Elizabeth is captivated by Pemberley's beauty and daydreams about being its mistress. She almost feels regretful about rejecting Darcy. The Pemberley housekeeper (Mrs. Reynolds) gives Elizabeth and the Gardiners a tour of the house, all the while praising Mr. Darcy and Georgiana. She describes Darcy as sweet, generous, and good-natured, remarking that she has "never heard a cross word from him." Elizabeth is surprised to hear this assessment because she still thinks of Darcy as grumpy and ill-tempered. She is further impressed to learn how well Darcy treats his sister. Overall, Elizabeth's regard for Darcy increases as a result of Mrs. Reynolds's unequivocal praise.
While the party is outside in the gardens, Darcy unexpectedly arrives. Both he and Elizabeth are ill at ease, but she is impressed by the genteel civility of his inquiries. He soon enough takes his leave, and Elizabeth is mortified that he might think she came to Pemberley to see him. Though extremely distracted, Elizabeth attempts to make conversation with her aunt and uncle as they walk through the garden. After a long while, Darcy reappears, and both parties are better prepared for the encounter. Darcy asks to be introduced to the Gardiners. Elizabeth is impressed by his politeness because she assumed he would be turned off by their lower class. Darcy even invites Mr. Gardiner to fish at Pemberley.
As the party strolls along, Elizabeth and Darcy walk together. She informs him that she did not expect him to be there, and he explains that he arrived early to prepare for some impending guests. He shares his hope to introduce Elizabeth to Georgiana when she arrives the next day. Elizabeth is completely surprised, but accepts. Elizabeth and Darcy continue to speak awkwardly until the Gardiners catch up with them, at which point Darcy sees them off with great politeness. The Gardiners are very pleased by and surprised at Darcy's civility, having heard of his disagreeable nature from so many people (including Elizabeth). However, they also believe the story they heard about Darcy's ill treatment of Wickham. Elizabeth then insinuates that Darcy was not at fault in that affair.
The next morning, Darcy brings Georgiana to the inn where Elizabeth is staying. Elizabeth is surprised to see them, since the girl has only just arrived. She anxious to make a good impression on Mr. Darcy's sister and is relieved to discover that Georgiana is equally nervous. Elizabeth notes that Miss Darcy is shy, attractive, and graceful. Soon, Bingley arrives as well. Almost immediately, Elizabeth's anger towards Bingley disappears because of his naturally pleasant personality. Throughout the morning, the Gardiners become completely convinced that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is happy to observe no sign of significant affection between Mr. Bingley and Georgiana. At one point, Bingley speaks to Elizabeth privately and inquires about Jane, insinuating that he regrets not having seen her for so long. Furthermore, Elizabeth is amazed at Darcy's civility toward the Gardiners. Elizabeth had expected that Darcy would disrespect them for the same reasons he dislikes Elizabeth's own immediate family and cannot imagine why his manners have changed. Before the visitors leave, Darcy invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners to dinner at Pemberley. They accept. The Gardiners are now fully convinced that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth and realize that he is a much better man than they thought. Their new opinion is further validated when they discover that most of the townspeople hold Wickham in low esteem.
That night, Elizabeth stays awake trying to discern her feelings for Darcy. She admits that she is grateful to him for seemingly continuing to love her even after the rudeness of her rejection. She is extremely impressed by his change of character, but is still not sure whether or not she loves him. Mrs. Gardiner decides that she and Elizabeth should visit Georgiana the following morning in return for her great politeness in coming to see them immediately after her arrival.
Georgiana receives Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner civilly at Pemberley, although she is very shy. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley also say very little, so most of the conversation takes place between Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth, and one of Darcy's acquaintances, Mrs. Annesley. Throughout the visit, Elizabeth both hopes and fears that Darcy will join them. Darcy does eventually join them, and Bingley's sisters carefully scrutinize his actions during that time. Caroline notices that Darcy is attempting to facilitate conversation between Elizabeth and Georgiana, so she asks Elizabeth a pointed question about the militia. Elizabeth answers with composure, noting how both of the Darcys are pained by the allusion to Wickham.
After Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner leave, Caroline criticizes Elizabeth to Georgiana. However, Miss Darcy has already developed a good opinion of Elizabeth, largely on her brother's commendations. Caroline then repeats her criticisms to Darcy, but he calls Elizabeth one of the most handsome women he has ever met and then walks away.
