What are men to rocks and mountains?
While it is on the surface a romance, this alone would not account for the immense popularity of this book. As its initial title, First Impressions, suggests, there is much more to it than a simple love story. It is at its core about the philosophy of love but, as a novelist, Austen's exploration of the theme is that of a painter or a poet: not formal but abstract, deeper and more captivating, expressing what can be felt but not easily rationalized.
To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.
Mr. Bennet, the philosopher in question in this passage so characteristic of the humor and general tone of the book, shares with his daughter a truly Socratic spirit in their disdain and contempt for ostentation and pretense, while remaining deferential to real wisdom. In one of the central interactions with Mr. Darcy, their argument about follies and vices, vanity and pride, Elizabeth says about this sort of derision:
I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.
The first statement is as fundamental to the book as the second: just as it is not simply a romance, it is not simple societal mockery and reproach. Rather, every one of its great characters has a commitment to truth and honesty, often to their own detriment, and these are at the core of all the exemplary relationships between them. This is especially the case for Elizabeth and Darcy, who defend these principles vigorously:
You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness.
These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.
This common disposition, more than anything, is the basis for their irresistible attraction, despite their initial animosity, and the development of their romance. In an often-quoted line from the 2005 film (superb in its own right), Elizabeth says:
Only the deepest love will persuade me into matrimony, which is why I will end up an old maid.
While it is not from the book, it is a good summary of her father's words after Darcy asks for her hand in one of the final chapters:
I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband, unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about.
That truth and honesty are an essential precondition for every virtue and for any meaningful relationship is one of the central tenets of the book. One cannot respect someone he does not trust to be honest. This is brilliantly shown by counter-example in other marriages in the story.
Aristotle identifies in his Ethics, one of the greatest works of philosophy of all time, three types of relationships, according to the object of their affection, and they are perfectly portrayed in the marriages in Pride and Prejudice.
Lydia and Wickham, their imprudent escapade and hurried marriage, are exemplars of the relationship of pleasure. She, vain and vulgar, and for that reason incontinent and irresponsible; he, deceitful and superficial, with merely a semblance of character; "a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue", as Elizabeth puts it. Charlotte and Mr. Collins, on the other hand, exemplify the relationship of utility, equally despised by her.
These two exist only as long as the corresponding interest does. When their initial infatuation ends, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's relationship deteriorates. When Wickham no longer sees a benefit in being with his current companion, he moves on to another. To these is opposed Elizabeth's relation with Darcy, the relationship of virtue. It is the only one that can endure: as the Philosopher says, and the novel corroborates, it "lasts as long as they are good — and goodness is an enduring thing". And it is virtue that Austen extols through Mary when she, in a lucid moment of departure from her usual overbearing erudite tone, proclaims:
Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: — that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable, that one false step involves her in endless ruin, that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.
This juxtaposition of fragility and beauty is another mark of Austen's greatness as a novelist. Writing at a time when feminism — the most ironically-named movement in history — and similar philosophies were starting to take form, she annihilates their propositions by making her female characters awesome not because they protest societal standards by completely rejecting morality and decency, but because they show, through their adherence to these without ever betraying their own (feminine) spirit, true magnanimity.
Elizabeth's wild character is consummated in her relationship with Darcy (and so is his, in turn, in its own way); she becomes the "truly accomplished woman" prophesied earlier: "a fearsome thing to behold" (another line from the film which is not in the book but could very well be). She ponders when beginning to feel affection for Darcy after reading his letter:
"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 blameless 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".
Her last phrase echoes the ancient Delphic injunction: γνῶθι σεαυτόν; Plato, Aristotle's revered teacher, in his Symposium has Diotima of Mantinea relate to Socrates that the ultimate function of love is to reveal the path to beauty and virtue. Continuing this ancient line of philosophy, Austen's characters are completely transformed, through their relationship, into more fully-realized and better people. In mutual submission, as the passage from Scripture says, their own limitations and vices are revealed to them. And by their commitment to honesty and to each other, they are compelled to mutual improvement. As Darcy says when they are finally engaged:
By you, I was properly humbled. […] You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.
