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Pride and Prejudice Chapter 34 - 37: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
In these pivotal chapters of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy makes one of the worst and most famous marriage proposals in literature. Lizzy gives him a scathing refusal. What she learns in the aftermath forces her to re-evaluate what she knows about him, their acquaintances and, most importantly, herself.

Chapter 34: 'In Vain I Have Struggled...'

Mr. Darcy proposes
proposal

Chapter 34 finds Lizzy alone at Hunsford, Charlotte and Mr. Collins having gone to Rosings. She's still upset about how Mr. Darcy has separated Jane and Bingley. When the doorbell rings, despite the lateness of the hour, she's surprised to find that her caller is Mr. Darcy himself. At first, he is silent and, true to form, awkwardly paces the room. Then shockingly, he proposes marriage to her. He says that he has fallen in love with her:

  • In spite of her social inferiority
  • In spite of her family's embarrassing behavior
  • In spite of his own better judgment

Lizzy is understandably angry. This is the most she has heard Mr. Darcy talk - ever - and it is to explain all the reasons he really shouldn't be proposing! On one level, this is flattering, but she can't forget that this is the man who did Wickham out of his inheritance. Worse, he's deprived Jane of her chance at happiness with Bingley! She tells Darcy all this in no uncertain terms. She winds up her impressive rebuttal by telling him he's 'the last man on earth whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry!'

After this, Darcy stalks out, offended. Lizzy herself is rather overcome. This man, who is enormously wealthy and well-connected, has proposed out of the blue, and she's refused him. Austen is careful to tell us that she doesn't regret this for an instant, but it does give her a lot to think about. Lizzy can't let anyone know what has happened, because they'd say she was crazy to refuse him.

Chapter 35: Mr. Darcy's Letter

Lizzy meets Mr. Darcy

The next morning, Lizzy goes for a walk to collect her thoughts. She avoids her usual paths to steer clear of Mr. Darcy. She finds him at the gates of Rosings, where he's been waiting to give her a letter. He opens by assuring her that he's not going to ask her to marry him again. Unlike Mr. Collins earlier in the book, he recognizes that 'no means no.' He says they should both forget it and move on, but first, he needs to set the record straight on a few things. He knows she won't want to spend time on the letter, but he 'demand[s] it of [her] justice.'

In Darcy's letter, he acknowledges his role in persuading Bingley to drop Jane, which makes Lizzy livid. He justifies his actions based on two things: Firstly, he had often seen Bingley 'in love' before; thus he wasn't sure his feelings for Jane were serious. Secondly, based on Jane's behavior, he wasn't sure she returned Bingley's feelings. Darcy defends his decisions, based on the evidence he had. Learning of Jane's true feelings from Lizzy, however, he acknowledges that her resentment toward him is justified.

Darcy's letter reveals something else even more momentous. He feels he owes Lizzy the truth about Wickham, 'whatever may be the sentiments which Mr. Wickham has created' for her. The truth is not pretty. Although Wickham was a favorite of Mr. Darcy's father and promised a career in the church, Wickham hid his drinking and other wild habits from his patron. After old Mr. Darcy's death, Wickham asked Darcy for a one-time payoff, equivalent to several hundred thousand dollars, instead of the promised job. Darcy agreed, in part because Wickham would make a terrible clergyman. It gets worse: the next year, Wickham attempted to run off with Darcy's 15-year-old sister. Lizzy is left reeling.

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