Pride and Prejudice Chapter 46 - 49: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In Chapters 46-49 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth learns that her youngest sister Lydia has run away with a man named Wickham. Lydia's actions are considered scandalous, and her entire family's reputation is at stake.

Portrait of Jane Austen
Portrait of Jane Austen

Two Letters

Elizabeth has not received a letter from her sister Jane since arriving in Lambton. However, on her third day there, two letters from Jane arrive. The first reveals that Elizabeth's youngest sister Lydia has run off to Scotland, purportedly eloping, with the disreputable George Wickham.

The second letter relates that Lydia and Wickham appear not to have gone to Scotland, after all, but rather are still in England, unmarried. The couple appears unconcerned about their scandalous behavior. After hearing this news, sick and distraught, Mrs. Bennet takes to her room, while Mr. Bennet decides to go to London to search for his daughter.

No sooner has Elizabeth finished the second letter than she takes off running, frantic to find her uncle. Instead, she runs into Darcy. With the blood drained from her face, the sight of Elizabeth unnerves him. 'Good God!' Darcy exclaims, 'what's the matter?' She begins to cry, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Darcy Consoles Elizabeth

Darcy is horrified to hear Elizabeth tell him what Lydia and Wickham have done. While Elizabeth expresses her guilt for not acting on her misgivings about Wickham, Darcy paces back and forth, frowning.

Assuming that Darcy's frown reflects his disapproval of her suddenly disreputable family, Elizabeth hides her face in her handkerchief. Her grief only intensifies when Darcy offers his sympathy and makes it clear that he is about to leave. He then expresses his regret that the 'unfortunate affair' will force the cancellation of Elizabeth's visit today to his sister. Elizabeth replies, 'Conceal the unfortunate truth as long as possible--I know it cannot be long.'

Darcy promises not to reveal the truth and again offers his condolences before leaving her. Watching as he walks away, Elizabeth worries she will never see him again. All that remains for her to do now is to return home.

No News of Lydia

As the carriage makes its way to Longbourn, Elizabeth's uncle Mr. Gardiner says, 'I am strongly inclined to hope the best.' Although her uncle's words momentarily give her hope, Elizabeth quickly becomes dejected again and begins to cry. Elizabeth's unhappy thoughts now turn to Wickham. 'We both know that he has been profligate in every sense of the word,' she says. 'That he has neither integrity nor honour. That he is as false and deceitful as he is insinuating.'

When they reach Longbourn, Elizabeth finds her mother in a deplorable state: amidst tears, she sputters with rage against Wickham. Thinking he might calm Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner tells her of his intention to go to London to help search for her daughter. Mrs. Bennet welcomes this news and tells him that when he finds Lydia and Wickham, he must force them to wed. She adds that Lydia can have all the money she wants to buy bridal clothes.

More Letters

Later that day, Elizabeth and Jane speak privately. Jane shares a letter with Elizabeth that Lydia wrote to a friend just before she left with Wickham. In the letter Lydia reveals her plan to marry Wickham, exclaiming, 'What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing!' Elizabeth is appalled.

By now, the whole town is also appalled. Everyone is gossiping about Wickham--his seductions, his unpaid debts, and his general 'wickedness.' This gossip makes Elizabeth and Jane more uneasy about Lydia's fate and more upset about the -scandal surrounding their family. Each day they hope for a letter from either Mr. Bennet or Mr. Gardiner that might end their suffering.

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