Posted on 2017-02-22
"And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.'' Pride & Prejudice Ch 34
Upon hearing these words, Elizabeth Bennet was ready to scream. How many degrading and insulting proposals was she meant to endure? Mr. Collins' prediction of never receiving another proposal certainly didn't hold true with two in four months, but such a proposal! It was not to be endured! Her anger rising, she made a start at addressing him.
"I might as well inquire, why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?".....
Elizabeth stopped abruptly. Her anger was nearly ready to overwhelm her, and she was quite prepared to make her displeasure known in no uncertain terms, but something caused her to pause cautiously. She knew from his own words that he was a man of implacable resentments, and whose good opinion once lost was lost forever. She had heard that from his own mouth in Netherfield, and had no reason to doubt what happened when people angered him. She also knew that he had denied Mr. Wickham his living purely out of spite and jealousy. Lastly, she had the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy would take it upon himself to break relationships when they did not satisfy his desires, regardless of the sentiments of the people involved.
All of this meant that she had three alternative sources about what happened to people who crossed Mr. Darcy, and wondered if she might receive similar misfortunes. There was no question that it was unwise to anger such a powerful man, with such a well-known bad temper. The consequences he could rain down upon her with a word or a gesture were incalculable, and not something she wished to suffer. With this in mind, she decided it would be much more prudent to temper her response, fall back on propriety and civility and try to avoid any further censure or retribution. It would be difficult, for speaking her mind would be quite satisfying for a time, but would not be to her ultimate advantage.
She took in a deep breath, attempting to calm herself. Striving for the utmost composure, she set about answering him as calmly, politely and civilly as possible.
"Mr. Darcy I have always done my very best to be civil with you, your family and your friends. If my reply lacks civility, please accept my apologies so that we might put this unfortunate conversation behind us. I have no desire to offend you sir, so might I request that we end this interview at this point. You have my most sincere thanks for the kindness and honor of your address, but I believe we have nothing more to say to each other."
Mr. Darcy took this non-answer as another incivility. He stood up straighter and walked towards where she was sitting and said somewhat angrily, "I beg to differ, madam! That is not really an answer, or a reason for your rejection. Might I kindly ask for more of an explanation?"
Elizabeth was by this time actually quite frightened. Mr. Darcy, at the best of times was a formidable and intimidating person. His great height and strength might ordinarily have made him the most handsome man of her acquaintance, but his forbidding countenance and deplorable manners were now making him truly terrifying. He had walked from the fireplace to tower over her, and Elizabeth unconsciously shrunk back into herself. She tried to make her presence even smaller and less offensive, desperately hoping he would just go away, while surreptitiously eyeing the door and wondering if she could get out of it quickly before he could react.
Darcy, despite his heightened anger, noticed her lack of composure and thought back to the last few minutes of conversation with some mortification. She actually looked frightened ! He examined his posture and countenance, and could see how it could be so. Had he really looked as if he might physically threaten a tiny young woman he professed to love? This was unpardonable. How had he gone so far astray? He tried to soften his features, and asked with some shock, but as softly as he could, " Are you afraid of me, Miss Bennet? "
Elizabeth always maintained that her courage rose at every effort to intimidate her, but had to admit that was not the case tonight. She now learned that she had simply never been exposed to the situation that could produce genuine fear until now. Her reply was little more than a whisper, "Yes sir."
Darcy heard this answer with dismay. He did his best to soften his countenance as much as he possibly could, and pulled a chair in front of her and sat down so that he might not loom over her like an Old Testament god. He was desperate to know exactly how he had gone astray, not only with his proposal tonight, but also with his entire pursuit. It had obviously gone disastrously wrong, perhaps right from the beginning. She clearly had no understanding of his character whatsoever if she was physically afraid of him, so he was desperate to know how he came to this position. Was he always so frightening? Was he frightening to other people? Was she intimidated by his wealth and station? Did he go through the world somehow making people fear him? These questions disturbed him beyond measure, but they were not the problem of the day and if there was one thing Fitzwilliam Darcy could do, it was to focus on the problem at hand.
He said as softly as he could, "Eliza…. er, Miss Bennet please accept my deepest and humblest apologies. I know not what I have done to make you so frightened, but please rest assured on my honor that you have nothing to fear from me, now or ever. I would never harm you in any way, nor allow another to do so if it is within my power to prevent it, regardless of what we say to each other tonight."