Elizabeth receives two letters from Jane at the same time. The first is short and panicked, the second more composed, but they together deliver terrible news: Lydia has run off from Brighton and eloped with Wickham. Though the Forsters expected the couple to elope to Scotland (where minors could marry without parental permission), the family now worries that Wickham actually has no intention of marrying Lydia at all. Jane begs Elizabeth and the Gardiners to return home immediately, in part so Mr. Gardiner can help Mr. Bennet search for Lydia in London.
After reading the letter, Elizabeth rushes out the door, only to find Mr. Darcy waiting there. Noting her flurried state, Darcy convinces her that they should send a servant for the Gardiners and then helps her calm down. She confesses the situation to Darcy, who becomes extremely distressed and regretful, wondering if he might have prevented it by telling everyone the truth about Wickham. As Elizabeth listens to Darcy speak, she realizes that this new disgrace on her family will make it impossible for him to ever renew his proposal. In this moment, Elizabeth realizes that she loves him. After a few minutes, Darcy takes his leave, promising to keep the crisis a secret. Elizabeth watches him go with regret, doubting that they will ever meet again on such friendly terms.
Elizabeth is certain that Wickham does not plan to marry Lydia. Knowing Lydia's gullibility, Elizabeth assumes that Wickham must have misled her. The Gardiners return to the inn and, upon hearing the news, agree to leave immediately.
On the journey back to Longbourn, Mr. Gardiner attempts to convince Elizabeth that Wickham must intend to marry Lydia, but Elizabeth is not convinced. She reproaches herself for not revealing the truth about Wickham's true character to her family. They arrive at Longbourn the next day, and Jane is very happy to see Elizabeth. There has been no news of Lydia since Jane's letters, and Mr. Bennet is currently searching for Lydia in London. Though Kitty and Mary do not seem extremely upset by the situation, Mrs. Bennet is devastated and will not leave her room. She blames Colonel Forster and his wife for their neglect, thinking Lydia is not the type of girl to do such a thing. Mrs. Bennet is also worried that Mr. Bennet will challenge Wickham to a duel and die. To reassure her, Mr. Gardiner promises to help Mr. Bennet in London.
When Elizabeth and Jane are alone, they discuss the situation in more detail. Jane shows Elizabeth the note which Lydia left for Mrs. Forster. It reveals their sister's thoughtless and frivolous action but also proves that Lydia left Brighton with every intention of marrying Wickham.
The next morning, Mr. Gardiner sets off for London. Mrs. Gardiner decides to stay at Longbourn for a few more days in order to help Elizabeth and Jane. In Meryton, Wickham's reputation has changed quickly and everyone now considers him "the wickedest young man in the world."
A letter from Mr. Gardiner arrives a few days later, explaining that he and Mr. Bennet plan to inquire at every major hotel about the couple. Mr. Gardiner also plans to request that Colonel Forster ask his colleagues in the militia if they know anything. Elizabeth opens a letter to her father from Mr. Collins, offering his condolences for the unfortunate situation and also criticizing the Bennets's lack of parental attention. Collins also implies his relief that Elizabeth turned down his proposal, since her acceptance would have tied him to this now disgraced family.
Mr. Gardiner's next letter announces that Colonel Forster has unable to collect any information about where Wickham and Lydia might be staying. Gardiner has also learned that Wickham owes over 1,000 pounds in gambling debts, which could explain why he is in hiding. Elizabeth remains miserable throughout this period, constantly aware that this situation will likely ruin any chance she has of marrying Darcy. Mr. Bennet decides to return home, leaving the search to Mr. Gardiner. At the same time, Mrs. Gardiner returns home to London with her children. When Mr. Bennet returns, he confesses to Elizabeth that he blames himself for the situation.
Mr. Bennet receives an express letter from Mr. Gardiner, stating that he has found Wickham. Wickham has agreed to marry Lydia, provided she receive her equal share of the family wealth after Mr. Bennet's death, as well as 100 pounds per year. Because this amount is not exorbitant, Mr. Gardiner assumes that Wickham's debts must not have been as extreme as they originally believed. Mr. Bennet, however, assumes that Mr. Gardiner must have paid Wickham a large sum of money to ensure his compliance, and is both honored and humbled by that favor. Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic is hear the news. She begins to think about ordering wedding clothes.
