To give us a (very) brief respite from all the crazy shenanigans of chapters 46-48, Jane opens this chapter with a nice bout of walking. I’ve (Helena Fisher-Welsh, AKA Elizabeth Bennet) talked before about how walking is kinda one of the only things women of this era are allowed to do without needing the permission of some man or another, but to re-encapsulate: Walking is the Jane Austen version of Candy Crush. You know, the thing you do when you need to both clear your mind AND let out a little frustration at the same time. Unfortunately for Elizabeth and Jane, the opening sentence is barely over before their walk is interrupted by a hasty looking housekeeper, asking if they have heard any news from London.
Elizabeth expresses that she doesn’t know why they should, when the housekeeper tells them that a letter has arrived from their uncle for their father. What follows is something akin to what a bunch of nerds (myself included) like to call “Scooby-Dooby Doors”, with Jane and Lizzy running about the house and looking in various rooms for the father, only to run in to the butler, who tells them that their father is…..walking!! Outside! Where they just were. So, it’s not exactly like the Scooby-Doo Doors phenomenon. Jane Austen comedy is not quite the same as Hanna-Barbera comedy. However, Austen does mention that Jane, being not quite so used to running as Elizabeth, starts lagging behind as soon as they catch sight of their father, lungs probably on fire from running all about the entire house. She’s also probably limping a little. Having been in Jane’s position quite frequently myself, I find this moment self-deprecatingly funny, with also a dash of schadenfreude because I’ve never had to do that much running in the outfits they wore back then. Can you imagine? Hahahahaha.
Elizabeth: (in between breaths) DAD, OH MY GOD. HAVE YOU. HEARD ANYTHING?
Mr. Bennet: Well, I’ve definitely heard something. Though what exactly I have heard is anyone’s guess.
He gives Lizzy the letter from their uncle to read aloud. Lizzy reads, and the reader discovers that
1. Mr. Gardiner has found Lydia and Wickham in London (Yay!)
2. They are not married (Boo!)
3. Nor does it appear they have any intention to be (BOOOO!)
4. They will be married if Mr. Bennet agrees to a one hundred pound allowance per year for Lydia, as well as her equal share of five thousand pounds (that would go to all the Bennet daughters anyway) after Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are deceased (Wow! Mr. Wickham is a money-grubbing asshole and....probably doesn’t like Lydia all that much? That’s…kinda sad?)
5. Mr. Gardiner has agreed to all these conditions (siiiiiiigh)
6. Mr. Wickham is not as poorly off as he lead everyone to believe! Which means Lydia will have some money from him as well as the money from the Bennet household (Wow!!! What a money-grubbing asshole!)
7. Mr. Gardiner is willing to arrange these things in Mr. Bennet’s place if he gives him permission to do so (That’s nice).
Elizabeth: Have you answered the letter yet?
Mr. Bennet: Well, no, I--
Elizabeth: Well, do it! Oh my god, what does anyone around here wait so much for!!?!
Jane: Dad, really, I’ll do it if you’re not willing--
Mr. Bennet: I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Jeez, give me a second!
Elizabeth: I suppose we have to comply with Wickham’s requests.
Mr. Bennet: We should consider ourselves lucky that he’s not asking more.
Elizabeth: Ugh. Worst in-law ever.
Mr. Bennet: I’m more concerned with how much your uncle paid him. Wickham wouldn’t have agreed to so small a sum otherwise! [With extreme sarcasm] “Wickham’s a fool if he takes her for a farthing less than ten thousand pounds. I should be sorry to think so ill of him, in the very beginning of our relationship.”
Awesome! Mr. Bennet is now potentially indebted to Mr. Gardiner (family though he may be) to the tune of ten thousand pounds. For reference, that’s roughly £339,600 today, or $450,700. Not to play the Millennial card here, but I could pay off my student loans about 17 times with that money.
Lizzy and Jane are of two minds on the situation as regards Lydia, Lizzy thinking that if Lydia is not grateful for what her aunt and uncle have done for her “she will never deserve to be happy” (cold), while Jane thinks they should just forgive and forget (ah, typical Jane). Then they realize that their mother, who has been inhaling so many smelling salts during the past few weeks she’s become a grain of smelling salt, doesn’t know about these turn of events! They take their uncle’s letter up to her to read, and discover that Mary and Kitty are also there, and they can satisfy three birds with one reading. Upon hearing the news, Mrs. Bennet seesaws from abject misery to loud, exuberant joy, not caring at whit of the circumstances that resulted in Lydia getting married in face of the actual fact of marriage. She starts talking in excess about the wedding clothes, and instructs Lizzy to ask her father how many of them he will be granting Lydia for this marvelous occasion. If it wasn’t apparent to the reader before, it’s pretty easy now to see where Lydia gets her tactlessness and short-sightedness from.
Anyway, Mrs. Bennet then leaves to essentially brag to all of her family members and neighbors and possibly also to any random person she meets on the street that her youngest daughter is to be married to a [handsome] money-grubbing asshole. Elizabeth, meanwhile, becomes “sick of this folly” and goes to hide in her room (I, too, have done this, usually during Halloween parties). Lizzy reasons with herself that although things didn’t exactly turn out great, they turned out a lot better than expected. The Bennet family should be relieved that Lydia hasn’t been abandoned by Wickham to live out the rest of her life as a fallen woman, and I say that with all due seriousness. As annoying as Lydia is, she’s pretty young still and can be excused for not fully comprehending the fate Wickham could have led her to.
