In the closing paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen gave us a few hints about what happened to her beloved characters after she wrote “The End” on the last page of her manuscript. Those tantalizing little breadcrumbs she tossed to us have helped spark many a Jane Austen-inspired sequel!
One of her hints concerned Mr. Darcy and his ongoing relationship with Wickham. Jane Austen wrote:
Though Darcy could never receive [Wickham] at Pemberley, yet, for Elizabeth’s sake, he assisted him further in his profession.
I’ve often wondered what, exactly, Jane Austen meant by that. Was Darcy willing to help Wickham occasionally, but only if he never had to see him again? After he and Elizabeth were married, did Darcy sever all communications with Wickham?
I’d like to know your opinion on the subject. Do you think Darcy was the kind of man who would refuse to step into the same room as Wickham, considering all the grief and havoc the man caused him and the people he loved?
Those are important questions for me, because I’m working on a Pride and Prejudice sequel where the issue has to be addressed.
Here’s the premise: Kitty is getting married, and Mrs. Bennet’s greatest wish is to have all her daughters together one last time before Kitty—like Jane, Lizzy, and Lydia before her—leaves Longbourn forever to set up a home of her own.
All the Bennet sisters have pledged to attend Kitty’s wedding, except Elizabeth.
While Elizabeth wants very much to attend Kitty’s wedding, she won’t promise to be there because she doesn’t want to put Darcy in the position of having to encounter Wickham, after all the bad blood that passed between them.
Here’s a portion of the scene from my story where Lizzy explains her predicament:
If Elizabeth Bennet Darcy ever needed proof of the depth of her husband’s love and devotion, she was to have it on the occasion of the marriage of her younger sister, Kitty.
The particulars of Kitty’s betrothal had been formally settled in January; since then, Elizabeth sometimes lamented the fact that she resided in Derbyshire—almost one-hundred-fifty miles from her former family home in Hertfordshire—and so far away from all the plans and activities that must attend the promised nuptials. For the first time since her marriage, she heartily wished she were closer that she might share in her sister’s joy.
Kitty wrote with admirable regularity to apprise Elizabeth of her wedding plans and progress. Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, also wrote. Indeed, almost every week since the announcement of Kitty’s betrothal had brought Elizabeth a fresh letter from her mother in which Mrs. Bennet listed her lavish plans for the couple’s nuptials—plans that were not at all in agreement with the simple wedding Kitty initially described.
The first such letter was delivered while Elizabeth was at breakfast with her husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Elizabeth read the letter and looked up at him in astonishment. “Mama plans to petition the bishop to perform the ceremony. She thinks the vicar of Meryton is a very good sort of man, and does well enough for Sunday sermons, but she wants someone with a bit more dash to conduct the marriage ceremony.” She frowned slightly. “Where do you suppose my mother learned such cant? A bit more dash? Who are her influences?”
Mr. Darcy did not answer, choosing instead to concentrate on the contents of his breakfast plate, but Elizabeth was quite certain she saw the corner his mouth twitch, signaling his amusement.
The next week brought another letter in which Mrs. Bennet informed Elizabeth that she had recently read a newspaper article concerning a men’s choir of sixty voices that was touring Derbyshire, and did Elizabeth know any of the particulars? And would Elizabeth take on the task of hunting down the choir’s representatives? For Mrs. Bennet desired the choir quit Derbyshire immediately and travel to Hertfordshire that they might sing at Kitty’s wedding.
Elizabeth read this portion of her mother’s letter aloud to her husband, who uttered “Good God,” in a quiet voice, but said no more.
Similar letters with similar tidings arrived every few days, each containing some morsel of information that bespoke Mrs. Bennet’s grand plans for Kitty’s wedding.
Elizabeth, at times shocked, at times amused by the extent of her mother’s imaginative plans, dutifully read the letters aloud to her husband, until the April day she received yet another missive as she presided over the tea table.
On this occasion she mastered the contents of her mother’s letter with a deepening expression of concern, and would have folded the letter and silently slipped it into the pocket of her gown had not her husband stopped her.
“Bad news?” he asked, in a casual tone, his gaze never wavering from the newspaper he had been reading.
“No, not at all.”
“Who is the letter from?”
“She and the rest of your family are well, I trust.”
