Updated: May 4, 2019
Mr. Darcy’s letter begins with his desire to defend himself on the two charges that Elizabeth had laid at his feet: that of separating Jane from Bingley, and that of bringing Mr. Wickham to a state of poverty. He started with the first.
His first argument was that he perceived that Bingley was more attached to Jane than she was to him. (This point was made by Charlotte Lucas earlier in the story; that Jane was so modest that she rarely displayed her feelings, even those of love for Bingley.) But his letter then expounded on the inferiority of the Bennet family, not only in the low connections of extended family, but also mainly the lack of propriety of Elizabeth’s immediate family, namely her mother and younger sisters. When the opportunity came up to get Bingley away from the neighborhood and to London on an extended visit, Darcy and Bingley’s sisters jumped at it. Darcy’s one stated regret was not sharing with Bingley that he knew Jane was in London on a visit.
This information did nothing to soften Elizabeth’s heart, especially the confession of deceiving by omission and not speaking of Jane’s time in London with her aunt and uncle. She grew angrier and had decided to put the letter away, but curiosity made her read on about Wickham. Here the letter had a completely different effect.
Darcy had stated that initially Wickham himself had decided to turn down the position of a pastor, not that he was denied it as he had claimed. Also, at the time he was given the large sum of three thousand pounds to compensate for the lack of employment in ministry. This information shocked Elizabeth since it claimed that Wickham had greatly deceived her in his story of his poverty. But the account went deeper. Only last year, Wickham had attempted to seduce Darcy’s young sister, Georgianna. He had been able to convince the fifteen-year-old girl that he was in love and had talked her into an elopement. Darcy discovered the plan and rescued his sister from Wickham’s plan just in time. Darcy believed that Wickham’s goal was Georgianna’s fortune of thirty thousand pounds, as well as revenge against himself.
For this account, Elizabeth had heard of the hinted-at-problem with Georgianna from Colonel Fitzwilliam. She could not discredit Mr. Darcy in this defense. Her realization of Wickham’s true character, and her willingness to admit that she had been duped was Elizabeth’s first change of heart. She understood how humiliating it must have been for Darcy to even admit the truth of this story of his sister. This made her go back and reread his account of separating Jane from Bingley.
Slowly, Elizabeth came to see the truth of his charges against her mother and younger sisters. The idea that her own family’s folly had caused Jane pain was a difficult one to take in. In the following months, the letter slowly changed Elizabeth’s heart towards Mr. Darcy. She came to view him as honest and upright.
Months later, and many circumstances in between, Mr. Darcy was given a second chance. Darcy, encouraged by a chance encounter with Elizabeth in his home, took the opportunity to right the wrongs he had created. He made it so that Bingley and Jane were placed back in each other’s company, giving Bingley the chance to propose. He also fixed the mess that Wickham had made with Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia. With these two massive proofs of his enduring love, Elizabeth decided to thank Mr. Darcy when they left alone on a stroll down a country lane.
Elizabeth begins, “Mr. Darcy, I am a very selfish creature! I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister, Lydia. Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how grateful I feel.” She also thanked him for his part in reuniting Jane and Bingley. Mr. Darcy took this as hope for a second proposal.
“I believe I thought only of you. Elizabeth, you are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”
Here Jane Austen shares, “Elizabeth forced herself to speak quickly. She told him that her feeling had undergone so material a change, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. This happiness which her reply produced was such as he had never felt before, and he expressed himself as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”
Mr. Darcy’s hope for a second opportunity to win Elizabeth became a reality, because of his humility and generosity, and her honesty and willingness to change. Any relationship has hope if love, humility, confession, and gratitude have the time and chance to work in hearts.
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