. . . and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
As Elizabeth tours the beautiful estate of Pemberley with the Gardiners, she imagines what it would be like to be mistress there, as Darcy’s wife. The housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, shows them portraits of Darcy and Wickham and relates that Darcy, in his youth, was “the sweetest, most generous-hearted boy in the world.” She adds that he is the kindest of masters: “I have never had a cross word from him in my life.” Elizabeth is surprised to hear such an agreeable description of a man she considers unbearably arrogant.
While Elizabeth and the Gardiners continue to explore the grounds, Darcy himself suddenly appears. He joins them in their walk, proving remarkably polite. Elizabeth is immediately embarrassed at having come to Pemberley after the events of recent months, and she assures Darcy that she came only because she thought that he was away. Darcy tells her that he has just arrived to prepare his home for a group of guests that includes the Bingleys and his own sister, Georgiana. He asks Elizabeth if she would like to meet Georgiana, and Elizabeth replies that she would. After Darcy leaves them, the Gardiners comment on his good looks and good manners, so strikingly divergent from the account of Darcy’s character that Elizabeth has given them.
The next day, Darcy and Georgiana, who is pretty but very shy, visit Elizabeth at her inn. Bingley joins them, and after a brief visit, they invite Elizabeth and the Gardiners, who perceive that Darcy is in love with their niece, to dine at Pemberley. The following morning, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner visit Pemberley to call on Miss Darcy. Bingley’s sisters are both present; when Darcy enters the room, Miss Bingley makes a spiteful comment to Elizabeth, noting that the departure of the militia from Meryton “must be a great loss to your family.” Elizabeth dodges the subject of Wickham. This deflection proves fortunate given the presence of Georgiana, as references to the man with whom she almost eloped would embarrass her.
After the guests depart, Miss Bingley attempts to criticize Elizabeth to Darcy, and makes a light remark about how he once thought Elizabeth “rather pretty.” Darcy replies that he now considers Elizabeth “one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.”
Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley constitutes a critical step in her progress toward marrying Darcy. The house itself is representative, even a symbol, of its owner—the narrator describes it as a “large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground . . . in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.” Darcy is similarly large and handsome, elevated socially just as his house is elevated physically. The description of the way the stream’s “natural importance was swelled into greater” reminds the reader of Darcy’s pride; that the stream is “neither formal, nor falsely adorned,” however, reminds the reader of Darcy’s honesty and lack of pretense. Most importantly, the property delights Elizabeth, foreshadowing her eventual realization that the master of Pemberley similarly delights her.
Mrs. Reynolds’s glowing descriptions of Darcy continue the process of breaking down Elizabeth’s initial prejudice against him. As Mrs. Reynolds reveals a hidden side of Darcy, Elizabeth realizes how hastily she has judged him. This ability to admit the error of her ways demonstrates Elizabeth’s emotional maturity; unlike Miss Bingley, who resorts to denigrating Elizabeth when she realizes that Darcy favors her, Elizabeth does not allow arrogance to prevent her from confronting her own shortcomings.
The arrival of Darcy himself further encourages Elizabeth’s change of heart. Humbled by her rejection of his marriage proposal, Darcy has altered his conduct toward her and become a perfect gentleman. This courteous behavior both illustrates his love for her and compels the growth of her estimation of him. His ability to overcome his pride in much the same way that Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice gives Elizabeth and the reader hope that her rejection of him has not caused him to give up and that he may propose again under different terms.
The reader meets Georgiana Darcy for the first time in these chapters. Previously, she has been described as a possible wife for Mr. Bingley because of her beauty and accomplishments. In person, however, she is painfully shy; as a result, the reader ceases to see her as a threat to Jane. She cuts a very different figure—and one with whom the reader can sympathize—from the overeager Miss Bingley, whose aggressive pursuit of Darcy highlights her obnoxiousness. Indeed, Miss Bingley reappears with more spite than before. The mean-spiritedness behind her derisive insinuation about the Bennet girls’ unladylike obsession with the soldiers contrasts with Elizabeth’s thoughtful protection of the vulnerable Georgiana.