Mr. Bennet is determined to find out how much Mr. Gardiner has paid Wickham so that the can pay him back. Mrs. Bennet, however, spends the entire evening talking about wedding plans and suitable houses in the neighborhood for Lydia and Wickham. Mr. Bennet informs her that he will not receive the couple at Longbourn, nor will he give Lydia money for wedding clothes. Mrs. Bennet is more disgraced by her daughter's lack of new wedding clothes than she is by Lydia's elopement.
Elizabeth believes now more than ever that a future with Darcy is impossible; he would not align himself with a family that includes Wickham. Another letter arrives from Mr. Gardiner, reporting that Wickham is planning to quit the militia to work as an ensign with a regiment quartered in the North. The letter also mentions that Wickham plans to pay off all his debts, both in Brighton and Meryton. After entreaties from Elizabeth and Jane, Mr. Bennet permits Lydia and Wickham to visit Longbourn before leaving for the North.
When Lydia and Wickham arrive at Longbourn, they show no sense of shame whatsoever; in fact, Lydia shamelessly expects congratulations from all her sisters. Jane and Elizabeth are extremely distressed by Lydia's conduct. Further, Elizabeth observes that Wickham's affection for Lydia is not nearly as strong as her affection for him.
Lydia tells Elizabeth all the details of the wedding. She is completely ungrateful for what the Gardiners have done, and even complains that they would not let her go out while she was staying with them. Lydia mentions in passing that Darcy attended the wedding, but then confesses she was supposed to keep his attendance a secret. Shocked, Elizabeth writes to Mrs. Gardiner to solicit more details about Darcy's involvement.
Mrs. Gardiner's response to Elizabeth arrives, explaining that Mr. Darcy was actually the one who discovered Wickham's whereabouts. He bribed Miss Younge (the woman who had helped Wickham to seduce Georgiana) for the information. Darcy was unable to convince Lydia to leave Wickham behind, so he offered Wickham money to secure their marriage. Darcy then waited until Mr. Bennet left London, at which point he shared his plan with Mr. Gardiner and apologized for not having revealed Wickham's character sooner. Mrs. Gardiner concludes the letter by insisting that Mr. Darcy acted out of love for Elizabeth and suggesting that she and Darcy would make a perfect match.
Elizabeth realizes how hard it must have been for Darcy to swallow his pride and ask anything of Wickham. However, she remains skeptical that he was motivated by love and holds onto her pessimistic view about her chances of another proposal. Wickham interrupts Elizabeth's reflective moment. They have a guarded conversation in which Elizabeth insinuates that she knows about Wickham's past, but she avoids provoking him further for Lydia's sake.
Throughout these chapters, Elizabeth's true feelings emerge: she knows that she and Darcy make a good match. In fact, it seems that Elizabeth does not suddenly fall in love with Darcy starting in these chapters. Rather, it becomes clear that her attraction has been growing throughout the novel, even though her prejudice has blinded her from seeing it. Elizabeth's visit to Pemberley serves as a mini-climax in this character arc, since it forces her to confront her true feelings. Even before Darcy arrives, Elizabeth falls in love with Pemberley and even imagines herself living there. It is clear that the house serves as a metaphor for Darcy - it is elegant, sophisticated and evocative. Meanwhile, Elizabeth sees Darcy from Mrs. Reynolds's perspective - which is entirely warm and favorable.
Further, the chapters at Pemberley reveal that Darcy himself has changed considerably since his last encounter with Elizabeth. He treats her family in a remarkably civil, even outright friendly, manner. Darcy's personable nature is notable as he is clearly taking pains to prevent class prejudice from blinding him too quickly. Where Darcy had earlier criticized Elizabeth's relations - including the working class Gardiners - he now invites them to enjoy Pemberley as his guests.
Darcy seems to have learned about the superiority of personal conduct over social standing. Arguably, Darcy's politeness at Pemberley might have dried up quickly had the Gardiners been as obnoxious as Mrs. Bennet. However, their civility and sophistication prohibits Darcy from shifting into condescending behavior, and indeed, he and Mr. Gardiner grow closer as the novel progresses. Darcy brings Georgiana see Elizabeth right after her arrival, which is an acknowledgement of his respect for Miss Bennet. In doing so, Darcy shirks the rigid social expectation that makes such a quick acquaintance rather strange. Additionally, Darcy is willing to bring his beloved sister to an inn, which is something a a highly proper woman like Lady Catherine would never do. However, Darcy shows that he cares more about the people staying at the inn and less about the decorum of the visit.
