I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice. It seems, though, that every time I read it, I find something new to ponder or appreciate.
It happened again when I re-read the book last month, and reached one of my favorite parts in the story: Darcy’s disastrous marriage proposal to Elizabeth.
You know the set-up: Elizabeth is staying at Hunsford with Charlotte and Mr. Collins. After learning from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy is responsible for separating Charles from her sister Jane, Elizabeth becomes so upset, she stays home while everyone else goes to Rosings.
While she is home alone, Mr. Darcy unexpectedly calls upon her:
In an hurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better.
It’s funny that after reading that sentence so many times over the years, this time it suddenly caught and held my interest. For the first time I realized there are two different ways to interpret Darcy’s manner.
Option 1: Darcy simply used Elizabeth’s illness as an excuse to visit her, knowing she’d be alone, which would give him the ideal opportunity to propose marriage.
Option 2: Or, Darcy’s hasty manner shows his real concern for her. He shows up at Hunsford because he really needs to satisfy himself that she is all right. Only then does he realize, with everyone else in the house at Rosings, that he can take advantage of the situation and make his offer of marriage.
Which scenario do you think is true?
In the past, I always read that sentence in the light of Option 1; but I have to confess, I kind of like Scenario #2. It appeals to the romantic in me.
I like the idea that the “hurried manner” in which he asked after her health resulted from Darcy’s genuine concern for her. After all, hasn’t Darcy already shown us he’s a caregiver by nature?
Here’s what I mean. By the time we reach this part of the story, we already know that Darcy:
- Takes care of his friend Charles and helps him settle into his new digs at Netherfield;
- Cares for his younger sister, Georgiana, and shares guardianship of her with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam;
- He makes extended visits to his aunt Lady Catherine and cousin Anne at Rosings to check on their welfare;
- And he saves Charles from an “imprudent marriage” with Jane. His own cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam divulges the story to Elizabeth, emphasizing the fact that Darcy takes “a prodigious deal of care of” Charles.
While it’s the Colonel’s disclosure that upsets Elizabeth so much and makes her dislike Darcy all the more, we readers know Darcy acted out of true friendship with Charles. After all, when he played a part in separating Charles from Jane, he didn’t know Jane and barely knew Elizabeth; it was his devotion to his friend that was uppermost in his mind. He merely wanted to take care of Charles.
Immediately after that scene in the drawing-room at Hunsford, we learn other ways Darcy shows himself to be a caregiver. We learn:
- He has helped Wickham financially numerous times until (in a Regency version of tough love) he ultimately cuts him off.
- He saves his younger sister from a disastrous elopement with Wickham.
- He is scrupulously polite to, and takes care of, his servants and pensioners (and they adore him for it).
- He saves Elizabeth and her family from certain ruin by effectuating Lydia’s marriage to Wickham.
Do you see other hints in the story of Darcy’s caring nature I didn’t mention here?
It’s funny to me that I always read the novel as Jane Austen wrote it, from Elizabeth’s perspective; and from Elizabeth’s perspective, I only really saw Darcy change at the end of the story.
But for some reason, this time I was more aware of all the hints Jane Austen gave us of Darcy’s real nature: that he truly was a caring man who tried to do the right thing all the way through the story, whether or not Elizabeth (and we readers) recognize it.
I wonder, do you read it the same way? Or am I starting off the new year by giving my wishful, romantic streak a little too much license? 😀