Of all the secondary characters in Austen’s novels, Lady Catherine is by far one of my favourites and the scene between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine, after the great lady finds out about Mr. Darcy’s proposal, is perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in Pride and Prejudice. Their conversation, the back-and-forth between the two strong-minded, willful women, is simply brilliant.
“Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person’s whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.”
“That will make your ladyship’s situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me.”
“I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient—though untitled—families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”
“In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”
“True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.”
“Whatever my connections may be,” said Elizabeth, “if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you.”
“Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?”
Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine, have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment’s deliberation:
“I am not.”
Lady Catherine seemed pleased.
“And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?”
“I will make no promise of the kind.”
“Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require.”
“And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.”
“Not so hasty, if you please. I have by no means done. To all the objections I have already urged, I have still another to add. I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest sister’s infamous elopement. I know it all; that the young man’s marrying her was a patched-up business, at the expence of your father and uncles. And is such a girl to be my nephew’s sister? Is her husband, who is the son of his late father’s steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”
“You can now have nothing further to say,” she resentfully answered. “You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house.”
And she rose as she spoke. Lady Catherine rose also, and they turned back. Her ladyship was highly incensed.
“You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody?”
“Lady Catherine, I have nothing further to say. You know my sentiments.”
“You are then resolved to have him?”
“I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”
“It is well. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.”
“Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude,” replied Elizabeth, “have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family, or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it would not give me one moment’s concern—and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn.”
“And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.”
In this manner Lady Catherine talked on, till they were at the door of the carriage, when, turning hastily round, she added, “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.”
I think this excerpt is where we really get to see Elizabeth’s sense of self-worth and also her deep affection for Mr. Darcy. She defends herself, her relations and her feelings in such a way that even Lady Catherine is left speechless and “most seriously displeased.” I have read and re-read this scene so many times and every single time I am left with a huge smile on my face and great respect for our dear Lizzy.
In my novel, To Save and Protect, I have also written a scene where Lady Catherine lets her feelings/opinions regarding Mr. Darcy marrying Elizabeth be known. However, in my version, she makes her opinion known in front of a group and in the presence of Mr. Darcy himself. We get to see Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy defend their position. I hope you will enjoy the excerpt.
“Darcy,” Lady Catherine said with visible panic. “What is this? What are you insinuating?”
“It did not work,” Mr. Darcy said with a cynical smile. “Your elaborate plan to marry Miss Elizabeth off to another man did not work.”
“I do not know what you are talking about, Darcy.” Lady Catherine shrugged. “What is more, I do not appreciate your tone. If Mr. Peters has asked Miss Elizabeth for her hand, it is nothing to me I am sure. Although, I personally approve of such a match.”
“Mr. Peters did not have the opportunity to offer for Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Darcy said, his jaw muscles hardening with indignation. “He was informed of his folly and apologized profusely. He, at least, had the decency to feel embarrassed.”
“Why should he apologize? Why should he feel embarrassed?” Lady Catherine asked.
“Because he was under the impression his offer would be well received by Miss Elizabeth.”
“And why would Miss Elizabeth not receive his offer with pleasure and gratitude?” Lady Catherine asked glaring at her nephew.
Elizabeth held her breath. This was the moment she was dreading.
“Because she is engaged to me,” Mr. Darcy said in a voice loud enough for the entire household to hear.
“I … beg … your … pardon?” Lady Catherine asked her voice barely audible.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet has done me the honor of accepting my hand. We are to be married.” Mr. Darcy reiterated proudly. “Will you not wish us joy, Aunt Catherine?”
Rosings Park had never been so quiet. Indeed, it seemed as if all the occupants of the house had frozen in space. The drawing room was particularly eerie as all eyes traveled from Mr. Darcy’s stony face to his aunt’s pale one. Lady Catherine’s eyes were on Mr. Darcy, who returned her glare with an intimidating one of his own.
“If this is your idea of a jest, Darcy,” Lady Catherine finally said, ending the deafening silence of the room, “it is not at all humorous.”
“I told you once before, Lady Catherine,” Mr. Darcy returned, his face impassive as always, “I do not jest. I have the honor of being engaged to Miss Elizabeth. We did not announce our engagement earlier as I have not had the chance to speak to Mr. Bennet yet.”
Mr. Darcy turned to Elizabeth and smiled. He held out his hand to her, gesturing for her to join him. Elizabeth stood from behind the piano and moved beside him, giving him her hand to hold. Mr. Darcy bestowed a gentle kiss on her knuckles and placed her hand in the crook of his arm.
“You cannot marry her,” Lady Catherine said as if she was stating an irrefutable law. “It is not possible.”
“I can and I will marry her,” Mr. Darcy said firmly. “I suggest you reconcile with the idea.”
“I will never give you my permission,” Lady Catherine said self-importantly.
Mr. Darcy shrugged.“Fortunately, I do not require your permission. I would, however, appreciate your blessing.”
