It can be postulated that Colonel Fitzwilliam served multiple purposes in Pride & Prejudice aside from his one, main, purpose: letting Elizabeth know that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley. These other functions include:
- Fitzwilliam confirms Darcy’s statement about his sister, Georgiana, nearly eloping with Wickham. Although the actual confirmation is a slight reaction to Elizabeth’s teasing, Darcy’s willingness for Elizabeth to question Fitzwilliam offers further confirmation.
- He shows the reader that Darcy has respectable relatives he need not be ashamed of. I certainly wouldn’t want Pride and Prejudice to be without Lady Catherine, but I am quite happy she isn’t a relative that I would have to spend weeks visiting every year.
- He shows that Darcy has a good relationship with a sensible person other than Bingley. In Pride and Prejudice, there is an ongoing theme of judging people by the company they kept, and Darcy keeps good company by choice.
- He shows us that Elizabeth is attractive to a man of sense. From what we’ve seen in the novel up to the point of their brief friendship, Elizabeth attracted Wickham, Mr. Collins, and a non-redeemed Darcy. That is not a very good collection of suitors.
- He shows that even a good man needs to consider money when marrying. Colonel Fitzwilliam is kind enough to Elizabeth not to raise her expectations, which he does by letting her know that he has to marry for money, which conveniently lets the reader know that a man whom Jane Austen obviously respects, will not marry a poor woman.
- He helps the reader realize how much Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth and sets up a great interchange between Elizabeth and Darcy, shown below. This scene also shows that Elizabeth has some recognition of Darcy’s merits, when she calls him “a man of sense and education.”
“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
“I shall not say you are mistaken,” he replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire–and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too–for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”
“I am not afraid of you,” said he, smilingly.
“Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of,” cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I should like to know how he behaves among strangers.”
“You shall hear then–but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball–and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.”
“I had not at that time the honor of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”
“True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”
“Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”
“Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”
“I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy,” of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault–because I will not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam is an example of Jane Austen’s brilliance. He appears as almost an incidental character, but manages to be very important to the story.
- Can you think of other purposes Colonel Fitzwilliam serves in Pride and Prejudice?
- Would you include or, as done here, exclude one of his main purposes for the modern reader: Being another appealing gentleman in the story and, furthermore, one who remains single, allowing the reader’s imagination to plan his future?
- What other characters appear to be unimportant, but serve multiple purposes in Pride and Prejudice?