Elizabeth had to take several moments to calm herself and take in this statement. To see the always-formidable Mr. Darcy whispering so softly and gently was disconcerting, to say the least. She was ashamed to think that she thought so little of his honor that she might be afraid he would actually assault her. She still disliked him intensely, but she had never had any indications that he was violent. What about this man gave her such strong reactions? This was not really just the reactions of a man who had made such an abominable proposal, but something deeper, which would require some leisure to understand at another time. For now, she just needed to get him out of the room.
"Mr. Darcy I apologize for the implicit question of your honor that my fears brought up. You are an intimidating man looming over me like that, and I was briefly frightened, but I have no belief that you are violent. Please accept my apologies and let us speak of it no further. Let us just be done with it. Good evening to you sir."
Darcy knew that if he walked out the door now, he would probably never see Elizabeth Bennet again, and he would certainly never be allowed another private conversation. The idea filled him with enough anguish that he decided to make one more desperate attempt at an answer. He spent his own minute getting his thoughts together, and in the process thought over everything that he had said since entering the room. When he reflected on his words, he found much to be wanting. He was actually quite impressed that Miss Bennet had received such a deplorable address without throwing things, or worse yet taking his hide off with her wit which she was perfectly well capable of. In fact, when he thought carefully he could see that she was prepared in the beginning to let loose the full and probably considerable fury of her voice, but something apparently fear had checked her. He could see clearly she was still extremely angry, trembling and nearly unable to speak, but doing her best to hold it inside and patiently waiting for him to leave. She also looked as if she had very little patience left in reserve, and he must tread very carefully but he could not walk away just yet.
"Miss Bennet your reaction has caused me to review the past minutes in my mind, and I am now filled with extreme shame. I believed you to be awaiting my addresses and proceeded to insult you, your family and your situation in life while at the same time professing love and admiration for you. I cannot think of it without mortification. It is impossible to reconcile my behavior with the man I wish to be."
He reflected us another moment, and added, " Until this very moment, I never knew myself. ", and with that, his countenance shifted into a state of deep internal reflection.
Elizabeth was relieved to see his anger dissipated somewhat, and to at least have him sitting in a less threatening manner. She was still not sanguine about her position and hoped for a speedy and appropriate end to the discussion.
"Mr. Darcy please think no more of it. We both know that when you walk through the door we need never see each other again. I will return to Hertfordshire, and you will never return to Netherfield. Our paths in town will certainly never cross. I will remain away from the parsonage tomorrow morning that you might take your leave of the Collins family, and we may end this unfortunate relationship here and now. I ask you to extend my regards to Colonel Fitzwilliam. I thank you once again for the honor of your address, and please accept my best wishes for your health and happiness."
Darcy could see the wisdom of this suggestion but was not entirely ready to admit defeat just yet. He had not been deceiving himself in his estimation Elizabeth Bennet was surely the most intelligent woman he had ever met, and possibly the most intelligent person altogether. With nothing but her father's library and her curiosity, she had more wit and intelligence than most of the men who graduated Cambridge with him. She was also obviously honorable and not mercenary, as she was turning down the richest man she was ever likely to meet, despite being in a deplorable situation with four sisters and an entailed estate. She was not bending to his will, despite being obviously afraid of him, and he was just beginning to see she feared more from him than violence. She must know that she and her sisters could well end up in genteel poverty because of her rejection of his suit. She remained civil and polite despite many provocations, and being fearfully angry. Yet, despite this, she held true to herself and her principles. He thought he admired her when he entered the parsonage, but now he could see that there was much more to her than had had thought. She obviously found him wanting, but he could not understand why. This could be his only chance to learn the error of his ways that he might correct himself in the future, and he intended to take it.
"Miss Bennet should you insist, I will depart immediately but if you could possibly indulge me I would like to know the reason for your rejection. I honestly thought you to be awaiting my addresses and was quite surprised at being thus denied. An answer is not demanded by honor, nor clearly by your inclination, but I would beg it of your charity that you might allow me to improve myself through your wisdom. Please tell me where I went wrong."
Elizabeth let out a small sigh, and tried to reason through the smallest and least offensive thing that she could say to make the man go away.
"Mr. Darcy until a half hour ago, I was quite certain that we were in perfect understanding as to our mutual and long-standing dislike, going back to the very beginning of our acquaintance. I even went out of my way to inform you where I walked that you might avoid it in future. The bulk of your addresses have appeared to be designed to emphasize your dislike of me, and I had no idea of any regard. I apologize that I cannot return it. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope it will be of short duration. Please again accept my appreciation of the honor of your address, and let us say no more on this matter.''
