Why was "Elizabeth's astonishment ... beyond expression" during Darcy's marriage proposal in Chapter 34 of Austen's Pride and Prejudice?... to her utter amazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the...

Why was "Elizabeth's astonishment ... beyond expression" during Darcy's marriage proposal in Chapter 34 of Austen's Pride and Prejudice?

... to her utter amazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the room. In an hurried manner he immediately began an inquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began:

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The narrator describes Elizabeth's feelings as "astonishment" after Darcy asks for permission to address her as a suitor ("You must allow me to tell you") but before he actually makes his proposal of marriage. In the astonished silence that follows Darcy's first unexpected outburst of love and admiration, if Elizabeth had said, "No, I shall not permit you to address me," and asked him to leave the house, there would have been no proposal. Darcy would have held his peace, not spoken of his love and left.

The reason why Elizabeth was all astonishment was because she cherished a prejudiced loathing toward Darcy for the part he played in separating Jane from Bingley, for his role toward Wickham, and for his slighting her at the Meryton town ball:

turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.

Since she cherished such prejudiced feelings against him, she had been merely civil to him during their encounters at Rosings while doing her best to tease and provoke him in front of his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy ought to have been repulsed by her barely tolerable deportment yet here he was declaring that he had learned to love her instead and that despite his struggles, he must yield to expressing his declaration of love and admiration, a declaration that was to end in a failed proposal of marriage.

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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When Mr. Darcy goes to Elizabeth to ask her to marry him, Elizabeth is not expecting his visit.  He enters the room and begins to attest his love for her, but it is not anything she could have expected because she doesn't like him.  She is in shock at the idea that he might present her with an invitation of marriage.  His first words show he has "struggled" against his feelings.

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed."

Mr. Darcy presents an emotional appeal for wanting to ask for a marriage but at the same time he lets her know that he is superior to her and has tried to resist.  Elizabeth is shocked by his feelings. 

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