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Soon after the marriage proposal Elizabeth returns to Longbourn but only after obtaining an invitation from the Gardners to accompany them on their travels. I do respect that Austen does not flippantly allow Elizabeth to fall in love with Darcy immediately after receiving his letter of explanation, and instead places the reader in a position of anticipation. It just so happens on her travels with the Gardners that Eliza ends up at Darcy’s Derbyshire estate – Pemberley. Darcy is very conveniently present.
Here Darcy’s character begins to display a more amiable side that was suggested at Rosings but never fully developed. Things seem to be going quite well between Elizabeth and Darcy when news is delivered that Wickham and Lydia have run off together. To backtrack for a moment, Lydia was invited to Brighton by a young (though married) lady friend to follow the soldiers that had left Merytown. Elizabeth had warned her father it was not a good idea to allow the silly, youngest Bennet sister to go but heedless of the good advice Lydia does go. Elizabeth is called home after explaining the situation to Darcy and turmoil ensues.
Lydia becomes the fallen woman. An enormous list can be attached to her status including: Darcy not more publicly punishing or calling out Wickham (as he fully knew of his past charades), Elizabeth not explaining Wickham’s devious behavior to her family after she discovered it, and certainly the Bennets for allowing their undisciplined daughter so much independence. Lydia’s actions creates a disgrace that the entire Bennet clan must be associated with. One could easily conclude from the situation that Lydia’s scandal could make it impossible for any of the Bennet sisters to obtain good marriages.
Something I have struggled with is how Austen chooses (or does not choose) to present strong female characters and Lady Catherine is certainly a character that demands reflection. She is a woman who runs her own estate as she has escaped the demands of entailment and certainly seems to run it well. She is a forceful character with a mind of her own and takes no caution in sharing her own opinion. These are admirable traits but simultaneously is a character designed to be disliked. On one hand, of course a character can be deemed a forceful character without being likable, but on the other hand she is really the only liberated woman in the book (I adore her as she scoffs the entailment system) and no one likes her (excepting the groveling Collins). This in itself provides an interesting commentary on the independent woman. With absolutely no paternal control she still embodies characteristics the reader can be quick to despise. What could this mean?
While in the midst of the Bennet family locating what exactly has become of Lydia and Wickham, Lady Catherine visits Longbourn to confront Elizabeth on some gossip she has heard: that Darcy and her are secretly engaged or will soon be engaged. Class and rank obviously play an important role in this conversation and Elizabeth begins to relay her feelings by refusing to agree that she would not marry Darcy. The reader can really begin to see some of Liza’s emotions blooming at this point and much of it has culminated from those relationships that are paralleled with it. Marrying with or without affection becomes a central theme in the book and the resulting marriages from loveless matches.
The Bennets, as easy as they are to love, are in many ways useless and silly. Once the reader realizes how miserable of a couple and of parents they are we should not like them but we can not seem to help ourselves. Of course by the end of the novel Lydia and Wickham are securely matched (only allowing for flustered whispers of scandal), Jane and Bingley are paired, and the reader can stop holding their breath as Elizabeth and Darcy have wed. I find it irresistible, however, to wonder about after the weddings and what maturation (if any) of the characters would occur. From my knowledge all of Austen’s books end at the weddings. Referring back to Thurer’s quote, what does the unsaid say about the novel?