Pride and Prejudice Summary and Analysis
by Jane Austen
Volume II, Chapters 11-19
Volume II, Chapter 11 Summary:
While Elizabeth is at home alone, the door bell rings and she thinks that it might be Colonel Fitzwilliam. To her surprise, however, it is Mr. Darcy. After he inquires about her health, he paces around the room for a few minutes and then makes a declaration of love for her. While he speaks eloquently about his admiration for her, he also clearly expresses the inferiority of her connections and the family obstacles which prevented him from proposing sooner. Elizabeth turns down his proposal rather harshly, and he is both surprised and resentful.
Elizabeth explains her reasons for turning him down. These reasons are, first, the arrogant manner of his proposal; second, his actions to separate Bingley and Jane; and third, his actions toward Wickham. Darcy replies angrily that her calculation of his faults is indeed heavy, but that she might have overlooked them if he had not been honest about the fact that her family connections had made him try to avoid becoming attached to her. She simply states that his manner of proposal had no influence on her other than to "spare me the concern of refusing you, had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner." After she finishes speaking he quickly leaves the room.
Elizabeth collapses and cries from weakness as a result of what has passed. She is flattered that he should have proposed to her, but any softness which she feels toward him because of his affection is quickly dissipated as soon as she thinks of his "abominable pride" and all that he has done to Jane and to Wickham.
Volume II, Chapter 11 Analysis:
Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth, for which the reader is so well-prepared but which comes as a complete shock to Elizabeth, is the first major climax of the novel. Hints of Darcy's regard for Elizabeth have become stronger and stronger since the time when Elizabeth stayed at Netherfield Park to nurse Jane, such that the reader has been left in suspense in the preceding chapters, wondering when the fateful moment of the proposal will finally arrive.
The proposal scene itself is a prime example of Austen's abilities to bring her characters to life and reveal their personalities through dialogue. Elizabeth's lively, straightforward, daring character and her disregard for considerations of rank show through clearly in her reaction to Darcy's proposal. Her pride is also evident, for the lack of civility in her refusal is due primarily to injured pride resulting from Darcy's frank explanation of his reservations about proposing to her because of her inferior connections.
Darcy's pride and prejudice are also brought to the fore in this scene. As he is proposing to her, Elizabeth can tell that he has "no doubt of a favorable answer." In spite of the fact that Elizabeth has not shown any partiality or affection toward him at all, he assumes that she will accept his proposal simply because of his great wealth and rank. Further, his strong class prejudices are shown in the way in which he speaks at length about the inferiority of her connections and his desire to avoid proposing to her because of them. Even worse is his insensitivity to her in spelling out these objections in such a tactless manner. Elizabeth's comment to him--"had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner"--makes him start, and as will be seen later in the novel, has a profound effect on him.
Even though this scene seems to be a decisive ending to the relationship, Austen has set up the situation such that reader cannot quite lose hope that Elizabeth and Darcy will soon marry. Since all of Elizabeth's objections to Darcy's character are only known to the reader through Elizabeth's rather biased commentary, it seems that there may be another side to the story.
Volume II, Chapter 12 Summary:
The next morning Elizabeth decides to go for a walk. Though she avoids her usual walking route, Mr. Darcy finds her and gives her a letter, then quickly leaves. First the letter explains Darcy's reasons for persuading Bingley not to marry Jane. Darcy admits that the impropriety of the Bennet family made him hope that the two would not marry, but that his main reason for preventing Bingley from proposing to Jane was that he did not think that Jane had any particular regard for Bingley. The only part of his conduct which he is uneasy about is that he concealed from Bingley his knowledge that Jane has been in London for the past few months.
