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
“Till this moment I never knew myself” makes me think of Elizabeth in the same light as Emma – which I never did before! I guess because we like Lizzy so much more than we like Emma, we don’t usually see L as being so self-deluded.
I’ve never quite thought about Austen’s deliberate immediate juxtaposition of Elizabeth’s awakening self-awareness with Lydia’s illusions, delusions, and incapacity for self-awareness. Thanks for pointing that out, Laurel Ann. =)
I’ve always thought of the proposal, Darcy’s explanatory letter, and, Elizabeth’s reaction to the letter as one unit and my favorite dramatic sequence in the novel. How Austen allows us to journey with Elizabeth’s impressions turning is just literary genius. This time around, though, Elizabeth and Jane reminded me of Marianne and Elinor to some degree… Elizabeth’s unguarded impropriety with Wickam with Marianne’s headstrong feelings for Willoughby and Jane’s too guarded feelings for Bingley (as perceived by Darcy) with Elinor’s repressed feelings for Edward. Now, I see why some people say Jane Austen basically wrote the same novel over and over again… but, of course, even though there is nothing new under the sun, I disagree with that sentiment. =)
The beginning of chapter 42 is also an extension of Elizabeth’s ‘Till this moment I never knew myself’. She realizes that from her father’s reprehensible attitude of ‘exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children’, she inherited the arrogance of taking delight in other’s silliness and deeming oneself wittier than all the rest… a folly, indeed, that will have severe repercussions on all of them. Although Elizabeth is a bit wiser than her father with regards to Lydia… =)
I recently read an essay by C. S. Lewis, that compares four passages of “undeception” or “awakening” in Jane Austen’s novels.
“The absurdity of her curiosity and her fears, could they ever be forgiven? She hated herself more than she could express …” —Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 25.
“My illness has made me think … I considered the past: I saw in my own behaviour nothing but a series of imprudence towards my self, and want of kindness to others.” —Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 46.
“I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away … Till this moment I never knew myself.” —Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 36.
“Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes … She perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that she had been imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying …” —Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 47.
C. S. Lewis writes, “All four heroines painfully, though with varying degrees of pain, discover that they have been making mistakes both about themselves and about the world in which they live. … All realize that the cause of the deception lay within …. and in all four [of the novels] the undeception, structurally considered, is the very pivot or watershed of the story.” —from ‘A Note on Jane Austen’.
Self-knowledge is painful, but necessary for the happy ending :)
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!” (P&P, Ch. 36)
I find this sentence particularly thought-provoking: “I … who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister”. Why do we so often think the worst of someone, on very little evidence? I am often quick to assume that something that annoys me was done on purpose to hurt me, even when done by someone that I know loves and cares for me. It is better and wiser to be like Jane Bennet, and give others ‘the benefit of the doubt’.
Oh Miss Sneyd, I recently read this article, too, (as part of the A Truth Universally Acknowledged compilation) and loved CS Lewis comparative analysis as well!
This thought of his struck me particularly: Where there is no norm, nothing can be ridiculous, except for a brief moment of unbalanced provincialism in which we may laugh at merely unfamiliar. Unless there is something about which the author is never ironical, there can be no true irony in the work.
He really hit the nail on the head with regards to Jane Austen’s particular genius. We acknowledge her truths about human nature, and laugh with her (and at ourselves) when she puts the distortions of such human folly under her such scrutiny. =)
Is that compilation online or is it printed material? Could you please provide a way of finding that to read? Thanks!
Hi Melissa Lynn! I read the article in ‘A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 great writers on why we read Jane Austen’, edited by Susannah Carson, published in 2009. C.S. Lewis’ article itself is entitled: A Note on Jane Austen.
I’m pretty sure Lewis’ article has been published elsewhere, but I’m not sure if it’s available online.
“Till this moment I never knew myself.” I have always admired Elizabeth for this revelation. Not only does she admit that she was prejudice in her views of both Darcy and Wickham, she then re-reads the letter without prejudice and re-evaluates the actions she and her family displayed, understanding why Darcy felt the way he did. It takes a strong person to see ourselves as others do, faults and all. It takes an even stronger person to act on those observations, which Lizzie does.
To me these scenes are pivotal in Pride and Prejudice. I recall my heart racing when I first read these pages many moons ago and rushing through the passages, feeling so relieved that Darcy had an acceptable excuse for much of his behavior and that Elizabeth was big enough to see the merit in his words and to judge her family with some degree of understanding.
As I grew older, I began to see Mr. Bennet in a different light. When I was young I thought him a delightful character; but now I cannot like how he regards or treats his wife, silly as she is. Jane masterfully shows how alike Lydia and her mother are. Mrs. Bennet lives vicariously through her exuberant daughter, generously wishing her a gay and happy time in Brighton, even though she knows Mr. Bennet will never take her there and that she herself will never know the pleasures of that seaside resort.
“Till this moment I never knew myself.” I think this quote definitely shows how strong a person Elizabeth truly is. It takes a strong and honest person to realize that they have been mistaken and to continue on to analyze themselves. I agree that this is what truly makes her a heroine.
I, too, was struck by Lizzie’s quote “Till this moment I never knew myself.” The entire passage that goes with this quote just shows that Lizzie does not exempt herself from her own well articulated chastisement. I would equate her intensity to her own self to the same level she used in refusing Mr. Darcy’s first proposal. We see her later using this “talent” with Lady Catherine (no spoiler).