These six chapters contain two dramatic developments, sharply and abruptly juxtaposed with each other; at that pivotal point between these two events, only two characters are in the scene: Elizabeth and Darcy. The first event, of course, is the meeting of Elizabeth and Darcy at Pemberley and the other is Lydia's escapade. These chapters bring such conflicting emotions to me. I just love how the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy is reignited. But I absolutely hate how Lydia's foolish behavior suddenly shuts everything down. I think the reader despairs, just like Elizabeth, and feels " how improbable it was that they should ever see each other again on such terms of cordiality as had marked their several meetings in Derbyshire" (Chapter 46).
While Austen uses dramatic irony in the first part of the novel by letting us in on Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth very early on, she now employs suspense. Instead of us getting to enjoy the irony of Elizabeth's prejudice in light of Darcy's feelings, we now are forced to reckon with the events exactly as Elizabeth must. I think that's why, if I can say that I "dislike" a section of the book (which I really don't), it would be Chapters 45-49. And I know this is definitely related to my personal preferences or personality. I hate suspense. I hate not being in the know. But I love dramatic irony. :) I love getting to see what the characters can't see. I like knowing what's going on.... Anyway, all of that is kind of beside the point, except that those personal preferences probably contribute to my strong emotional response to this section.
I am struck in this particular reading how these six chapters are almost like mirror images of each other, one positive and the other negative. In both developments, family members of Elizabeth who are fairly minor characters( in terms of how much time has been devoted to them in the novel up until now) make decisions that on the surface seem far removed from Darcy & Elizabeth's relationship. The Gardiners invite Elizabeth to take a vacation, Mr. Gardiner can't get away from work long enough to visit the Lake Country, Mrs. Gardiner happens to be from the area near Pemberley, and both Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner really want to visit Pemberley. On the negative side, Lydia has been flirting her way through the officers in Brighton and apparently has developed a big crush on Wickham. This development is interesting because when we find out they run away with each other, we are as shocked as Elizabeth. There has been no hint that the two were ever interested in each other. We do not get to see even a little bit of Lydia's letters to Kitty. It is completely dropped in our laps. And coming off of Elizabeth's incredible time at Pemberley, it is so totally unexpected. I think I'm still having trouble getting over it.
The results of actions and circumstances of these two sides of the family contribute to serendipitously place Elizabeth and Darcy together the moment she reads Jane's letters. Of course this has momentous consequences for the story, but we haven't gotten to that part yet, so I won't discuss it here. But in terms of Elizabeth's and Darcy's relationship, it now allows Elizabeth to experience something of what Darcy felt when she rejected him:
Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, and was walking up and down the room in earnest meditation, his brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed, and instantly understood it. Her power was sinking; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace. She could neither wonder nor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought nothing consolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of her distress. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to make her understand her own wishes; and never had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be vain.
As so often in life, loss illuminates our true priorities. We only realize how important someone or something is to us the moment that we lose them. When Elizabeth first comes to Pemberley and hears the housekeepers praise of Darcy, she begins to acknowledge that she may have done more than misjudge Darcy; she may have misjudged her own feelings:
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. ... and as she stood before the canvas, on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.
In the string of meetings with Darcy, starting with that exquisite first one, we see Elizabeth feeling confused, surprised and uncomfortable but also at the same time pleased, happy, gratified, and flattered:
Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph.
Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme, and continually was she repeating, "Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me -- it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened.
Elizabeth was not comfortable: that was impossible; but she was flattered and pleased.
There are a couple of lines that I especially like in Chapter 43. The first is when Austen describes the moment that they first see each other:
Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush.
I love that when they see each other again for the first time, it is their eyes that instantly meet. One of those electric moments that lets us see the very real chemistry between these two characters. Not described in over-the-top romantic language, but much more powerful in my opinion. :)
The other great moment in the chapter is the very end, where "Mr. Darcy handed the ladies into the carriage; and when it drove off, Elizabeth saw him walking slowly towards the house."
Elizabeth watches him walk into the house. She can't keep her eyes, much less her thoughts, off of Mr. Darcy.
In the subsequent meetings (and this post is getting long, so I won't go into detail), Elizabeth continues to feel happy yet confused. We know she is falling in love with him, but we also know that after expressing her feelings of dislike so strongly, it is not going to be easy for her to acknowledge her love. This is why, though I hate that it interrupts such a lovely romantic narrative, the shock and loss that comes from Lydia's elopement is so powerful for Elizabeth:
The present unhappy state of the family rendered any other excuse for the lowness of her spirits unnecessary; nothing, therefore, could be fairly conjectured from that, though Elizabeth, who was by this time tolerably well acquainted with her own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had she known nothing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia's infamy somewhat better. It would have spared her, she thought, one sleepless night out of two.
In Chapter 50 we get insight into her more thorough examination of herself, but even here in the midst of their family suffering, Elizabeth can't keep her regrets about Darcy from intruding.
So from such heights at Pemberley, to now such a low. There is much more to say here about how Lydia's elopement affects other characters--especially Mr. Bennet. But for now, I'm going to end this post with what may possibly be my favorite quotes from the entire book. The BBC miniseries does a fabulous job of dramatizing this moment, but I have to say, I just love the commentary. Whenever I watch the scene, I always think of these lines:
Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that Darcy admired Elizabeth, this was not the best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise ......
"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only when I first knew her; for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
And that, my friends is (just about) the last we hear of Miss Bingley. :)