“You shall never have it.”
“So be it,” Mr. Darcy said nonchalantly.
“There must be some kind of misunderstanding,” Mr. Collins interjected in support of his patroness. “My cousin Elizabeth is far below Mr. Darcy’s attention.”
“Mr. Collins,” Mr. Darcy said with a glare. “You are speaking about my fiancée. I remind you to choose your words very carefully. I will not tolerate any disrespect toward my future wife. Do I make myself clear?”
Unable to speak, Mr. Collins bowed nervously.
“I believe we should take our leave,” Mrs. Collins said as she stood. “This is a private family matter.”
“But, my dear,” Mr. Collins said, barely able to speak after being reprimanded by Mr. Darcy. “I should stay and lend my support to Lady Catherine.
“I do not need your support.” Lady Catherine snapped. “In fact, I do not want to see you anymore. Take your family and go.”
“Come, Mr. Collins.” Mrs. Collins urged her husband. “Maria, Elizabeth.”
“I will escort Miss Elizabeth to the parsonage in my carriage shortly, Mrs. Collins,” Mr. Darcy said, and upon noting Mrs. Collins’ brief hesitation, he added, “she will be accompanied by a maid.”
“Of course, sir.” Mrs. Collins curtseyed.
Miss Lucas followed her sister and curtseyed to Lady Catherine nervously. She then turned to Elizabeth and quite unexpectedly, embraced her. “I am very happy for you, Lizzy,” she whispered in her usual innocent demeanor. “You will have the most handsome husband, though he scares me greatly. But you are not afraid of him, are you?”
Elizabeth shook her head at Miss Lucas’ unguarded words and smiled. Miss Lucas curtseyed to Mr. Darcy quickly and moved on without looking at the gentleman. Had she looked at him, she would have seen the amusement in his eyes.
Mr. Collins and his family left the drawing room quickly and quietly.
“You are engaged to Anne,” Lady Catherine said, trying a different argument. “Or have you forgotten that?”
“I am not, and have never been, engaged to Anne. She is my cousin and I love and respect her as a cousin. That is all.”
“But everyone expects you two to marry. This will ruin Anne’s chances of marriage greatly.”
“No one, except for yourself, has ever expected us to marry. I have never made any promises to Anne.”
“You owe it to your cousin to—”
“He does not owe me anything.” Miss de Bourgh interrupted as she stood from her chair. “Darcy never made any promises to me. I have never had any expectations from him. Leave this be, mother.”
Mr. Darcy’s angry gaze softened as it rested on his frail cousin.
Miss de Bourgh moved toward Elizabeth and took her hand in hers and smiled. “I congratulate you on your engagement, Miss Elizabeth. I wish you both joy.”
“Thank you Miss de Bourgh,” Elizabeth said, barely able to contain her surprise. “I hope our news is not a great disappointment to you. I would hate to think that my happiness is at the cost of yours.”
“Not at all. To be quite frank, I am relieved.”
“Relieved?” Elizabeth asked with surprise. “How so?”
“Darcy is quite a formidable man,” Miss de Bourgh said with a fond smile at Mr. Darcy. “As much as I respect him, I could never imagine myself as his wife.”
Despite their situation, Elizabeth smiled at Miss de Bourgh’s words.
Mr. Darcy raised his eyebrows at his cousin’s words and his lips twitched with a smile. “I never knew the prospect of marrying me was so disagreeable to you, cousin.”
“I dare say not as disagreeable as the prospect of marrying me was to you, cousin.” Miss de Bourgh deadpanned. “Being married to you is something I simply do not have the energy for, Darcy.”
Mr. Darcy bowed over his cousin’s hand respectfully.
Miss de Bourgh turned toward her mother and addressed her gently. “I am rather tired, mother. I am going to retire for the evening. I suggest you do the same.”
“As much as I enjoyed the company this evening,” Lord Paisley said sarcastically, “I believe I should take my leave as well.” Lord Paisley bowed to Lady Catherine and smiled a crooked smile at Elizabeth. “Congratulations, Miss Elizabeth. An evening in your company is never dull. In fact, I do not know what I will do with myself when this adventure is over.”
“Thank you for your assistance earlier, Lord Paisley,” Elizabeth said.
“It is always a pleasure to be of service to you, Miss Elizabeth. Darcy, I will see you tomorrow.”
Mr. Darcy nodded and shook his friend’s hand firmly.
With the exception of Col. Fitzwilliam, for whose presence Elizabeth was very grateful, they were now alone in the drawing room with Lady Catherine. Elizabeth waited with anticipation and dread for the great lady to make her displeasure known again. She knew Lady Catherine’s wrath was far from over.
In a style entirely her own, Lady Catherine turned her focus toward Elizabeth. “This is all your doing. You have used your arts and allurements and have drawn him in.”
