Pride and Prejudice Chapter 54 - 57: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
In Chapters 54-57 of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley has returned to Netherfield. Jane's prospects for happiness are at last looking good. Lizzy is convinced social obstacles will keep her and Mr. Darcy apart but his aunt appears to think otherwise.

Chapter 54

Chapter 54 opens in the aftermath of Bingley's first visit to the Bennets after his return to Netherfield. Jane was, of course, delighted to see Mr. Bingley. To everyone's surprise, Mr. Darcy accompanied his friend. To Lizzy's distress, however, he was 'grave, silent, and indifferent' the whole time. If he didn't want to see her, why did he come? Since he came, why didn't he say anything? 'Teasing, teasing, man!' Lizzy concludes. 'I will think no more about him.' Jane Austen's depiction of trying not to think about someone you have painful romantic feelings for is so accurate it hurts.

Later that week, Lizzy and Darcy are both at a dinner party hosted by the Bennets, but don't get a chance to exchange more than a few words. Austen uses the same party to demonstrate that happiness is fragile and often depends on chance. It takes a smile from Jane to get Bingley to spend the evening next to her. Mrs. Bennet is once again counting on the renewal of Bingley and Jane's romance as a sure thing, but Austen reminds us constantly that this is unreasonable. Even Jane says that she has no expectations of romantic overtures from Bingley, much as she likes him.

Chapter 55

In Chapter 55, Mr. Bingley comes to visit alone -- he's expected to propose to Jane -- and hilarity ensues. Austen's focus is not on the potential proposal, it's about the domestic dramas of not being dressed and Jane's nervousness about being left alone. All the dramatic build-up suggests a proposal, and it doesn't happen. Mrs. Bennet is terribly disappointed -- and the readers might be too!

Bingley
Lizzy and the lovers

The next day, Bingley returns, to Lizzy's relief and Jane's intense happiness, and does -- at last! -- propose. Jane ecstatically accepts. As Lizzy reflects, it's an almost anticlimactic end to all the schemes of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley to keep them apart... but also 'the happiest, the wisest, most reasonable end.' Bingley's proposal is not only a source of great joy, but also an analysis of love and marriage. Mrs. Bennet is delighted because of Mr. Bingley's wealth and superior social class. It's compatibility, though, that will make Bingley and Jane happy. Even Mr. Bennet -- not the most perceptive of men when it comes to his daughters' romantic entanglements -- notices their similarity of temperament.

Chapter 56

Lady Catherine disapproves
visit

Lady Catherine asks (or, rather, demands) to speak to Lizzy alone in the garden, which Lady Catherine describes as a 'sort of wilderness.' Lady Catherine comes with an astonishing request: she demands that Lizzy refute the rumor that she's going to marry Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine is convinced that the Bennets have themselves spread this rumor. She's also convinced that such a marriage would be the worst thing ever. It would prevent Mr. Darcy from marrying her own daughter Anne, as she intends! It would bring the vulgar Bennets into connection with her family! 'Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?' Lady Catherine asks.

Lizzy is outraged, as well as insulted. She points out that she and her family, as property-owning gentry, technically belong to the same social class as Mr. Darcy, although he's so much wealthier. She refutes the rumor of an engagement. Lady Catherine is relieved, and asks Lizzy to promise never to enter into such an engagement. Lizzy flatly says that she will do no such thing! 'I am only resolved,' says Lizzy, 'to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness.' Lizzy's refusal to be intimidated by Lady Catherine's superior social class and her assertion that love and compatibility are more important to marriage than external considerations are both radical. Lady Catherine's sense of how the world should work is threatened, and she storms off.

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