Darcy thought upon this for a short time but was still unprepared to give up. He was nothing if not persistent, and not to be easily dissuaded from his chosen course. Perhaps obstinacy was actually his most pressing defect.
"Miss Bennet I have a difficult time understanding how you would come to that conclusion. Could you possibly grant me the boon of more specifically telling me how I went wrong, so that I may improve myself in the future? I can see that my character requires improvement, but cannot correct myself without your assistance."
Such a question left Elizabeth stunned, and not sure of what to do. That such a man might admit to fault and a desire to improve himself was strange indeed, and somewhat humbling. To think that such a great man might be capable of self-correction was nearly unimaginable. That he might do so on her behalf was so far beyond anything she could comprehend that she decided it was best to avoid such thoughts. She was however quite well aware of how precarious her position still was and felt that offending such a man was unquestionably not in her best interests. What would be the best way to get out of this untenable situation? Should she answer honestly and risk offending him, or demur once again and hope he would forget his request?
"Mr. Darcy might I just say that I do not like the circles surrounding you, and may we please leave it at that?"
Darcy thought on this for a minute, but could not come up with any understanding except that this was complete and utter nonsense. However, Elizabeth for he had long since thought of her as such would not make such an impertinent statement without having something to back it up. He was certain she had an answer, equally certain he would not like it in the least, and desperately determined to learn what it was.
"Miss Bennet that answer confuses more than helps. Might I beg for a more detailed explanation?"
At this point, Elizabeth was becoming entirely frustrated, and her temper, long held in check only by the barest of threads was let loose like a white-hot flame. She was tired of being afraid, tired of being looked down on by this man, tired of being insulted, tired of dancing to his tune, tired of his undesired presence in this room tired of him entirely. With one last desperate grasp, she tried to slow down what was coming strongly believing it would not be to her benefit.
"Mr. Darcy I am afraid that to elaborate on that statement would cause us both pain, and I believe it is not even possible to do so with even a modicum of civility. I cannot believe you would wish to hear the things I have to say, but if you insist upon it, I will demand of your justice that you listen all the way through without comment or interruption, and give me your word as a gentleman that you will take no retribution if I am entirely uncivil."
"Miss Bennet it pains me to think that I have acquitted myself so poorly that you would feel the need to demand that I behave as a gentleman, but you have my word. It is most important to me that I be allowed to learn from your counsel.
Elizabeth was now angry with both him and with herself for allowing her temper to paint her into a corner. Had she held her tongue for only a few more minutes, Mr. Darcy would be gone, they would never see each other again and she would not now be forced to say that which her honor demanded. However, as he well knew, her sense of justice demanded that she now provide the requested explanation.
"Very well Mr. Darcy, I will expand but I assure you that you will not like it, sir. Might I offer one more opportunity to avoid this unpleasantness?"
"Please proceed Miss Bennet. You need not fear me."
Whether by design or just plain obstinacy, he had forced her to the edge and she let the dogs of her anger loose to do what they may.
"Very well Mr. Darcy. I will explain the meaning of my deliberately obscure reference to circles."
"On the very first night of our acquaintance at the Meryton Assembly, you chose to publicly slight me within my hearing . You told Mr. Bingley 'She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me…' , among other things. You even made light of the fact that I was sitting out a dance, which I did deliberately to allow other women a chance to dance due to a lack of suitable dance partners a problem you were doing nothing to alleviate. To say such a thing in public, within hearing of the object of your derision places your deplorable manners quite on par with my mother at her very worst. She has been telling me loudly and at length for my entire life that I am the least handsome of her daughters, nothing compared to Jane or Lydia. Since my mother is quite adept at reminding me of this on a daily or sometimes hourly basis, I do not really need to be reminded of my lack of beauty by a complete stranger who disdained even being introduced. Couple your rudeness with your apparent desire for me to be married to the richest man of my acquaintance, and your behavior is a nearly perfect fit for my mother's circle."
"During this assembly, and most of your other public gatherings, you walked about the room appearing displeased. You conversed with almost nobody not of your own party, and only appeared to take pleasure in sneering at those around you with open disdain. This comes off as arrogance, conceit and a selfish disdain for the feelings of others. In this manner, you were entirely operating within the circle occupied by Mr. Bingley's pernicious sisters, who by the way seem to be your favorite and most frequent conversation partners."
