Chapters 46–49 Summary
After waiting for days for a letter from Jane, Elizabeth is excited to receive two at once. However, the latter part of the first letter has been written hastily with “evident agitation” and contains grave news: Lydia has left the Forsters in Brighton and has run off with Wickham. The couple has apparently fled to Scotland, where it is supposed they will marry. Jane is concerned about the imprudence of both the elopement and the match itself, as she and Elizabeth are both aware of Wickham’s true character. Finishing this first letter, Elizabeth quickly opens the second, which contains even worse news: the family has since learned that Wickham has no intention of marrying Lydia at all, despite what Lydia may have believed. As “imprudent” as a marriage between Lydia and Wickham would be, her reputation—and the reputation of her family—will be ruined if she runs off with a man without marrying him. Colonel Forster has told Jane that Wickham is not a man to be trusted, and he and Mr. Bennet have since departed for London—where they now suppose the couple to be—in an effort to find Lydia and salvage her reputation.
Mr. Darcy enters the room as Elizabeth finishes reading the letter, and Elizabeth cries that she must find her uncle at once. Elizabeth describes Lydia and Wickham’s scandalous decision to Darcy, who appears deeply concerned. Elizabeth is certain her family’s disgrace will diminish Darcy’s opinion of her, and she finally realizes that she could have truly loved him. Pushing this out of her mind, she asks Darcy to convey her apologies to Georgiana for her inability to visit Pemberley that evening and begs him to keep the truth about her quick departure a secret. Darcy promises to do so, and he leaves so that Elizabeth and the Gardiners can quickly pack. Within an hour, all arrangements are made and the group is on the road toward Longbourn.
En route to Longbourn, Elizabeth’s uncle tries to encourage her regarding Wickham’s intentions with Lydia. After all, he points out, if Wickham has any hopes of returning to his position in the militia, he must marry Lydia to preserve his reputation with Colonel Forster. This briefly comforts Elizabeth until she recalls that Wickham’s own close friend insisted that Wickham never planned to marry Lydia, and she is again thrown into despair over Lydia’s foolishness. Reflecting on her sister’s immature and frivolous behavior over the last year, Elizabeth doubts that Lydia has any idea of the consequences of her actions.
Mrs. Gardiner asks whether Elizabeth noted any fondness between Lydia and Wickham before she left, but Elizabeth can’t recall any particular attention that Wickham ever gave to Lydia. The travellers finally arrive at Longbourn, and Jane runs to meet them. Jane is pale and worn out from taking care of their mother, who hysterically refuses to leave her room. There has been no further news from Mr. Bennet beyond word of his safe arrival in London. Mrs. Bennet is convinced that the Forsters are to blame for not carefully watching Lydia, claiming Lydia would never do such a thing under proper guidance. She implores her brother to hurry to London, and if Lydia has not yet married Wickham, to make sure that she does.
Elizabeth and Jane find a moment alone, and Jane encourages her sister to read the letter Lydia left behind when she fled the Forsters. In the letter, Lydia says that everyone is in for a great surprise when they find her gone and that the next time she signs her name, it will be as Mrs. Wickham. Lydia seems to find the whole thing greatly amusing, referring to her sneaking away “a good joke.” Though Elizabeth is vexed by Lydia’s ignorance and foolishness, she is slightly relieved to see that Lydia’s intention was marriage.
Mr. Gardiner heads for London to join Mr. Bennet in his search; Mrs. Gardiner remains behind at Longbourn with the Bennet ladies. Details begin to emerge from Meryton about Wickham, and...
(The entire section is 1,118 words.)