Chapter 43 This chapter opens with the fateful visit to Pemberley, where Elizabeth is so anxious to avoid accidentally bumping into Darcy that she travels halfway across the country to visit his family home.
Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.
The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent.
Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half-a-mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Indeed, later (ch. 59) Elizabeth tells Jane, only half joking, and in an attempt to persuade Jane that her acceptance of Darcy is sincere, that it was not until she saw Pemberley that she loved him:
“My dearest sister, now be serious. I want to talk very seriously. Let me know every thing that I am to know, without delay. Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”
“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”
We are of course seeing Pemberley through Elizabeth’s admiring eyes. Her language predominantly uses adjectives relating to size and scale:
“very large, great variety, for some time, stretching over a wide extent, a considerable eminence, a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, swelled into greater”
No wonder that this demonstration of Darcy’s wealth and power has such a profound impact on her feelings, even if only to persuade her to accept what she has thus far been denying.
Chapter 56 – Lady Catherine comes to confront Elizabeth with the rumours of Darcy’s intentions towards her. Rudely she arrives unannounced, and ignores the rest of the family, instead asking her for a private conversation outside.
“Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favour me with your company”.
Preserving a corner of one’s grounds for a kind of little wilderness was a Regency fashion, one which wildlife enthusiasts of today would approve. But what is interesting is Lady Catherine’s decision to stage her confrontation in this particular part of the garden, diametrically opposite the more formal manicured lawns of Longbourn. This is a gloves-off challenge, a jungle arena where the usual conventions of language and class are deliberately albeit temporarily set aside. This allows Elizabeth to tap into her inner goddess, and give Lady Catherine a furious response when she attempts to bully her into promising to reject any proposal from Darcy.
Chapter 58 The climatic renewal of Mr Darcy’s proposal:
“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.”
Darcy does not directly profess his love, and the narrator does not tell us Elizabeth’s direct response, only that she
“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 formality and clumsiness of the narrators presentation of the scene is a brilliant touch – it begins the process of pulling away from the couple and respecting their privacy, and recognises that Elizabeth is not at her most articulate at this point, choked up with emotion rather than formality. It is a wonderful end to the story arc, and shows yet again Austen’s genius in presenting this most compelling of romances.