Monday, April 26, 2010

Pride and Prejudice, Chapters 40-50

This section begins with Elizabeth and Jane trying to decide whether to tell people what Wickham is really like; in deciding against it, they set up a rather interesting turn of events in the coming chapters. Colonel Forster's wife invites Lydia to Brighton for the summer with the soldiers and Mr. Bennet allows her to go, despite vehement protests from Elizabeth — he says Lydia will drive them crazy if not allowed to go and Elizabeth counters that Lydia will destroy the family’s already rocky reputation. She ultimately goes, and Elizabeth also leaves, going with the Gardiners to tour the Derbyshire countryside.

While there, the three decide to tour some notable homes, and end up at Darcy’s estate. Elizabeth makes sure he won’t be home when she visits, but he shows up and there’s an awkward meeting between the two. Darcy recovers himself and asks if he can introduce Elizabeth to Miss Darcy, who ends up being rather shy. The Bingleys are also there, and Mr. Bingley asks Elizabeth veiled questions about Jane, while Miss Bingley is rude to Elizabeth. The trip is cut short when Elizabeth receives letters from Jane alerting her that Lydia has run off with Wickham, and that they may not have married. Everyone panics — Elizabeth and Darcy kick themselves for not telling everyone the truth about Wickham and Elizabeth and the Gardiners head home.

Mr. Bennet heads to London to try to find Lydia while Mrs. Bennet is in a state of panic — she’s worried that her husband will die in a duel, and Mr. Collins will inherit their estate. Mr. Gardiner also heads to London to try and fix the situation, and Mr. Bennet returns home. Gardiner finds Lydia and Wickham and arranges the wedding, which requires the Bennets to contribute 100 pounds a year to the couple, which they agree to. The Bennets think that their uncle must have paid Wickham a heavy sum to marry Lydia. Lydia writes that she wants to visit before moving to the north of England, and we leave the Bennets anticipating a visit from their most foolish daughter.

It becomes clear in these chapters that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet make poor parents, and that the Gardiners have to step in and serve as surrogate parents to the Bennet girls, despite having children of their own. Mrs. Bennet is a fool — her main goal is to get her daughters married, but she undermines their own efforts with poor behavior (at the ball earlier in the book) and by supporting a poor marriage for Lydia. Mr. Bennet is more to blame — though he is the head of the household and able to think thoughtfully and seriously, he refuses to take responsibility for his children. He ignores Elizabeth’s advice about Lydia’s trip to Brighton, opting instead to let Lydia go so he wouldn’t have to hear her complaints. He thankfully realized what a bad match Mr. Collins would be for Elizabeth and didn’t push her about it like her mother did, but since that moment he has stepped back from responsibility. Yes, he goes to London to look for Lydia, but it isn’t until he leaves and Mr. Gardiner takes control that Lydia is found and the marriage is arranged. Austen has Darcy note what competent relatives the Gardiners are for Elizabeth when they meet at his estate.

These chapters are also notable for Elizabeth’s change of heart towards Darcy, and Austen does a better job exploring their relationship than she has with any pairing we’ve seen here or in Sense and Sensibility. It’s the small details that Austen includes — Darcy showing up repeatedly on Elizabeth’s walks, the pair meeting at Darcy’s estate and blushing when they see each other, Darcy standing up to Miss Bingley when she insults Elizabeth — that makes their relationship more compelling than the others that we’ve seen Austen write about so far.

While Jane and Bingley’s courtship took place in public and was subjected to rumors, Darcy and Elizabeth’s courtship is mostly private — they’re alone on walks, they’re alone when Elizabeth is at the Collins house, and Darcy shares his feelings in a private, heart-felt letter. The relationship is mostly exempt from gossip, if you exclude Miss Bingley's snide comments — the Gardiners are surprised by Elizabeth and Darcy’s closeness when they see them together his estate (though Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner subsequently refuse to bring it up), Jane knows some of what’s going on, but not all, and the other Bennets are in the dark. Without the interference of other people, Darcy and Elizabeth are allowed to figure things out for themselves.

We’ll finish Pride and Prejudice this Friday, and May’s novel is Mansfield Park, so you should pick up a copy of that this week if you'll be joining us in reading Austen's third novel.

1 comment:

  1. i think that this description is very well written and i think that its the best that i have read for a long time!!!