Monday, January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Readathon: Chapters Fifty-six and Fifty-seven

Austen could have rushed Darcy and Elizabeth into an understanding, but such a precipitous conclusion would have denied us one of the best scenes in the novel: when Lady Catherine comes to Longbourn. Elizabeth's indignation on this occasion is very reminiscent to the fiery way she responds to Mr. Darcy's first proposal. The back and forth is priceless:
"Miss Bennet," replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, "you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it. A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you."

"If you believed it impossible to be true," said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, "I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?"

"At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted."

"Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family," said Elizabeth coolly, "will be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence."

"If! Do you then pretend to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?"

"I never heard that it was."

"And can you likewise declare, that there is no foundation for it?"

"I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer."

"This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?"

"Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible."

"It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in."

"If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it."

"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns."

"But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce me to be explicit."

"Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?"

"Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me."
Couldn't resist the temptation to include such a chunk of the exchange. Chapter fifty-seven provides an encore to this encounter, in the form of a letter from Mr. Collin's, accompanied by Mr. Bennet's ill-timed wit on the subject. I love this line from the letter: "This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire, -- splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage." 

Between Lady Catherine's demands, Mr. Collins' mixed good wishes, and Mr. Bennet's amusement in the whole, Elizabeth is left even more perplexed by the state of affairs between herself and Mr. Darcy than ever. Best hasten towards felicity ... I'm tired!


  1. The showdown between Lizzy and Lady Catherine! One of the best scenes in the book, for sure. It really shows Lizzy's strength as an individual.

    And if we thought Mrs. Bennet was manipuative in trying to secure steady futures for her daughter, look at Lady Catherine. She travels halfway across town to quell rumors and dash hopes. Except she has much more wealth and prestige than Mrs. B so is, of course, feared and 'revered' by idiots like Mr. Collins. Bah.

    Onwards to felicity! Those two deserve it. And so do you!

  2. Great point about Lady Catherine. I tried to highlight early on how Caroline Bingley's behavior may not have the vulgarity of Mrs. Bennet's, but it's not that dissimilar. The same is true of Lady Catherine. Mrs. Bennet and she are remarkably alike in some ways, but I'll take the embarrassment inflicted by a Mrs. Bennet over the tyranny of a Lady Catherine any day. Just look at their daughters and judge the ladies accordingly - several Bennets may be lacking, but at least they're flourishing, unlike Anne de Bourgh.