Right away, Austen lays out for us the introverted Mr. Bennet’s true feelings on the matter. He always wished he had set aside an annual sum for his wife and daughters instead of spending it all, and now he wishes it more than ever. Had he done so, Lydia might not be so indebted to Mr. Gardiner, as well as not as willing to marry someone with as dubious a financial situation as Mr. Wickham. He didn’t save the money because, naturally, they were going to have a son, as only sons are born while daughters spring from the ground like little oppressed daffodils. Having a son would take care of that pesky entail problem the readers are now well acquainted with, but instead of literally one son, the Bennet’s had….well, you know. Austen then goes on to add that the Bennet’s would probably be broke had not Mr. Bennet’s economy tempered the lack of it in his wife. Because of all of the above, Mr. Bennet is more than happy to agree to Mr. Gardiner’s proposal. He wants as little to do with the business as possible. He responds to Mr. Gardiner’s letter but is too pissed at Lydia to communicate anything to her.
So, whether from bad news traveling quickly or from Mrs. Bennet telling everyone save God, the whole household and soon the whole neighborhood knows about Wickham and Lydia, for better or for worse. The gossips of Longbourne kinda wanted something more dramatic to happen, like Lydia being kept in Wickham’s attic à la Mrs. _____ in some book called J_ne Eyr__ (redacted for spoilers. And I recognize this is an anachronism). As it is, they’re mildly satisfied with the likelihood that she’s married a philandering cad and will be miserable because of that instead. Justice! (?)
Mrs. Bennet begins once again to eat dinner downstairs after TWO WEEKS of either a) not eating at all, b) eating her smelling salts, or c) having her food brought to her in bed by a servant who probably had to stay and watch her moan and cry into her Harrico of Mutton. The Brand New Mrs. Bennet talks non-stop throughout dinner of the various silks and carriages and fineries Lydia shall have, as well as the house they will live in, hilariously imagining which one would be perfect for Lydia if only the current occupants would…leave it. Somehow. Like if only they would die. Mr. Bennet says that they’re welcome to whatever house they wish, as long as they never come here.Ouch.
Mrs. Bennet: [LOUD, DRAWN OUT GASP]
They start to argue about that, and it soon becomes and even BIGGER argument when Mrs. Bennet discovers that her husband will not be advancing any money for Lydia’s new wedding garments. Any. At all. Mrs. Bennet opines that a wedding without wedding clothes is scarcely a wedding at all (Mrs. Bennet has never been to Vegas), and shows more outrage about Lydia’s lack of dresses than the fact that Lydia ran away with a MGA (money grubbing asshole).
Lizzy is starting to have capital-R Regrets about letting Mr. Darcy know about Lydia, as had she held off until leaving Pemberley the affair could have been kept in the family—now that he knows, he probably thinks even less of her and her family than she did before (oh, Lizzy). Though she doesn’t think Mr. Darcy will tell everybody or, in fact, anybody who doesn’t need to know (like, god forbid, Caroline), now that he knows Lizzy is to be connected with Mr. Wickham as part of the family, there is no way he would ever align himself with her. (LIZZY….) Just, no way. (Lizzy!!!!) The irony of her never being more willing to marry him, when he would now be so little willing to ask her, is not lost on Elizabeth. She then meditates on how perfect her and Darcy would be as a couple, while two centuries of readers hum their agreement in the background. The temper and disposition of one would temper that of the other. She reasons, not unfoundedly, that she and Darcy would make a much better couple than Lydia and Wickham will, their marriage being based on nothing more than really, realllly powerful infatuation. Which is fine(ish) for our modern world in which quickie divorces are easily(ish) obtained, but…..not so great for anybody who decides to marry on this basis on England, in 1812.
Mr. Gardiner writes to Mr. Bennet again, informing him that Mr. Wickham has decided to quit the militia. Mr. Gardiner thought it would be the best for everyone, and “advised” (threatened, I hope) him to do so. Mr. Wickham will go into “the regulars” (the regular army, as opposed to the volunteer based and temporarily active militia). Before they leave for the North, however, where Wickham is to be stationed, Lydia wants to visit Longbourne and her family.
Most of the Bennet’s are thrilled at Lydia and Wickham being sent as far away as possible, but Mrs. Bennet lets out another loud, drawn-out gasp, her dream of Wickham and Lydia living in a house within shouting distance shattered to a billion pieces. As for Lydia and Wickham visiting Longbourne, Lizzy and Jane manage to convince her father that it would be irrational to not let them come by even once. It is so agreed upon, even though Wickham is the last person in the world she wants to see.
NEXT WEEK: Mr. & Mrs. Wickham Come To Visit and Mr. Darcy...wow, really? HE did that?? For HER???
This week's chapters were written by Helena Fisher-Welsh, who is playing Elizabeth Bennet in our upcoming production!
Watch our recent video interview with her here: