Hi, since I've seen that you sometimes post about pride&prejudice I wanted to ask for your opinion on something: I've often seen people say that Elizabeth changes her mind about Darcy only after she sees how wealthy he is i.e. she realised what it meant being married to him and that's why she agreed to marry him later. Do you think that's the case? For me it's a complete misinterpretation of the book but maybe I'm the one reading it wrong...
Austen is indeed my specialty!
It’s a regrettably common reading going back to, at least, Sir Walter Scott’s contemporary review. It’s rooted in Elizabeth’s joke to Jane, that her feelings started to change when she saw his beautiful grounds at Pemberley, but
1) it’s a joke
2) she’s struck by the beauty of the grounds (and his personal interior decorating projects), specifically BECAUSE of his wealth. She expected it to be tacky or at least OTT—a monument to riches—and she’s impressed because it isn’t. There’s elegance and restraint, emphasizing the natural advantages and beauty without overpowering them. Elizabeth is all about the #aesthetic, not splendour; even in the joke, it’s what she emphasizes.
And, if anything, she’s pretty dismissive about the scale of Darcy’s wealth that is discreetly apparent there. She notes that the furniture is suitable to his fortune and immediately redirects her attention to the grounds, Georgiana’s drawings, etc. The thing that hits her at Pemberley, if you’re going for the materialistic approach, is not wealth but power. She always knew he was rich, but she’s explicitly startled and impressed by his power at Pemberley (specifically by how nobly he exercises it, but perhaps to a certain extent the simple fact of it).
So I’ve always been a bit perplexed that the conspiracy theory is fortune-hunting!Elizabeth and not power-hungry!Elizabeth. :P
Now, I think it’s very clear that Elizabeth is impressed by his power largely in the sense that it shows character. The freer you are to act—and in this case, to impose your will on others by simply existing—the more your actions betray your inner character. And by that metric, Darcy’s inner character is exemplary. That’s really very clear, IMO, but people (esp people who are looking for something to problematize!) nevertheless miss it.