It is a truth (sometimes) universally acknowledged that the deepest love is a universal desire. Pride and Prejudice, extremely daring for the beginning of the nineteenth century, and written at the remarkable age of twenty one (though it was revised fifteen years later prior to its publication), continues to be one of the most popular novels — and here "popular" is deserved and not an insult — because it shows true love: what it requires and what it effects in the soul of those it touches. And for this it will be perpetually relevant. It is, as its author, femininity at its best.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
"I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment".
"Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person".
"Oh, you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life".
"I would wish not to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think".
"I know you do: and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough; one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design, — to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad, — belongs to you alone".
Between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spite of a great opposition of character. Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, and ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy's regard, Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgment the highest opinion. In understanding, Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient; but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious; and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared; Darcy was continually giving offence.
"I beg you will not put it into Lizzy's head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat close to her for half an hour without once opening his lips".
Her performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.
Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger sisters, who with some of the Lucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room.
Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation, and was too much engrossed by his own thoughts to perceive that Sir William Lucas was his neighbour, till Sir William thus began:—
"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing, after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies".
"Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world: every savage can dance".
Sir William only smiled. "Your friend performs delightfully", he continued, after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; "and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy".
"You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir".
"Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James's?"
"Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?".
"It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I can avoid it".
"You have a house in town, I conclude?".
Mr. Darcy bowed.
"I had once some thoughts of fixing in town myself, for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas".
He paused in hopes of an answer: but his companion was not disposed to make any; […]
On entering the drawing-room, she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high, she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself, for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rather singular".
"Miss Eliza Bennet", said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else".
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure", cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things".
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments", said Darcy, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen; but I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen in the whole range of my acquaintance that are really accomplished".
"Nor I, I am sure", said Miss Bingley.
"Then", observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman".
"Yes; I do comprehend a great deal in it".
"Oh, certainly", cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and, besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved".
"All this she must possess", added Darcy; "and to all she must yet add something more substantial in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading".
"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any".
"Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?".
"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe, united".
"Whatever I do is done in a hurry", replied he; "and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here".
"That is exactly what I should have supposed of you", said Elizabeth.
"You begin to comprehend me, do you?" cried he, turning towards her.
"Oh yes — I understand you perfectly".
"I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through, I am afraid, is pitiful".
"That is as it happens. It does not necessarily follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours".
"Lizzy", cried her mother, "remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home".
"I did not know before", continued Bingley, immediately, "that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study".
"Yes; but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage".
"[…] When she was only fifteen there was a gentleman at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her, that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were".
"And so ended his affection", said Elizabeth, impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!".
"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love", said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away".
"Oh", cried Miss Bingley, "Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest".
"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them; by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents".
"Your humility, Mr. Bingley", said Elizabeth, "must disarm reproof".
"Nothing is more deceitful", said Darcy, "than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast".
"And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?".
"The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning, that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself; and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?".
"Nay", cried Bingley, "this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believed what I said of myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to show off before the ladies".
"I daresay you believed it; but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would be quite as dependent on chance as that of any man I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, 'Bingley, you had better stay till next week', you would probably do it — you would probably not go — and, at another word, might stay a month".
"You have only proved by this", cried Elizabeth, "that Mr. Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You have shown him off now much more than he did himself".
"I am exceedingly gratified", said Bingley, "by your converting what my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which that gentleman did by no means intend; for he would certainly think the better of me if, under such a circumstance, I were to give a flat denial, and ride off as fast as I could".
"Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intention as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?".
"Upon my word, I cannot exactly explain the matter — Darcy must speak for himself".
"You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety".
"To yield readily — easily — to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you".
"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either".
"You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr. Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs, before we discuss the discretion of his behaviour thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases, between friend and friend, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?".
