Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 16 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: The following evening Collins and his five cousins arrive at Mrs. Phillips’s house, to find that Wickham is already there. Collins finds Mrs. Phillips a willing listener when he describes all the grandeur of Lady Catherine and her mansion. Wickham seats himself near Elizabeth. He mentions Darcy and, to her surprise, tells her that he has been connected with his family in a particular manner from infancy. Elizabeth tells him that Darcy is unpopular in the neighborhood. Wickham informs Elizabeth that Darcy’s late father was one of the best of men, but that Wickham has been scandalously treated by Darcy himself. He goes on to say that he was brought up for the Church, not the army, and his godfather, the late Mr. Darcy, bequeathed him a good living which his son, disregarding his father’s wishes, gave to someone else. Wickham attributes this action to jealousy of himself. When asked about Darcy’s sister, now aged sixteen, he replies that she is nothing to him now. Elizabeth wonders how a sweet-tempered, amiable man like Bingley can have a friend as disagreeable as Darcy appears to be. Wickham replies that Darcy can please when he chooses. He also tells Elizabeth that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is Mr. Darcy’s aunt and that her daughter will have a very large fortune; it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates. Wickham tells Elizabeth that Lady Catherine is arrogant and conceited. Elizabeth returns home with her head full of Wickham and his charms.

      Critical Analysis: This chapter creates another barrier between Darcy and Elizabeth. Wickham’s narrative about Darcy further alienates the two major characters. Here she is clearly a victim of her prejudice against Darcy. For all her intelligence, she is duped by Wickham. In Jane Austen’s view, Elizabeth had committed a gross error; she has been taken in by Wickham’s appearance rather than attempting to know the reality of his situation. Austen emphasizes her theme as Mr. Wickham imposes his prejudice upon Elizabeth and makes her even more prejudiced against Mr. Darcy who, it is hinted, is prejudiced against all people.

      Wickham’s character is presented fully through his conversation, lie is handsome and confident, but a shallow young man. To even a casual reader, he appears to be either (i) a liar—if his story turns out to be false, or (ii) bad mannered and malevolent, even if he is telling the truth.

      Elizabeth is quick to discern that something is wrong between Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy but her prejudice blinds her. Mr. Darcy had ignored her in their first meeting. Mr. Wickham prefers her to other attractive girls at Mrs. Phillips and flattered by this attention she does not notice the obvious inconsistency in Wickham’s words who professes to be discreet and declares that he would not like to defame anyone’s character while in the same breath he casts aspersions on Mr. Darcy.

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