"During the last fortnight, you have sat in company and listened to your aunt act in the most abominably unseemly and insulting manner to a guest in her house, yet took not the slightest effort to check her behavior or even suggest through word, deed or even expression that she was acting inappropriately. Colonel Fitzwilliam at least had the decency to look abashed, although he did not have the courage to do so in front of your aunt or challenge her nay, I seem to be the only person in all of Kent willing to stand up to her even a little bit. This lackadaisical attitude towards moderating the behavior of the family whom you hold some responsibility, places you most completely in the circle of my indolent father at his worst. You need not look so shocked Mr. Darcy I'm well aware of my family's defects, and my mother is not the only weak link."
"I have been told by my cousin Mr. Collins that you are apparently engaged to your cousin Anne, yet you feel free to make your addresses to me. This leads me to believe that you have not been frank with either myself or with your aunt and cousin Anne. Is she sitting there in that monstrous tomb she lives in patiently waiting year after year for your addresses that will never come? Since you have undoubtedly had many years to disabuse them of the notion, I can only presume that you have failed to do so out of cowardice. This places you fully in line with the spineless Mr. Bingley. He paid particular attention to my sister over many weeks, until her heart was fully engaged, only to leave without so much as a by your leave. He slunk away from Hertfordshire like a cur, in the middle of the night, leaving no word and no communication save a letter from his sister indicating that he was within a matter of weeks paying particular attention to your sister. He left my sister exposed to the vilest gossip and the endless lamentations of my mother. He could not even be inconvenienced to call upon her to explain himself, despite knowing full well that she was a 30-minute carriage right away in London for the past three months and that Jane had visited his sister and waited 3 weeks for a return visit."
"Your cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, this morning took great pleasure in relating to me your daring exploits in separating my sister from a man she was in love with, thus marking Mr. Bingley as cowardly as I previously thought him to be, but also adds the character of a weak will to his ledger. This naturally also adds the crime of officious interference to your plate. Since you feel inclined to manage the affairs of those in your sphere, I would have to say that puts you in the circle of Lady Catherine. Perhaps you could close the circle by having Mr. Bingley marry your cousin Anne instead of your sister."
"During my stay in Netherfield, I noticed that the Bingley sisters were constantly either close to or even beyond incivility, while I was present and I have very little doubt that they were even worse when I was not. Mr. Bingley in his usual way chose not to even attempt to check their behavior despite being the head of his family and perfectly well aware of how rude they were being. You simply followed Mr. Bingley's lead. Thus, instead of being a leader of men as your position should warrant, you appear to be a follower, very much like my younger sister Kitty, and to be honest, following the Bingley sisters has very little to recommend it over following my youngest sister Lydia as Kitty does."
"You appear to be willing to marry without concern for or even knowledge of the affections of your partner, which joins you into the circle of my friend Charlotte. She married the stupidest man in England just to have her own home and avoid becoming a burden on her family. That may well be my fate, but I am not ready to reconcile myself to it just yet, as I am presently unconvinced a loveless marriage, regardless of the material advantages, is an improvement over employment or poverty."
"Half an hour ago you delivered the second-worst proposal I have received in my life. It was entirely concerned with what was right for you and your needs, and what was wrong with me and mine with an implicit assumption that it would be inconceivable for me to reject such an advantageous address. In fact, with the exception of fewer references to Lady Catherine, and your failure to remind me that I 'might never receive another offer of marriage' , your proposal was nearly indistinguishable from the one I received from Mr. Collins. I suspect you will not be very happy to share a circle with that particular gentleman, but that is as it appears. Perhaps the two of you might discuss tactics, since he was ultimately successful on his second bid, and Mrs. Collins does have a sister conveniently at hand."
"And for the last circle, Mr. Darcy, let me point out that you came to this parsonage unannounced, invaded the privacy of an unmarried woman without a chaperone and closed the door behind you. I had not the forethought to demand you leave immediately as I should have, but as I am a guest in this home, the duty of propriety fell to your lot. I pray that no word of this manages to escape this parsonage because that might allow you to have what you want by force of compromise. I must point out that such an appalling lack of propriety quite matches the circle of my youngest sister Lydia, whom I've noticed you observing with particular attention and disapprobation."
"Those Mr. Darcy are the circle you inhabit that I find particularly offensive."