"Will it not be advisable, before we proceed on this subject, to arrange with rather more precision the degree of importance which is to appertain to this request, as well as the degree of intimacy subsisting between the parties?".
"By all means", cried Bingley; "let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size, for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do".
Miss Bingley made no answer, and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings, she resolved on one effort more; and, turning to Elizabeth, said, —
"Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude".
Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility: Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. What could he mean? She was dying to know what could be his meaning — and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him.
"Not at all", was her answer; "but, depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it".
Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in anything, and persevered, therefore, in requiring an explanation of his two motives.
"I have not the smallest objection to explaining them", said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. "You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking: if the first, I should be completely in your way; and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire".
"Oh, shocking!" cried Miss Bingley. "I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?".
"Nothing so easy if you have but the inclination", said Elizabeth. "We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him — laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done".
"But upon my honour I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Tease calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no; I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself".
"Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!" cried Elizabeth. "That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh".
"Miss Bingley", said he, "has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and best of men, — nay, the wisest and best of their actions, — may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke".
"Certainly", replied Elizabeth, "there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without".
"Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule".
"Such as vanity and pride".
"Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride — where there is a real superiority of mind — pride will be always under good regulation".
Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.
"Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume", said Miss Bingley; "and pray what is the result?".
"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise".
"No", said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding; certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost for ever".
"That is a failing, indeed!" cried Elizabeth. "Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me".
"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome".
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody".
"And yours", he replied, with a smile, "is wilfully to misunderstand them".
When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her, in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man often times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and, at first, was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time, with—
"It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples".
He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.
"Very well; that reply will do for the present. Perhaps, by-and-by, I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones; but now we may be silent".
"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?".
"Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet, for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible".
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?".
"Both", replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb".
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure", said he. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait, undoubtedly".
"I must not decide on my own performance".
He made no answer; and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance[…]
Miss Bennet eagerly disclaimed all extraordinary merit, and threw back the praise on her sister's warm affection.
"Nay", said Elizabeth, "this is not fair. You wish to think all the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill of anybody. I only want to think you perfect, and you set yourself against it. Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroaching on your privilege of universal good-will. You need not. There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense. I have met with two instances lately: one I will not mention, the other is Charlotte's marriage. It is unaccountable! in every view it is unaccountable!".
"My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper. Consider Mr. Collins's respectability, and Charlotte's prudent, steady character. Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, for everybody's sake, that she may feel something like regard and esteem for our cousin".
"To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man: you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who marries him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness".
"I must think your language too strong in speaking of both", replied Jane; "and I hope you will be convinced of it, by seeing them happy together. But enough of this. You alluded to something else. You mentioned two instances. I cannot misunderstand you, but I entreat you, dear Lizzy, not to pain me by thinking that person to blame, and saying your opinion of him is sunk. We must not be so ready to fancy ourselves intentionally injured. We must not expect a lively young man to be always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us. Women fancy admiration means more than it does".
"And men take care that they should".
Mr. Bennet treated the matter differently. "So, Lizzy", said he, one day, "your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of, and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn to come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now is your time. Here are officers enough at Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably".
"Thank you, sir, but a less agreeable man would satisfy me. We must not all expect Jane's good fortune".
Mrs. Gardiner then rallied her niece on Wickham's desertion, and complimented her on bearing it so well.
"But, my dear Elizabeth", she added, "what sort of girl is Miss King? I should be sorry to think our friend mercenary".
"Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin? Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary".
"If you will only tell me what sort of girl Miss King is, I shall know what to think".
"She is a very good kind of girl, I believe. I know no harm of her".
"But he paid her not the smallest attention till her grandfather's death made her mistress of this fortune?".
"No — why should he? If it were not allowable for him to gain my affections, because I had no money, what occasion could there be for making love to a girl whom he did not care about, and who was equally poor?".
"But there seems indelicacy in directing his attentions towards her so soon after this event".
