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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

Bingley keeps coming to Longbourn, and now Mrs. Bennet begins scheming to leave him alone with Jane. She calls Kitty, then Elizabeth, out of the room. By one device and another, Bingley at last finds the opportunity to make his proposal to Jane and to ask her father for his consent. Mrs. Bennet is wild with joy: a second daughter about to be married!

Jane is radiant. She confides to Elizabeth that when Bingley left Netherfield last November, he was truly in love with her, but he had been persuaded that she did not return his love. Elizabeth silently commends Bingley for not betraying his friend's part in the matter.

NOTE: Elizabeth's state of suspense tells us that the story may still have some surprises for us.



CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

One of these surprises now occurs: Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes to call. Elizabeth is puzzled. She brings no letter or message from Charlotte Collins. Why has she come all the way from Kent and left her personal maid in the coach waiting for her? Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth to go out in the garden with her and at once comes to the point: Elizabeth must promise not to marry Darcy!

In a scene of high comedy, Lady Catherine marshals all her arguments: that years ago she and Darcy's late mother agreed that her daughter and Darcy would marry; that Elizabeth would be scorned by all of Darcy's connections, and especially by Lady Catherine herself; that Elizabeth is an obstinate, headstrong girl who shows no gratitude for Lady Catherine's attentions to her when she was at Hunsford; and so on.

Elizabeth answers only when an answer is demanded of her. When Lady Catherine demands to know whether her nephew has proposed to Elizabeth, Elizabeth reminds her that her ladyship has already declared that to be impossible. When asked if she is engaged to Darcy, she answers truthfully that she is not. But she will make no promises. Lady Catherine demands that she promise, and says she will not leave until Elizabeth does.

She reminds Elizabeth that the Bennet family has low-class connections. Elizabeth responds that Darcy is a gentleman and she is a gentleman's daughter, and therefore they are social equals. Lady Catherine acknowledges this, but what of her mother's relatives that are "in trade"? And what of her sister's elopement, her patched-up marriage? Is the son of Darcy's father's late steward to be Darcy's brother-in-law? "Are shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"

At this, Elizabeth is angered at last. She tell Lady Catherine that she has now been insulted in every possible way. Then she goes into the house, with Lady Catherine's parting threat still in her ears: "I shall now know how to act....
Depend upon it, I shall carry my point."

NOTE: Lady Catherine's threat can't be ignored entirely; we don't yet know what influence she has over Darcy.

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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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