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Pride and Prejudice Chapter 38 - 41: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Chapters 38-41 of Pride and Prejudice cover farewells and reunions. Lizzy returns home from her visit to Charlotte, following Mr. Darcy's proposal. Jane returns from London still hung up on Mr. Bingley. The regiment, including Wickham, leaves Meryton. Last of all, Lydia leaves to visit her friend Mrs. Forster - and the regiment! - in Brighton.

Chapter 38: Leaving Hunsford

Lizzy's long visit to her friend Charlotte is finally over. Predictably, Mr. Collins can't let her go without making one last speech. He enthuses in typical style about Lady De Bourgh and his marriage. He even hints that Lizzy might be sorry to have refused his proposal! Austen comments dryly that, in replying, 'Elizabeth tried to unite civility and truth in a few short sentences.'

Despite Mr. Collins' obnoxiousness, however, Lizzy adjusts her opinion of Charlotte's happiness. She may not agree with Mr. Collins' ridiculous effusions about domestic bliss, but she sees that her friend is comfortable. Having made the choice to marry out of financial necessity, Charlotte manages her household - and her life - well.

As Lizzy travels towards London, she worries about her meeting with Jane. She's looking forward to telling her about Darcy's proposal of marriage--after all, it's flattering! She is, of course, keeping this a secret from everyone else, especially her mother, who would never forgive her for refusing such a wealthy man. Eager though she is for the reunion with her sister, Lizzy's anxious about letting slip something about Bingley. She knows her elder sister still isn't over his 'silent treatment' breakup.

Chapter 39: Back at Home

The fashion-conscious Kitty and Lydia
Bennets in hats

Chapter 39 finds Lizzy and Jane returning home at last. They meet their sisters at an inn. Kitty and Lydia have ordered lunch for them all. They ask Lizzy and Jane to lend them money though, as they've just spent their ready cash on new clothes. This impulsiveness in the younger Bennet sisters foreshadows later events in the novel. On the way home, Kitty and Lydia are obnoxiously loud and self-delighted, surrounded with impulse buys. Jane and Lizzy's discomfort is recognizable to anyone who has ever chaperoned a younger sister on a shopping trip.

Jane and Lizzy are welcomed home in characteristic fashion. Mrs. Bennet is delighted that Jane is just as pretty as ever. Mr. Bennet is undemonstratively but genuinely pleased to see Lizzy. The big news in the neighborhood is that the regiment is leaving. This is welcome news to Lizzy who knows now how disreputable their favorite Wickham is. Lydia is upset, but hopes to visit them in their new quarters, thanks to her friendship with the commanding officer's wife.

Chapter 40: Home Comforts?

The day after their return to Longbourn, Lizzy tells Jane all about Mr. Darcy's proposal and his letter. When Jane says she feels sorry for Mr. Darcy's genuine disappointment, Lizzy replies that she does too. This is notable, as the always-honest Lizzy felt no such sympathy for Darcy at the time. Here, Austen quietly reveals Lizzy's changing feelings toward him.

Predictably, the sweet-natured Jane is very upset to learn the truth about Darcy and Wickham. Mightn't there be some terrible misunderstanding? Lizzy quips that, between them, there's about enough merit 'to make one good sort of man,' adding that 'One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.' This commentary on the characters of the stiff-mannered Darcy and the charming Wickham is light-hearted, but the subject is serious, reinforcing the importance of reputation in the novel. The sisters debate the question of whether or not to expose Wickham's wrong-doing, and decide not to. As Jane says, he might mend his ways.

The main subjects of discussion for the rest of the household continue to be the departure of the regiment and the breakup of Bingley and Jane. Mrs. Bennet's commentary on the latter is: 'my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart; and then he will be sorry for what he has done.' She is also indignant that Mr. Collins and Charlotte are enjoying themselves at all, since Mr. Collins is going to inherit Mr. Bennet's property.

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