"A man in distressed circumstances has not time for all those elegant decorums which other people may observe. If she does not object to it, why should we?".
"Her not objecting does not justify him. It only shows her being deficient in something herself — sense or feeling".
"Well", cried Elizabeth, "have it as you choose. He shall be mercenary, and she shall be foolish".
"No, Lizzy, that is what I do not choose. I should be sorry, you know, to think ill of a young man who has lived so long in Derbyshire".
"Oh, if that is all, I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all. Thank heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manners nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all".
"Take care, Lizzy; that speech savours strongly of disappointment".
Before they were separated by the conclusion of the play, she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.
"We have not quite determined how far it shall carry us", said Mrs. Gardiner; "but perhaps, to the Lakes".
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. "My dear, dear aunt", she rapturously cried, "what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh, what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone — we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers, shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers".
When coffee was over, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her other nephew; till the latter walked away from her, and moving with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte, stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance. Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenient pause turned to him with an arch smile, and said,—
"You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me. But I will not be alarmed, though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me".
"I shall not say that you are mistaken", he replied, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which, in fact, are not your own".
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, "Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire — and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too — for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear".
"I am not afraid of you", said he, smilingly.
"Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of", cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I should like to know how he behaves among strangers".
"You shall hear, then — but prepare for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball — and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you, but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact".
"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party".
"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders".
"Perhaps", said Darcy, "I should have judged better had I sought an introduction, but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers".
"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill-qualified to recommend himself to strangers?".
"I can answer your question", said Fitzwilliam, "without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble".
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess", said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done".
"My fingers", said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault — because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution".
Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers".
Elizabeth was sitting by herself the next morning, and writing to Jane, while Mrs. Collins and Maria were gone on business into the village, when she was startled by a ring at the door, the certain signal of a visitor. As she had heard no carriage, she thought it not unlikely to be Lady Catherine; and under that apprehension was putting away her half-finished letter, that she might escape all impertinent questions, when the door opened, and to her very great surprise Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy only, entered the room.
He seemed astonished too on finding her alone, and apologized for his intrusion, by letting her know that he had understood all the ladies to be within.
They then sat down, and when her inquiries after Rosings were made, seemed in danger of sinking into total silence. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, to think of something; and in this emergency recollecting when she had seen him last in Hertfordshire, and feeling curious to know what he would say on the subject of their hasty departure, she observed,—
"What can be the meaning of this?" said Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. "My dear Eliza, he must be in love with you, or he would never have called on us in this familiar way".
But when Elizabeth told of his silence, it did not seem very likely, even to Charlotte's wishes, to be the case; and, after various conjectures, they could at last only suppose his visit to proceed from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which was the more probable from the time of year.
But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice — a sacrifice to propriety, not a pleasure to himself. He seldom appeared really animated. Mrs. Collins knew not what to make of him. Colonel Fitzwilliam's occasionally laughing at his stupidity proved that he was generally different, which her own knowledge of him could not have told her; and as she would have liked to believe this change the effect of love, and the object of that love her friend Eliza, she set herself seriously to work to find it out: she watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success. He certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind.
More than once did Elizabeth, in her ramble within the park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him, at first, that it was a favourite haunt of hers. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even the third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance; for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal inquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. He never said a great deal, nor did she give herself the trouble of talking or of listening much; but it struck her in the course of their third rencounter that he was asking some odd unconnected questions — about her pleasure in being at Hunsford, her love of solitary walks, and her opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Collins's happiness; and that in speaking of Rosings, and her not perfectly understanding the house, he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again she would be staying there too. His words seemed to imply it. Could he have Colonel Fitzwilliam in his thoughts? She supposed, if he meant anything, he must mean an allusion to what might arise in that quarter. It distressed her a little, and she was quite glad to find herself at the gate in the pales opposite the Parsonage.
Neither could anything be urged against my father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities which Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain, and respectability which he will probably never reach.
