Darcy seems to be on the verge of proposing to Elizabeth again when she receives alarming news from Jane. Lydia has eloped with Wickham, which distresses Elizabeth greatly since she knows that Wickham has not married her sister. Jane asks Elizabeth to return home immediately and asks Mr. Gardiner to aid their father with a search for Lydia in London.
When Darcy enters, Elizabeth is trembling and in tears. He is genuinely concerned
when he hears of the calamity. He holds himself partially responsible
for what has happened to Lydia since he has failed to speak out against
Wickham. Elizabeth also condemns herself for not warning her family about
Wickham. She decides she must return home immediately to give support
to the family.
A twist in the plot is provided by Lydia’s elopement with Wickham. Both Elizabeth
and Darcy blame themselves for the catastrophe since they have not spoken
out and revealed the truth about Wickham. As Darcy tries to comfort Elizabeth
over the catastrophe, it is the first time the two of them are understanding
and intimate with each other. Trusting Darcy as never before, Elizabeth
opens up and talks about her family’s disgrace. In response, Darcy is
kind, affectionate, and tender. Love has obviously made him more humble,
sensitive, and understanding. It is ironic that a Bennet family crisis
serves to bring the couple closer together, for in the past Darcy has
only been critical of Elizabeth’s socially inferior family.
Elizabeth is certain that the mercenary Wickham will not marry the penniless Lydia, a fact which makes matters worse. Elizabeth tells the Gardiners that Lydia knows nothing of Wickham’s despicable past and lacks the good sense and strength of character to judge him appropriately on her own.
When Elizabeth arrives home, there has been no word from Lydia, and Mr. Bennet, in London, has had no luck finding her. Mrs. Bennet, in hysterics, blames everyone for her suffering. She is still blind to the fact that her over-indulgence with Lydia is the principal cause of her daughter’s disgrace. To add to the misery at the Bennets, Lady Lucas calls to ‘console’ them, when in reality she has come to gloat.
Lydia writes a letter to Mrs. Forster and says that she and Wickham are going
to Gretna Green. Jane and Elizabeth read the letter and share its contents.
Mr. Gardiner plans join Mr. Bennet to help in the search for Lydia.
When Elizabeth arrives at home, she finds things in turmoil. Her father is
in London searching for Lydia, and Jane is running the house while her
mother is "nursing her hysterics". The chapter clearly reveals
the inability of Mrs. Bennet to function as a responsible mother. She
has encouraged Lydia’s flirtatiousness in the first place, and now that
the inevitable calamity has occurred, she is full of self-sympathy and
hysteria. The misery of the Bennets is aggravated by the consolation of
Lady Lucas, who seems to gain pleasure from rubbing salt on the Bennets’
wounds. In contrast, the Gardiners are genuinely helpful; Mr. Gardiner
heads to London to join Mr. Bennet in the search for Lydia.
Mr. Collins sends a letter of condolence, but is brimming with painful references to Lydia’s disposition and her faulty upbringing. Messages in a similar vein from Lady Catherine are also included. Another letter from Colonel Forster is sent to Mr. Gardiner, informing him that Wickham has left sizeable gambling and other debts behind him in Brighton.
Persuaded by Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Bennet finally returns to Longbourn. He appears
unruffled as ever but tells Elizabeth that he is to blame for being lenient
with Lydia. He resolves, in his ironic manner, to be more strict with
This chapter presents a merciless letter from Mr. Collins, again revealing his despicable nature. On hearing of Lydia’s "licentious behavior", he advises Mr. Bennet to "throw off his unworthy child from his affection forever" and with unparalleled egotism congratulates himself of not being ‘personally’ involved in the family’s disgrace. Mr. Collins also includes Lady Catherine’s expert derogatory comments.
Mr. Bennet’s ineffectual nature is also highlighted in the chapter. With a
little encouragement from Mr. Gardiner, he returns to Longbourn leaving
it to his brother-in-law to shoulder the responsibilities of finding Lydia.
He has retreated so far into his isolation over the years that it is next
to impossible for him to correct his behavior now. He does, however, somewhat
blame himself for the mess with Lydia and promises to be more strict with
Lydia and Wickham are found and, as expected, they are not married. Wickham,
however, has agreed to marry her on the stipulation that his debts are
cleared and he is given a stipend of one hundred pounds a year. Mr. Bennet
agrees to the offer, but suspects that a much greater amount must have
been passed on by Mr. Gardiner to maneuver Wickham to yield. Mrs. Bennet,
upon hearing that Lydia is to be married, forgets the disgraceful state
of affairs under which the marriage is coming to a pass. She enthusiastically
proceeds to make arrangements for a wedding and to convey the glad tidings
in the neighborhood.
When Lydia is found living with Wickham, Elizabeth realizes that her sister
is devoid of moral scruples; so is Mrs. Bennet. When she hears that Lydia
is to be married, she forgets the shameful circumstances, eagerly plans
a wedding, and tells all her neighbors the "good" news. She
never gives a second thought to the kind of man that Lydia is getting
for a husband or that the family has to pay one hundred pounds a year
to Wickham to accomplish the marriage.
Cite this page:
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