What???@!! Mr. Bingley is BACK??? I’M SHOCKED, I TELL YOU, SHOCKED.
Yes, that’s right. Mr. Bingley comes back to Longbourne, alone, in excellent good humor (so….regular Bingley). He sits with the whole Bennet family for over an hour! Like talking to them and stuff! Take notes, F. Darcy.
At Mrs. Bennet’s invitation, he comes the next day as well, so early that none of the girls or their mother have had time to get dressed. Mrs. Bennet flies into Jane and Elizabeth’s room in a state of disarray, curlers still in, face mask still on.
Mrs. B: Mr. Bingley is here! Oh my goodness oh dear ah
Jane and Lizzy: (half asleep) Ngh?
Mrs. B: SARAH!!! Sarah, do Jane’s hair! Immediately! DON’T worry about Lizzy’s, for heaven’s sakes--
Mrs. Bennet tries throughout the entire visit to get Jane and Mr. Bingley alone together. Eventually, true to their type, Mr. Bennet goes to the library, Mary goes to practice the piano somewhere, which just leaves Elizabeth, Kitty, and Mrs. B. Instead of acting normal and suggesting that Elizabeth and Kitty go for a walk or something, Mrs. Bennet sits their and winks at them surreptitiously for goodness knows how long. Elizabeth ignores her out of sheer exasperation, but Kitty goes so far as to say “What is the matter, mama? Why do you keep winking at me?”
Mrs. B: I’M NOT…winking….though now that you mention it, Kitty, dear? Did you leave your knitting in the fireplace? I thought I saw--
Kitty: What!! Oh no! (Runs out of the room)
Jane [Mouthing wildly at Elizabeth] Don’t leave me!
Mrs. B: Lizzy? May I SPEAK with you? NOW?
Elizabeth: I…fine. [Leaves]
But despite all this, Bingley STILL doesn’t propose to Jane! What is taking this guy so long? Does he not realize that he’s driving this entire family crazy with anticipation? But he agrees to come by the next morning to go shooting with Mr. B, and afterwards, comes back again for dinner. Mrs. B, more successfully this time, strives to get everyone out of the room. Elizabeth goes off to write a letter, later walking in on Jane and Bingley engaged in “earnest conversations” that breaks off as soon as Elizabeth enters the room. Awkward. Bingley says something to Jane again before quitting the room, and Jane embraces Elizabeth immediately, saying that she was “the happiest creature in the world! ‘Tis too much! By far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! Why is not everybody as happy!”
What a relief! Elizabeth is overjoyed, for a number of reasons—at Jane’s happiness, at Caroline’s scheming coming to naught, the quick and easy resolution of two years’ romantic tension. Jane leaves to inform her mother of the happy occasion, and Bingley shortly afterwards returns to the room, having spoken with Mr. Bennet. Bingley finds Elizabeth alone, and offers her the sincere affections and good wishes of a brother. Believing himself to be the happiest creature in the world, and monologues in full about Jane’s perfections, leaving Elizabeth quite in agreement with him and of the opinion that he and her sister will be very happy together, perfectly suited in disposition and attitude as they are.
Jane, in her happiness, looks more beautiful than ever. Everyone, in fact, is overcome with happiness, even Mr. Bennet, though he hides it better than others. Mrs. Bennet is in delight over her good fortune—two out of five! Done!—and talks for what I’m sure is hours about how she knew it all along, it could have never been otherwise, it was meant to be, I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing, etc.
From this point on, Bingley visits, if possible, even more. He visits practically every day, unless he has an engagement elsewhere. On each occasion Mrs. Bennet finds out who on earth could be keeping him away and makes a voodoo doll of said person, and stabs them repeatedly with a small needle. When Jane is able to find some time alone with Elizabeth, she informs her of the detestable circumstances surrounding London. Apparently Bingley was totally ignorant of Jane being in town at all, Caroline having craftily kept it from him.
Jane: How extra of her! What a…fake!
Elizabeth: I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE PROUD OF YOU EVER.
Elizabeth does not mention Mr. Darcy’s interference, her own feelings on the matter being complicated, besides which she didn’t want Jane to feel ill towards him after everything he had done for them.
Jane: Oh, Lizzy. If only I could see you as happy! If only there was such a man for you!
Elizabeth: I don’t think I can ever be as happy as you, but perhaps, “if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time”.