"[…] My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But, perhaps", added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, "these offences might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just.
"[…] I was ready to die of laughter. And then we were so merry all the way home! we talked and laughed so loud, that anybody might have heard us ten miles off!".
To this, Mary very gravely replied, "Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book".
But of this answer Lydia heard not a word. She seldom listened to anybody for more than half a minute, and never attended to Mary at all.
But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.
Upon the whole, therefore, she found, what has been sometimes found before, that an event to which she had looked forward with impatient desire, did not, in taking place, bring all the satisfaction she had promised herself. It was consequently necessary to name some other period for the commencement of actual felicity; to have some other point on which her wishes and hopes might be fixed, and by again enjoying the pleasure of anticipation, console herself for the present, and prepare for another disappointment. Her tour to the Lakes was now the object of her happiest thoughts: it was her best consolation for all the uncomfortable hours which the discontentedness of her mother and Kitty made inevitable; and could she have included Jane in the scheme, every part of it would have been perfect.
As for Mary, she was mistress enough of herself to whisper to Elizabeth, with a countenance of grave reflection, soon after they were seated at table, —
"This is a most unfortunate affair, and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation".
Then perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she added, "Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: — that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable, that one false step involves her in endless ruin, that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex".
Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too much oppressed to make any reply. Mary, however, continued to console herself with such kind of moral extractions from the evil before them.
The good news quickly spread through the house; and with proportionate speed through the neighbourhood. It was borne in the latter with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation, had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world in some distant farm-house. But there was much to be talked of, in marrying her; and the good-natured wishes for her well-doing, which had proceeded before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost but little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such a husband her misery was considered certain.
From such a connection she could not wonder that he should shrink. The wish of procuring her regard, which she had assured herself of his feeling in Derbyshire, could not in rational expectation survive such a blow as this. She was humbled, she was grieved; she repented, though she hardly knew of what. She became jealous of his esteem, when she could no longer hope to be benefited by it. She wanted to hear of him, when there seemed the least chance of gaining intelligence. She was convinced that she could have been happy with him, when it was no longer likely they should meet.
What a triumph for him, as she often thought, could he know that the proposals which she had proudly spurned only four months ago would now have been gladly and gratefully received! He was as generous, she doubted not, as the most generous of his sex. But while he was mortal, there must be a triumph.
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.
But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was. An union of a different tendency, and precluding the possibility of the other, was soon to be formed in their family.
How Wickham and Lydia were to be supported in tolerable independence she could not imagine. But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture.
After a short pause, her companion added, "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever".
Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him: but though she could not look she could listen; and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable. They walked on without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. She soon learnt that they were indebted for their present good understanding to the efforts of his aunt, who did call on him in her return through London, and there relate her journey to Longbourn, its motive, and the substance of her conversation with Elizabeth; dwelling emphatically on every expression of the latter, which, in her Ladyship's apprehension, peculiarly denoted her perverseness and assurance, in the belief that such a relation must assist her endeavours to obtain that promise from her nephew which she had refused to give. But, unluckily for her Ladyship, its effect had been exactly contrariwise.
"It taught me to hope", said he, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain, that had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine frankly and openly".
"When I wrote that letter", replied Darcy, "I believed myself perfectly calm and cool; but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit".
"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote and the person who received it are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure".
"I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of ignorance. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude, which cannot, which ought not to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good themselves, (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased".
Elizabeth longed to observe that Mr. Bingley had been a most delightful friend; so easily guided that his worth was invaluable; but she checked herself. She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin. In anticipating the happiness of Bingley, which of course was to be inferior only to his own, he continued the conversation till they reached the house.
"Good heaven! can it be really so? Yet now I must believe you", cried Jane. "My dear, dear Lizzy, I would, I do congratulate you; but are you certain — forgive the question — are you quite certain that you can be happy with him?".
"There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already that we are to be the happiest couple in the world[…]".
"Lizzy", said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband, unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about".