In response to Elizabeth's charge that Darcy had injured Mr. Wickham, Darcy relates the whole account of Wickham's relationship with him and his family. Darcy's father was very fond of Wickham and paid to provide him with an excellent education. Before his death Darcy's father asked Darcy to promote Wickham's professional advancement and stipulated that if Wickham should become a clergyman Darcy should provide him with a good family living. Wickham, however, having no desire to become a clergyman, wrote to Darcy after his father's death and asked for money in order to study law. Darcy gave him 3,000 pounds and Wickham resigned his claim to assistance in a church career. However, Wickham quickly gave up on studying law and squandered the money with a dissipate lifestyle. When he needed more money he went to Darcy and told him that he would become a clergyman if Darcy would provide him with the living that had been promised. Darcy refused, and Wickham was furious. A while afterwards, Wickham, with the help of Miss Darcy's governess Miss Younge, managed to deceive Darcy's younger sister into consenting to elope with him when she was fifteen. Darcy happened to go see his sister before the intended elopement and she ended up confessing the whole plan to him. He thus prevented the elopement, the motives for which on Wickham's side were mostly Miss Darcy's fortune and a desire to revenge himself on Mr. Darcy.
Volume II, Chapter 12 Analysis:
This chapter confirms all that Austen has led the reader to suspect about Wickham and Darcy in the course of the novel. The hints of Wickham's insincerity and lack of honor have abounded from his very first conversation with Elizabeth in which he indiscreetly defames Darcy's character in spite of the fact that he claims he wants to keep the matter quiet out of respect for the late Mr. Darcy. Further, he completely disregarded Elizabeth's feelings in showing an obvious preference for her while knowing that he has no chance of marrying her, and then in quickly transferring his affections to Miss King after she acquires an inheritance of 10,000 pounds. Elizabeth, however, blinded by her prejudice regarding Mr. Darcy, never doubts the veracity of Wickham's story. Even though Elizabeth disliked Darcy, considering what she knew about the honorableness of Mr. Darcy's character, she should have suspected that there was more to the story than what Wickham told her.
Elizabeth was correct, however, in her belief that Darcy had played a big role in preventing Bingley from proposing to Jane. However, Elizabeth's partiality for her sister blinded her to the fact that Jane, with her always calm and cheerful disposition, really did nothing to demonstrate her particular affection for Bingley. Elizabeth had assumed that Darcy's actions were only the result of his class consciousness, but never considered that Darcy may have simply wanted to prevent his friend from the pain of rejection.
Volume II, Chapter 13 Summary:
Elizabeth reads the letter "with a strong prejudice against everything he might say." She does not at all believe his claim that he prevented Bingley from proposing to Jane because he thought Jane was not attached to him. After reading Darcy's account of his dealings with Wickham, she does not know how to react and tries to convince herself it must be false. She puts away the letter, resolving not to think about it, but then examines it slowly, line by line. After long deliberation Elizabeth begins to rethink her previous judgment of Wickham. She realizes that his communications to her in their first conversation were indelicate, improper and inconsistent, and that his attentions to Miss King were purely mercenary.
She begins to see that she judged Darcy completely wrongly, and she grows ashamed, concluding that she been "blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd," in spite of the fact that has always prided herself on her judgment. She realizes that vanity has been the cause of her prejudice.
After this realization, she rereads the first part of the letter which deals with his reasons for preventing Bingley's proposal to Jane. She now sees that he had reason to be suspicious of Jane's attachment. Elizabeth also admits that Darcy's criticisms of the impropriety of her mother and younger sisters is just, and is ashamed and depressed.
After wandering through the park or two hours, engrossed in her reflections, she returns to the Parsonage to find that both Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam have stopped by to take leave of them, but have since left. She is glad to have missed them.
Volume II, Chapter 13 Analysis:
The continued hints throughout the novel that Elizabeth's judgment has been clouded by her vanity are now made completely clear. Elizabeth realizes that her complete lack of objectivity in judging Darcy and Wickham is the result of the fact that Darcy injured her pride on her first acquaintance with him and that Wickham flattered her by his preference for her. Austen makes it clear that pride and prejudice are not really two separate problems in the novel, but that they are intimately connected. For it is Elizabeth's pride that leads to her prejudice, a prejudice which is so strong that she has to read the letter many times and reflect at length before accepting that Mr. Darcy is telling the truth.
