With a strong prejudice against everything he might say, she began his account of what had happened at Netherfield. She read with an eagerness which hardly left her power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before her eyes. The Narrator, Chapter 36
Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter analyzing every point to discover the truth. She does not agree that her sister Jane was indifferent to Bingley, but after Darcy’s account of his dealings with Wickham admonishers herself for being so blinded by prejudice. Until this moment she never knew herself. She returns to Longbourn to hear that the regiment is leaving for Brighton where Lydia wished to go as guest of Col & Mrs. Forster. Elizabeth strongly warns her father against it. She is “the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.” Mr. Bennet sees no harm, and Lydia is off to flirt with officers. Elizabeth departs with her aunt & uncle Gardiner for a tour of Derbyshire. They stay at Lambton where Mrs. Gardiner had previously lived. Pemberley is near by and she wished to see it again but Elizabeth is anxious not to see Darcy. She agrees to tour the estate only after learning the family is away, and to Pemberley they go.
Elizabeth’s reaction to the letter is a journey of discovery as she analyzes Mr. Darcy’s account against her own previous conclusions. At the beginning, she is prejudiced against him. She does not want to believe what he has shared about his assumptions about Jane’s indifference to Bingley or Mr. Wickham’s account of Darcy’s ill treatment of him. Like Elizabeth, I re-read Mr. Darcy’s letter and this chapter several times. There is so much to digest for her, and us, as we witness the process of her mind in weighing both sides of the story. Such strong reactions and disbelief on her part makes us resist – like her – that the information that Darcy has shared might be true. As she goes down every point there is a counterpoint in opposition that she presents. The tide in favor of her believing his explanations begins to turn when Mr. Darcy shares the story of his sister Georgiana’s romance and failed elopement with Mr. Wickham. The story does line up with events that she has learned the previous morning from Col Fitzwilliam. She then recollects her encounters and conversations with Wickham and sees him in a new light.
She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger, and wondered it had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward as he (Mr. Wickham) had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with his conduct. The Narrator. Chapter 36
And then she realizes her mistakes, and openly admits them to herself.
“How despicably have I acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.” Elizabeth Bennet, Chapter 36
With that last statement, a heroine of the ages was born. Elizabeth might have been spirited, defiant and impertinent to a fault, but we have now witnessed her greatest asset, the ability to acknowledge her mistakes, admonish herself and see her life in a new light. This is the axis of the novel. The epiphany that Austen wanted us to experience and identify with. A universal truth that we should all know, but is one of the hardest lessons in life to learn. We are all fallible. What we do with our understanding of this is the measure of our life. If you take anything away with you from reading this novel, let it be this.
Wholly inattentive to her sister’s feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstacy, calling for every one’s congratulations, and laughing and talking with more violence than ever; whilst the luckless Kitty continued in the parlour repining at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish. The Narrator, Chapter 41
As if in complete opposition to Elizabeth having her break-through moment of growth and maturity, Austen changes the focus of the story to silly Lydia, her quest for officers and the Brighton scheme. And what a divergence we are presented with. Unguarded, imprudent and wildly exuberant, Lydia is so out of control that Elizabeth warns her father that at “she will at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.” No kidding! Unfortunately, he would prefer not to deal with her and sees the advantage of allowing her to go to Brighton and expose herself in public with as little cost or inconvenience to her family. Despicable parenting. Obviously, the “put blinders on and let them run wild philosophy” was born long before the “me” generation took all the credit for it. I think Lydia was their original poster girl! This passage certainly confirms it.
She saw herself the object of attention to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp — its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once. The Narrator, Chapter 41
La! So Lydia departs for Brighton with Col and Mrs. Forster. Out of sight, out of mind. Elizabeth deals with the gloom, misery and lamentations in her household of Kitty and Mrs. Bennet’s grief over the regiment moving to Brighton by looking forward to her trip to the Lakes with her aunt and uncle Gardiner. Their plans change and their travel is redirected to Derbyshire where Mrs. Gardiner formerly lived. She wished to see the beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak once again. Apprehensive about entering the same county as Mr. Darcy’s main residence, Elizabeth and the Gardiners depart on their journey north in pursuit of novelty and amusement. They bend their steps toward Lambton, Mrs. Gardiner’s former residence, and her aunt informs her that Pemberley is only five miles away. She has an inclination to see it again. Elizabeth does not. The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy while viewing his home would be dreadful. Getting the low down on the Darcy family from the people in the know (the chambermaid) she is assured that the family is away and sees no harm in viewing a grand estate that she has heard so much about. With all of her alarms removed – “To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.”
- Group reading schedule
- Pride and Prejudice: Reading Resources
- Pride and Prejudice: List of Characters
- Pride and Prejudice: Quotes & Quips Chapters 36-42
- Pride and Prejudice without Zombies Event Schedule
‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’: Day 13 Giveaway
Enter a chance to win one copy of Longman’s Cultural edition of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen by leaving a comment stating what Elizabeth’s announcement “Till this moment I never knew myself.” means to you or which your favorite quote is from the novel by midnight, Saturday, July 24th, 2010. Winner will be announced on Sunday, July 25th. Shipment to continental US addresses only. Good luck!
Upcoming event posts
Day 14 July 05 Food at the Netherfield Ball
Day 15 July 07 Group Read: Chapters 43 – 49
Day 16 July 09 William Gilpin and Jane Austen