Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 56 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: About a week after Jane’s engagement, a visitor arrives who proves to be Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The Bennets are greatly astonished as Lady Catherine enters the room with an air more than usually ungracious. She greets Elizabeth coldly and, sitting down, makes a few remarks about the smallness of the Bennet’s property. She declines all offers of refreshment and asks Elizabeth to walk on the lawn with her. When they are alone, Lady Catherine tells Elizabeth that she has come because she has heard a scandalous falsehood about Darcy being married to Elizabeth after Jane’s wedding to Bingley. She insists on having such a report contradicted. Elizabeth counters her coolly and refuses to answer directly. Lady Catherine tells her that she can never marry Darcy, who is engaged to the former’s daughter, and that the union was planned by the mothers when the girls were in their cradles. Elizabeth argues with Lady Catherine that there is no reason why Darcy should not make his own choice. Lady Catherine is angry and asks Elizabeth to promise that she will never become engaged to Darcy. Elizabeth refuses. Lady Catherine, after railing at Elizabeth and being insulting about Lydia’s marriage, is asked by Elizabeth to excuse her. Lady Catherine, seriously displeased, then departs.

      Critical Analysis: Lady Catherine’s arguments are based on consideration of family and social status. She desires the engagement of her daughter with Darcy merely because she sees it as a marriage between families of equal status. For her, there is no place for impulsive desires of any individual. A representative of the traditional view of rigid class structure, she sees Elizabeth and the Bennet family as guilty of up-start pretensions since they choose not to remain in the social class where they have been placed. Elizabeth however, is made of sterner stuff and does not allow herself to be brow-beaten by Lady Catherine’s formidable manners and offensive remarks.

      It is ironic that for all that Lady Catherine strives to achieve, she affects the opposite. She comes to meet Elizabeth to prevent Darcy and her coming together. But when Darcy hears the spirited manner in which Elizabeth has faced Lady Catherine, he realises that Elizabeth loves him and he returns to make the marriage proposal.

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