If it had not been for Elizabeth's prejudicial judgment of Darcy's actions in these situations, would she have accepted Darcy's proposal of marriage? Such a question is difficult to answer, but now that all of her illusions about Darcy's bad character have been dispelled, it does not seem unlikely that she may yet fall in love with him. Austen therefore leaves the reader with the hope that their relationship may be renewed, and also with the hope that somehow Bingley and Jane will meet and fall in love again.
Volume II, Chapter 14 Summary:
Lady Catherine invites Elizabeth, Maria and the Collinses to dinner because she is bored now that her nephews have left. Elizabeth can't help thinking that she might have been attending this dinner as Lady Catherine's future niece, and amusing herself at how indignant Lady Catherine would be. Lady Catherine attempts to persuade Elizabeth and Maria to stay another fortnight, but Elizabeth insists that her father wants her to come home.
She spends much time over the next few days before her return home reflecting on the contents of the letter and on her past conduct. She does not regret her refusal of Darcy's offer, but does regret her own past actions. She is also depressed by the hopelessness of improving the character of her younger sisters, since her father only laughs at them and her mother is equally frivolous. She is also sad to think that Jane could have been so happy had it not been for the indecorum of her family.
Volume II, Chapter 15 Summary:
Elizabeth and Maria leave the Parsonage on Saturday morning, after lengthy parting civilities from Mr. Collins. Before returning to Hertferdshore, they stop at the Gardiner's to spend a few days there. Jane is to return home with them. Elizabeth is tempted to tell her all that she learned from Darcy, but decides to wait because she is not sure how much she should reveal.
Volume II, Chapter 16 Summary:
Upon reaching Hertfordshire they are greeted by Kitty and Lydia, who have prepared lunch for them at the inn where they have arranged to meet the carriage. Elizabeth is happy to hear that regiment will soon be leaving Meryton, although Kitty and Lydia are not equally pleased. Lydia hopes that Mr. Bennet will allow them all to go to Brighton for the summer since the officers will be there. During lunch Lydia tells Jane and Elizabeth that Miss King has left and that Wickham is therefore once again available. Lydia entertains them on the carriage home by relating stories of all the balls and dances they have attended with the officers in Meryton. When they arrive at Longbourn they have dinner with the Lucases, who have come to meet Maria. Lydia urges everyone to take a walk with her to Meryton, but Elizabeth stays home because she wants to avoid seeing Wickham.
Volume II, Chapter 17 Summary:
The next morning Elizabeth tells Jane about Darcy's proposal, and about the part of the letter regarding Wickham. Jane is shocked not as much about the proposal as about Wickham's being so bad, and tries to make excuses for him, but realizes that no excuse can be found. Elizabeth asks Jane whether or not she should let the rest of the town know about Wickham's true character. They decide it would be best to keep the matter quiet, since he is leaving soon and it will be extremely difficult to convince people without telling about his attempts to seduce Miss Darcy. Elizabeth decides that she should not tell Jane about the part of Darcy's letter which relates to her and Bingley.
After observing Jane at leisure, Elizabeth sees that she is not happy and is still very attached to Bingley.
Volume II, Chapter 18 Summary:
Kitty, Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are extremely disappointed because the regiment is leaving Meryton. Lydia receives an invitation from Mrs. Forster, the wife of the Colonel of the regiment, to accompany her to Brighton. Lydia is ecstatic.
Elizabeth entreats her father to prevent Lydia from going, explaining that such an experience will only increase her frivolousness. But her father does not listen and tells Elizabeth that Lydia will be fine in Brighton under the supervision of Colonel Forster and that she is too poor to be taken advantage of by any of the officers in the regiment.