Austen further underlines Darcy's new attitude by juxtaposing him with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, whose class consciousness remains as static as ever. Bingley's sisters are downright rude to Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner, not even bothering to receive the latter women as their guests. Furthermore, Caroline's childish attempts to demean Elizabeth behind her back reveal her ugliness to the reader (and to Darcy, as well). Through these women, Austen is able to portray the disconnect between breeding and behavior. Meanwhile, Elizabeth bases her judgments on what she believes to be the quality of a person's character, focusing less on superficial class barriers. Darcy used to have an attitude about class similar to that of Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, it seems that his relationship with Elizabeth has created a substantial change in his outlook. He still respects status distinctions and rules of propriety, but he is now able to look beyond class prejudices (exemplified by his graciousness towards the Gardiners).
Austen reflects her complicated relationship with class structure by recognizing the existence and validity of the social hierarchy while simultaneously undercutting its value. Elegant, peaceful Pemberley is certainly a metaphor for Darcy himself, but some critics note that Elizabeth's most significant change of heart comes while she is imagining herself as mistress of the property. She is arguably seduced by Darcy's wealth (just as Wickham is seduced by Miss King's). Austen clearly prized social standing and wealth because her heroine ends up richer than all of her sisters. This attitude might seem hypocritical to contemporary readers, but it is very much a reflection on Austen's life. She grew up in the lower echelons of the upper class but lost that status over time as her family faced financial troubles.
Some critics have argued that Elizabeth harbors a deep-seeded hatred of 'female' behaviors, as defined by her cynical father. These behaviors include frivolity, obsession with materialism, and the use of allure to hook a man. Meanwhile, there are actually very few strong female characters in the novel. Most of them - Mrs. Bennet, the younger Bennet sisters, Lady Catherine - are quite frivolous and obsessed with superficial trappings. Perhaps these choices are in themselves a way for Austen to criticize a world that forces women to prize superficiality because it is the only way for them to secure a comfortable life (in the absence of family wealth).
The tragedy that befalls Lydia is certainly an illustration of the danger young women faced in the early nineteenth-century. A young lady's elopement (especially following a period of unmarried co-habitation) could ruin both her future and her family's reputation. Therefore, Elizabeth is justifiably concerned that Lydia's irresponsible decision will ruin the possibility of another proposal from Darcy. Arguably, Elizabeth's concerns would probably be justified had Darcy not experienced such a drastic change of heart. Mr. Darcy's reaction Lydia's elopement, however, is an optimistic portrayal. First, he bears the news with some equanimity rather than condescension. The fact that Darcy himself engineers Lydia's rescue shows that his love for Elizabeth is so strong that it has taught him to swallow his prejudice and control his pride.
Lydia's selfishness actually engineers change in other characters as well. Mr. Bennet is shocked out of his indolence, realizing that he has been neglecting his duties as a father. He does his best to remedy the situation, but Mr. Gardiner takes on the role of the family's primary patriarch by organizing the search and helping Darcy engineer the victory. As a side note, the fact the only men are able to grow from this tragedy (with the exception of Elizabeth, of course) provides further illustration of Austen's limited depiction of women. Overall, Austen has a fairly cynical view of humanity. Many critics have noted that many of the supporting characters in Pride and Prejudice are mostly well drawn caricatures, unchanging and rather broad. Similarly, the speed at which the townspeople change their view of Wickham (whom they previously considered an "angel of light") suggests that Austen saw most of society as mindlessly beholden to popular opinion.
For Austen, the alternative to superficiality seems to be strong individuality and virtue. Lydia is only concerned with her own immediate happiness and her public image, which causes her to nearly ruin her family's reputation. Mrs. Bennet's happiness after Lydia's engagement is comically narrow-minded, proving her utter lack of moral direction. Lydia and Mrs. Bennet's behavior is the opposite of the moral virtue that holds a community together. The community, through word and example, inculcates those virtues in its members. A serious breach of virtue on the part of one person is an injury not only to that person's character, but also to the characters of all his/her close relations (especially since the older relations have an obligation to educate their children). In Lydia's case, her lack of virtue seems in large part the result of her mother's foolishness and her father's indolence, but also of a society that demeans women and praises petty materialism and gossip over strong individuality.