“You underestimate your nephew’s understanding, ma’am. Mr. Darcy has far too much sense to be drawn in by a woman’s arts and allurements.”
“What else is there?” Lady Catherine sneered. “You have nothing else to recommend yourself to a man of his standing but the pleasures of the flesh.”
Mr. Darcy bristled but Elizabeth spoke first.
“You must have a very low estimation of your own sex, Lady Catherine,” Elizabeth said cuttingly. “I, however, was raised with high standards.”
“You were clearly not raised to respect those of higher standing,” Lady Catherine said. “I am your superior.”
“That is a matter of opinion,” Elizabeth said, shrugging her shoulders.
“No, it is a matter of social rules and ranks. My father was an earl. That makes me a lady.”
“Then I suggest you behave like one.” Elizabeth snapped back.
Lady Catherine’s face turned a most unbecoming shade of purple as she gaped at Elizabeth. Col. Fitzwilliam had to cough to hide his untimely chuckle. Mr. Darcy watched, with great admiration, as his fiancée effectively derailed his aunt.
“I know why Darcy has offered for you,” Lady Catherine said once she regained her composure. “You must have welcomed him into your bed.”
Elizabeth gasped at the audacity of Lady Catherine’s words.
“Lady Catherine!” Mr. Darcy growled threateningly. “You will speak to my fiancée with utmost respect or you will not speak at all.”
“Why else would you marry this chit, if not to satisfy your base pleasures?”
Elizabeth’s entire body shook at Lady Catherine’s words. Mr. Darcy was not ignorant of her distress. He placed his other hand on her fingers that were resting on his arm and pulled her closer to him.
Mr. Darcy addressed Lady Catherine, his voice dangerously low. “You forget yourself, madam.”
“No, Darcy, you forget yourself.” Lady Catherine snapped back. “You forget what you owe to your position as the master of Pemberley.”
“I am the master of Pemberley, and as such, I get to choose the mistress of Pemberley.”
“This woman you have chosen can only be the mistress of your bedchamber.”
“Lady Catherine.” Colonel Fitzwilliam reprimanded. “Miss Bennet is a gentleman’s daughter.”
“What about her mother? And her mother’s relations?” Lady Catherine asked. “Just because my nephew is foolish enough to be taken in by a beautiful face, it does not follow that I should accept this sham of an engagement.”
“Richard.” Mr. Darcy addressed his cousin. “Please accompany Miss Elizabeth for a brief walk while I conclude this conversation.”
Col. Fitzwilliam offered his arm to Elizabeth. Unwilling to remain in the same room with Lady Catherine a moment longer, Elizabeth took the proffered arm and walked out of the room.
Once the door closed behind them, Mr. Darcy turned to face his aunt. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“I have done nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You arranged to pay a young man, one Elizabeth knew nothing about, to offer for her,” Mr. Darcy said incredulously. “You led the young man to believe his offer would be well received. He accosted her this evening, frightened her, and made her feel very uncomfortable. She was a guest in your house. How can you be so thoughtless?”
“I regret nothing. I only meant to protect you from that fortune hunter.”
“What makes you believe I need your protection? What gave you the right to do what you did?”
“I am your nearest relation.” Lady Catherine shrugged.
“Never in my life have I been more embarrassed by my relations.”
“This is all due to her influence over you,” Lady Catherine said. “You are bewitched by her. Darcy, do not marry her. If you need to have her, take her as your mistress. Set her up with a house somewhere and visit her discretely.”
“You have lost your mind.” Mr. Darcy said in utter disbelief.
“I will not have that chit take my sister’s place in Pemberley.”
“That is quite enough,” Mr. Darcy said, his face white with fury. “I am warning you. You would not want me as your enemy.”
“You dare to threaten me in my own house?” Lady Catherine said. “What do you presume you can do to me? I do not need you.”
“You are mistaken, Lady Catherine,” Mr. Darcy said with a sneer. “You forget I have been overseeing all the Rosings’ estate matters for years. I know what a mess Rosings was when Sir Louis passed away. Thanks to the diligence of my father and myself, Rosings has not gone under. I have been subsidizing Rosings with my own money for years. If I were to withdraw my support now, you would have no choice but to leave your home.”
Lady Catherine’s eyes grew wide at her nephew’s words. “You bluff, Darcy,” Lady Catherine said, panic setting in.
“I do not bluff, ma’am,” Mr. Darcy said. “Now, I suggest you heed my words. Miss Elizabeth is my fiancée. She will be the next Mrs. Darcy and the mistress of Pemberley. If you ever say or do anything to disparage her again, I will ruin you, so help me God.”
“You would do that to your own aunt?” Lady Catherine uttered in disbelief.
“I would do it to anyone who dares to threaten my wife’s happiness,” Mr. Darcy said and walked out of the drawing room in search of his fiancée, leaving behind a bewildered, tired and defeated Lady Catherine.