Just found your blog through your P&P post and I really enjoyed it! I wanted to ask you about another P&P issue that has been bothering me lately: some people interpret Lizzy's opinion change towards Darcy happening due to her seeing Pemberley and liking it, i.e. she marries him because she realised what she would be missing if she didn't accept him. I feel it is quite a cynical interpretation and also incongruous with her character. What do you think? Would love to read your thoughts on it :)
“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.”
Another entreaty that she would be serious, however, produced the desired effect; and she soon satisfied Jane by her solemn assurances of attachment. When convinced on that article, Miss Bennet had nothing further to wish.
—Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 59
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that those who read a book about the perils of superficial judgment of character, all too often find themselves behaving in a similar manner. There is more than one such person who gamely alleges that Elizabeth Bennet married Darcy because of his grand estate. Like Jane, I would entreat those critics to be serious, for a true reading of the text would put the mercenary motive to rest, even if there is a kernel of truth in Elizabeth’s facetious reply to her sister.
Elizabeth’s feelings for Darcy did indeed first develop upon her visit to Pemberley, and all of them have to do with Pemberley as a representation of Darcy’s character, rather than a representation of his wealth.
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!
Elizabeth has witnessed firsthand Darcy liking to have his own way, even when his inclinations run roughshod over good manners and the feelings of his friend Bingley. It is telling that he is able to cede control to nature where it is merited. Darcy is not the tyrant Elizabeth once thought him to be on his own grounds, where he has the most liberty to be one.
Elizabeth also has cause for concern about Darcy’s fixation on social standing. In fact, this prevents her from going further along the path of regret at refusing him, when she thinks he will come between her and the tradesman branch of her family:
“And of this place,” thought she, “I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. But no,”—recollecting herself—“that could never be; my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me; I should not have been allowed to invite them.”
Imagine her surprise when Darcy not only greets her aunt and uncle genially, but socializes with them and invites them all to dinner. It is a sharp contrast to the man who thought himself above his company when they first met:
That he was surprised by the connection was evident; he sustained it, however, with fortitude, and so far from going away, turned back with them, and entered into conversation with Mr. Gardiner. Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph. It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush. She listened most attentively to all that passed between them, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of her uncle, which marked his intelligence, his taste, or his good manners.
The conversation soon turned upon fishing; and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport. Mrs. Gardiner, who was walking arm-in-arm with Elizabeth, gave her a look expressive of wonder. Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme, and continually was she repeating, “Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me—it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened. My reproofs at Hunsford could not work such a change as this. It is impossible that he should still love me.”
Lastly, even though Elizabeth has come to realize that Wickham gave her a false report of Darcy denying him a livelihood, the suspicion is still in the air that Darcy might not treat those beneath him well. After all, this was his reply to Elizabeth’s rejection of him:
“Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
Yet far from being an overbearing master, Darcy is uncommonly civil to his servants. Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, goes above and beyond the call of duty to mention his virtues to Mrs. Gardiner:
“I say no more than the truth, and everybody will say that knows him,” replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, “I have never known a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old.”
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had been her firmest opinion.
“If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better. But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world.”
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more.
“He is the best landlord, and the best master,” said she, “that ever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men.”
The sentences in bold are direct contrasts to Darcy’s insulting and unexpected proposal at Hunsford, where she saw the very worst of his pride and temper:
Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
Elizabeth then learns that Darcy not only has altered his manner, but that in his own house and in familiar company, his cold exterior dissolves away. He is also an attentive brother:
On reaching the spacious lobby above they were shown into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
“He is certainly a good brother,” said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of the windows.
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy’s delight, when she should enter the room. “And this is always the way with him,” she added. “Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her.”
To someone with a close relationship to her sister Jane, this means a lot.
And finally, the willingness Darcy demonstrates to change his ways and make amends clinches Elizabeth’s growing regard for him.
“But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of goodwill which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude; gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him, and all the unjust accusations accompanying her rejection. He who, she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy, seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve the acquaintance, and without any indelicate display of regard, or any peculiarity of manner, where their two selves only were concerned, was soliciting the good opinion of her friends, and bent on making her known to his sister. Such a change in a man of so much pride exciting not only astonishment but gratitude—for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed; and as such its impression on her was of a sort to be encouraged, as by no means unpleasing, though it could not be exactly defined.”
Pemberley is not merely an estate in Pride and Prejudice; it is a personification of Darcy himself. By visiting Pemberley and the nearby town of Lambton and speaking with their residents, Elizabeth and her family begin to understand Darcy in a way that was impossible before. No one is measuring the drapes and counting the cost of Darcy’s chimney pieces; they are taking the measure of the man through the environment he is responsible for and the people who happily live there.