can readily answer. But in asking the question, Elizabeth seems to violate her own principles—she herself has already refused to marry Mr. Collins for social advantage, and she does so again when Darcy proposes. It appears that sympathy for Wickham leads Elizabeth to betray her conscience.
The visit to Rosings introduces Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who serves as another vehicle for Austen’s criticism of snobbery. Lady Catherine’s favorite pastime is ordering everyone else about (“Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath this great Lady’s attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others”). The only individual who dares to stand up to the haughty Lady Catherine is Elizabeth (unsurprisingly, as elsewhere she sees through the pretensions of pompous and arrogant people like Mr. Collins and Miss Bingley). When Lady Catherine criticizes the Bennet sisters’ upbringing, Elizabeth defends her family, “suspect[ing] herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence.” The same dignified impertinence with which Elizabeth combats Lady Catherine’s preconceptions reappears later in her refusal to let Lady Catherine prevent her from marrying Darcy.
Darcy’s proposal is the turning point of
Just as Elizabeth yields to her prejudices (she has not yet heard Darcy’s side of the story), Darcy allows his pride to guide him. In his proposal to Elizabeth, he spends more time emphasizing Elizabeth’s lower rank than actually asking her to marry him (“he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride”). This turning point thus occurs with the two central characters occupying seemingly irreconcilable emotional locations, leaving the reader, in the words of critic Douglas Bush, “almost exactly in the middle of the book, wondering if and how the chasm . . . can be bridged.”