Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Contributed by Tereasa Jacob
Chapter 46-49
Summary

Summary: Chapter 46

Elizabeth finds two letters from Jane when she returns to her inn. The first letter says that Lydia and Wickham have eloped, and the second declares that no one knows what has become of the couple and it’s possible that they have not married. This is a disaster, as if Wickham does not marry Lydia, not only Lydia’s but also her entire family’s reputation will be ruined.

As Elizabeth prepares to go and find the Gardiners, Darcy appears and she tells him what has happened. Darcy feels responsible, as he did not expose Wickham. Elizabeth sees herself as being to blame for the same reason, and she decides she needs to go home right away. She apologizes to Darcy and Georgiana for breaking their engagement for dinner, and then travels with the Gardiners back to Longbourn.

Summary: Chapter 47

As they travel back to Longbourn, Mr. Gardiner tries to reassure Elizabeth that Wickham will marry Lydia because failing to do so would destroy his reputation and career. Elizabeth replies by describing what she now knows of Wickham’s past conduct, making sure to leave out the fact that he tried to elope with Darcy’s sister. After she gets home, Elizabeth finds that her father has traveled to London to look for Lydia and Wickham. Mrs. Bennet is extremely upset, and blamed Colonel Forster for not taking proper care of Lydia. When Jane and Elizabeth are alone, Jane tries to comfort Elizabeth by telling her that no one had any way of knowing that Lydia had any feelings for Wickham. Very worried about the situation, they carefully look at the letter Lydia left for Colonel Forster’s wife, in which the young woman wrote she was sure to soon be able to sign her name, “Lydia Wickham.”

Summary: Chapter 48

Mr. Gardiner also goes to London, to assist Mr. Bennet in looking for Lydia. A few days later, he writes to Longbourn and informs everyone that Lydia has not yet been found. He says that Mr. Bennet is in the process of checking every hotel for the couple. Mr. Collins sends a letter, pompously implying that poor parenting was the reason for Lydia’s behavior and indicating that the entire episode would reflect poorly on the entire family. After some time passes, Mr. Gardiner writes again to communicate that all attempts to find Wickham through family and friends have also been unsuccessful. The letter also announces that Mr. Bennet is returning home. This upsets Mrs. Bennet.

Summary: Chapter 49

A couple of days after Mr. Bennet returns home, a letter arrives from Mr. Gardiner announcing that Lydia and Wickham have been found. He says that he has received assurance from Wickham that he will marry her on the condition of his being guaranteed a small income. Mr. Bennet happily agrees to this plan, deciding that his daughter being married to a scoundrel is better than her having to live with a ruined reputation.

The Bennet family assumes that Mr. Gardiner must have paid Wickham a large amount of money to make him agree to marry Lydia. Mr. Bennet guesses it must not have been “a farthing less than ten thousand pounds.” This would mean that the Bennets are deeply in debt to the Gardiners. This by no means stops Mrs. Bennet from receiving the news of her daughter’s upcoming marriage joyfully. Her enthusiasm is tempered a bit, however, by her husband’s announcement that he will not give his daughter money to buy new clothes or allow her and her new husband to visit. 

Analysis

While since Darcy’s proposal the novel’s plot has slowed down a bit, it now begins go speed up towards the conclusion. While dealing with the chaos caused by Lydia’s foolishness, Elizabeth immediately thinks to turn to Darcy. This is indication of the developing closeness that exists between them. They are aligned emotionally and have a common purpose because of the guilt they both feel about failing to expose Wickham’s character.

Mrs. Bennet immediately blames Colonel Forster for Lydia’s elopement, despite the fact that she and her husband must clearly bear a large amount of the responsibility. At this point of the novel, we see just how inadequate Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have been as parents. Mr. Bennet has been irresponsible in his decision to disengage from his family, and Mrs. Bennet is to blame for her stupidity. While the problems that their family connections pose for Jane and Elizabeth have not been focused on as much around this part of the novel, this sequence of events reminds readers how much Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s lack of propriety and thoughtfulness could threaten the prospects of their two eldest daughters.

We again see how sensible and responsible the Gardiners are during this crisis. It is not Mr. Bennet but Mr. Gardiner that finds Lydia and Wickham and finds ways to deal with the situation. (Mrs. Bennet’s fear that her husband could be killed in London and leave her with nothing is an example of how she tends to dismiss real problems and put imaginary ones all out of proportion). Mr. Gardiner fulfills the roles that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet should play in finding Lydia and Wickham and doing what needs to be done to secure the marriage.

Pride and Prejudice presents a critique of the many challenges and difficulties faced by women in Regency England. While Austen stands up to the ridiculous practice of entailment and how women are forced to marry in order to survive and not be scorned as an old maid, she fails to question the way society ostracizes young women who live with men outside of wedlock and calls them “ruined.” Elizabeth, the character set out to be a source of common sense and reason throughout the novel, calls Lydia’s behavior “infamy.” She says that if Lydia fails to marry Wickham, she will be “lost forever.” It seems that Mrs. Bennet is the only character to put forward ideas of moral relativism: she does not worry about the way in which the marriage happens as long as it does. Although Lydia’s marriage allows her to escape being thouhgt of as ruined, Mr. Bennet continues to condemn her and Wickham. He says, “I will not encourage the impudence of either, by receiving them at Lonbourn.” We see that although Austen does criticize sexism, she fails to address the hypocrisy inherent in bourgeois morality.

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