“I am glad to hear it.” He looked at her then with an expression of patient sympathy. “You may as well read it aloud. I confess I am curious what words she might have written to cause you to think it a wiser choice to hide the letter rather than read it to me.” Elizabeth unfolded the letter, but still she hesitated, prompting him to ask, “Has she left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism in order that the Pope might perform the wedding ceremony? Or perhaps she has hired a band of jugglers and acrobats to attend the bride down the aisle?”
Elizabeth laughed, at both the absurdity of his suggestions and at his gentle understanding of her mother’s foibles. There had been a time when he had not always been so patient, but the great distance of the Darcy’s home in Derbyshire to the Bennet’s home in Hertfordshire—and, thus, their infrequent meetings—had gone a long way toward softening Mr. Darcy’s opinion of Mrs. Bennet, and hers of him.
“No, there is nothing like that in her letter,” she said, smiling.
“I am glad to hear it. In the past four months I have often thought how different are the simple wedding plans of your sister Kitty compared to those of your mother, who seems determined to impress the entire county. It cannot be comfortable for Kitty to be so much at odds with her.” He turned his attention back to his newspaper, as he asked, “I wonder why your mother is so intent upon making Kitty’s wedding such a lavish affair?”
“If you are asking my opinion, I believe it is because she felt a bit cheated by the simple parish ceremony Jane and I had. Mama did her best to convince us to make the affair much more grand, but Jane and I would have not have it so, for we both thought the spectacle of two sisters marrying two men who were close enough to be brothers was exhibition enough to make the neighborhood tongues wag.”
Elizabeth made a move to tuck the letter into her pocket, as she had tried to do before, but once again her husband stopped her.
“So you’re not going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?” she asked, trying to sound as innocent as possible.
“What your mother wrote to cause you such concern.”
Elizabeth took her time unfolding the letter again, in order that she might choose her words carefully. “There is a question about the guest list.”
“Is that all?”
Briefly, Elizabeth considered how best to answer him, before reminding herself that her husband was a man who appreciated truth above all things.
“I may as well tell you, Kitty wrote to me weeks ago when talk of wedding plans first began. She asked me then if I would be comfortable to have Lydia and her husband at the wedding, considering all the havoc they have caused the family.”
Darcy, his eyes still focused on the newspaper, asked quietly, “And how did you reply?”
“I replied that Lydia is my sister and I love her, and however much I wish to see her again after her long banishment, the decision to invite her is not mine alone. Others must be consulted.”
“And when you say others . . . Of whom do you speak?”
“You, of course. You were just as injured as we were when George Wickham ran off with Lydia, and I am convinced it was you he wished to injure and shame. Given the heartlessness of his conduct, I cannot think you would wish to set foot in the same county as Lydia and her husband, to say nothing of the same room.”
Mr. Darcy did not reply, but he looked at her over the top of his newspaper with an expression on his face that touched her very heart. “Is that what you think?”
“Yes, and so I wrote Kitty, and now she is in a quandary.”
“What kind of quandary?”
“She knows you and I will not attend the wedding if Lydia and Wickham are to be there; yet mama implores her daily to include them among the guests. Mama writes,” and her eyes scanned the letter again, “Kitty has become unnaturally obstinate on the subject, and has even threatened to elope to Scotland because she will not be made to choose one sister over another. Mama is beside herself to think Kitty may actually carry out her threat, for then all mama’s plans to impress the Longs and the Lucases with a grand wedding will count for naught.”
“Kitty has grown into a very determined young woman,” Darcy murmured, as he focused once again on his newspaper.
Elizabeth took encouragement that her husband was willing to continue their conversation, for it had been many months since either of them had spoken the name Wickham aloud.
“Yes, she has, and I do hate to cause poor Kitty such unhappiness at a time when she should know only joy. But, of course, if Lydia and Wickham will be guests at Longbourn, it is out of the question that we will be there, too!”
“Is it?” Glancing at the clock on the mantle, Darcy laid aside his newspaper and rose from his chair. “Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing the contents of your mother’s letter; but now you must excuse me, for I have some business to attend. It should not take long; no more than an hour, I think.”
“But what is to be done about mama and her wish to see all her daughters and their husbands together again? I cannot think what is the right thing to do.”
“The right thing to do,” he said, stopping beside her chair and bending down to place a tender kiss upon her forehead, “is to make your mother happy.”
The scene continues, but before I share more of it with you, I’d like to know:
What is your opinion of Darcy’s behavior? Knowing Darcy as you do, do you think he would willingly attend the wedding—and face his nemesis George Wickham—in order to please Elizabeth and her family?
Or do you think Darcy would react in a completely different manner?