In the morning, about a week after the engagement, Bingley & the Bennets (good name for a band) are hanging out at Longbourne when they hear the approach of a carriage. Not expecting any visitors, they are understandably at a loss as to who it could be. Jane and Bingley escape to the shrubbery for a walk (or to go make out, but obviously Austen doesn’t say this), while the rest stay to welcome their guest, whoever it may be. Suddenly, the wind begins to howl, the house creaks, the windows rattle, and the door is thrown open in a gust of wind as LADY CATHERINE DE BOURGH enters the Bennet household.
Austen: Dun dun DUNNNN!
Mrs. B, Kitty, Mary, Mr. B: Who is this person?
Lady Catherine barely nods to Elizabeth in acknowledgment of her presence; she might as well be entering her own home. She goes and sits down without a word while Elizabeth explains to her mother just who the heck this is.
Mrs. B: Lady Catherine!! Oh my goodness me well, this is just, what an unexpected--
Lady Catherine: Is that thing your mother?
Lady Catherine [pointing to Kitty]: And this is…one of its…progeny?
Elizabeth: That is one of my sisters, yes.
Mrs. B: My youngest daughter, my lady, excepting of course LYDIA, whom I don’t suppose you know has just recently been married to--
Lady Catherine: Your yard is quite small. And your windows, facing this way, the sun will be right in your eyes as it sets.
Mrs. B: We never use this room and never have.
Lady Catherine: Miss Bennet, there seemed to me a spot of grass in your yard that is not entirely disgusting to me. Would you mind very much going to examine it with me?
As they walk along outside, Elizabeth waits for Lady Catherine to speak, having no desire to initiate conversation with someone behaving so rudely. She does not have to wait long.
Lady Catherine: Naturally you understand why I have come and are only refraining from apologizing because you are paralyzed with guilt.
Elizabeth: I have literally no clue why you are here.
Lady Catherine: Do not mess with me, young lady. You will find such evasion ineffectual with someone as sincere and frank as myself. I have been told that not only was your own sister to be advantageously married, but that you, yourself, were to be married to my nephew Mr. Darcy. Thinking it an excellent joke if nonetheless in very poor taste, I came down at once to make sure you knew that it was never going to happen ever.
Elizabeth: If you thought it was a joke, I wonder you thought I might take it half as seriously.
Lady Catherine: To make sure that such a rumor was universally contradicted!
Elizabeth: Well, quite frankly, your coming here will have almost the exact opposite effect. If, indeed, such a report exists.
Lady Catherine: Knowing as I do of the behavior of your family, I know it has been industrially circulated by yourselves.
Elizabeth: It really really hasn’t.
Lady Catherine: Can you honestly say there is no foundation for it?
Lady Catherine: I’m going to make this perfectly simple. Has my nephew made you an offer of marriage?
Elizabeth: “Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible”.
Lady Catherine: You could have seduced him with your arts and manipulations.
Elizabeth: My WHAT?
Lady Catherine: Look. I’ll make this perfectly simple. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter so you could never marry him anyway. So there.
Elizabeth: So what’s the problem?
Lady Catherine: The engagement is not a…formal one. It was decided upon by his mother and myself in their infancy. And now you HAVE SEDUCED HIM AND RUINED EVERYTHING.
Elizabeth: Okay, I didn’t do that. And even if I had, the culmination of the engagement depends upon him. If he wishes to marry his cousin, he may do so, and if he wishes to marry me, he may do so. And if I wish to accept him, I may do so as well!
Lady Catherine: If you do this, you will be the most despicable creature on earth, and our family shall never acknowledge your existence.
Elizabeth: A hard life, to be sure. I shall be so sad living in my big mansion with my handsome husband with no in-laws to talk to. Oh how sad.
Lady Catherine: A young woman with no connections, fortune, or family of any degree, to be connected with a gentleman of such high standing—it is not to be endured. Tell me once and for all, are you engaged to him?
Lady Catherine: Ah. And can you promise me that you will never enter into such an engagement.
Elizabeth: Uh, no.
Lady Catherine: Iiiii BEG YOUR PARDON. And what of your sister? To be united to the son of my nephew’s steward in a patched up marriage and the expense of your father and uncle? Is such a girl to be my nephew’s sister? “ARE THE SHADES OF PEMBERLY TO BE THUS POLLUTED”?
Elizabeth: Well, now you can have nothing further to say, having insulted me in every way possible. I think you should probably leave. [MIC DROP]
Lady Catherine: This—this—this! This is not over! Depend on it, Miss Bennet, I will carry my point. “I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased”. [Off she goes].
NEXT WEEK: Will Lady Catherine stand in the way of Darcy and Liz??
This week's chapters were written by Helena Fisher-Welsh, who is playing Elizabeth Bennet in our production of "Pride & Prejudice: An Adaptation."