Elizabeth sees Wickham frequently. He attempts to renew his attentions to her, but she represses them and is annoyed by them. On the last day of their stay in Meryton, they have a conversation in which Elizabeth speaks of her stay at the Parsonage and her enjoyment of Darcy's and Colonel Fitzwilliam's company. She leads Wickham to suspect that she knows the truth of his past. He pretends not to notice but stops distinguishing Elizabeth. At the end of the party Lydia returns to Meryton with Mrs. Forster in order to be able to set out with them for Brighton early in the morning.
Volume II, Chapter 19 Summary:
Elizabeth's father had married her mother because he was captivated by her beauty, but her weak understanding soon made him lose all real affection for her. Mr. Bennet derives his enjoyment from books and the country. Elizabeth has always recognized the impropriety of her father's behavior as a husband, and is now especially aware of the disadvantage that such a marriage has had on the children. She faults her father for not having used his talents to at least preserve the respectability of his daughters.
The days at Longbourn are far from enjoyable, with the constant lamentations of boredom form Mrs. Bennet and Kitty. Elizabeth consoles herself by looking forward to her tour of the Lakes with the Gardiners. After a few weeks things become more bearable at home, and Elizabeth hopes that Kitty may be improved by the time away from Lydia.
Elizabeth's vacation with the Gardiners is delayed and shortened on account of Mr. Gardiner's work commitments. In the course of the trip they pass near Pemberley and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner want to go see it. Elizabeth does not want to go because of fear of seeing Darcy, but she finds out from the maid that the Darcy family is not at home.
Volume II, Chapters 14-19 Analysis:
These chapters serve mostly to call the readers' attention to the extreme frivolousness of Kitty and Lydia, especially Lydia. When they meet Elizabeth and Jane at the inn for lunch, they have to ask Elizabeth and Jane to pay the bill because they have spent all their money on whimsical purchases. On the ride home, Lydia speaks excitedly about her adventures in Meryton, boasting of all their frivolous and improper conduct, which includes dressing up one of the officers as a woman at one of the balls. Kitty, while the elder of the two, lacks Lydia's stubborn impudence but simply follows Lydia's lead in everything. Neither have received a decent education and have no sense of propriety.
Her sensibilities having been sharpened by Darcy's comments about her family in his letter, Elizabeth is extremely concerned about her younger sisters' conduct. Yet there seems that she can do little to remedy the situation, since Lydia refuses to listen to anyone for more than thirty seconds at a time, and Kitty imitates Lydia in everything.
The negligence of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet becomes especially clear in their allowing Lydia to go to Brighton with Mrs. Forster. Mrs. Bennet not only allows Lydia to go, but would actually like to go herself if she could, and is as excited as Lydia that she has been invited to accompany Mrs. Forster. Mrs. Bennet is completely insensible to harmful effects which a summer of flirtation and frivolity could have on her daughter at such an impressionable age. In fact, she sympathizes with Lydia because she had been just like her as a child. Mr. Bennet, on the other hand seems to want nothing more than simply to avoid being bothered by his younger daughters' frivolity. When Elizabeth advises him not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, he simply comments that sending her to Brighton will be a good thing because "Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances." When Elizabeth mentions that Lydia's actions are bound to have harmful effects on the reputation of herself and Jane, he simply makes jokes about it. In the end he concludes that if he were to forbid Lydia to go, "we shall have no peace at Longbourn." Mr. Bennet's negligence is perhaps worse than Mrs. Bennet's, since he recognizes the problems with Lydia's character but is unwilling to do anything to improve it.
The portrait of Lydia's flirtatious and frivolous character combined with the dangers Elizabeth perceives in her going to Brighton forebode serious trouble during Lydia's stay in Brighton.
Elizabeth's last encounters with Wickham demonstrate just how much her perception of him is changed now that she is free of the influence of vanity. "She had even learned to detect, in the very gentleness which had first delighted her, an affectation and a sameness to disgust and weary." Without the blinding effects of vanity she is able to see through his illusions of nobility.
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