Posted on Sunday, 16 May 2004
"...Mrs. Bennet's invention was again at work to get everybody away from [Mr. Bingley] and her daughter. Elizabeth, who had a letter to write, went into the breakfast room for that purpose soon after tea; for as the others were all going to sit down to cards, she could not be wanted to counteract her mother's schemes."
Pride and Prejudice, Vol III, Ch XIII
Elizabeth made herself comfortable and took out a pen and several sheets of paper. She had composed this letter in her mind long ago. All that remained was to put it on paper.
Sunday, 4 October 1812 Longbourn
Dear Mr. Darcy,
I can remain silent no longer. Please forgive the liberty I am taking in addressing you, but I will have no peace of mind until I have shared with you some thoughts that have burdened me of late.
I would like to begin by thanking you for your unexampled kindness in rescuing my sister. Lydia first revealed the secret and then I could not rest until I knew the particulars from my aunt. Please let me thank you again and again for the trouble and mortification you must have endured as you searched for her. You have saved Lydia from the pain and infamy of a lost reputation that surely would have been hers after being deceived by Mr. Wickham.
You have preserved my whole family from disgrace, but I alone can thank you. They do not know to whom they are indebted for the first of favors, and I shall not reveal what was intended by you to be a secret. Our debt to you can neither be measured nor repaid. A lifetime of gratitude and thanks would not be enough.
That you would extend your efforts to salvage the character of a girl not worth your notice is an indication of the goodness of your character. You are the best of men, Mr. Darcy.
Allow me to apologize for my behavior from the very beginning of our acquaintance. I was prejudiced against you the moment I first met you at the Meryton Assembly. I felt that you were proud and above your company, above being pleased. I am sorry to acknowledge it, but I did hear what I perceived as a slight to my person and rather than overlook what was not intended for my ears, I have nurtured and fed the insignificant wound until it became a monster that controlled every action of my life.
I have since learned that you came to the Assembly grieving for the broken heart suffered by your dear sister. No doubt you were pressured into attending. When we met in Derbyshire, I had the opportunity to witness your behavior towards Miss Darcy, and I know that you shared in the pain she felt. Your impatience with the Assembly is understandable and forgivable. Indeed, the real transgression lies with the others who insisted that you leave the comfort and solitude of Netherfield when you knew you were not prepared to go into society.
I, of course, assumed the worst and did all in my power to blacken your character and laugh at you to my companions. How presumptuous of me to assume I would be worthy of your notice when all your thoughts were rightfully fixed on your sister.
I did not understand you during my stay at Netherfield while Jane was ill. Rather than strive to meet you as a friend, I treated you as an offender. Every time we were together I wanted to not only measure up to you, but to exceed you. I remember the expression on your face when you looked at me. Your eyes seemed to follow me wherever I went. I thought you were finding fault with me. I refused any other idea and in my own pride, lost the opportunity to see the growing tenderness in that glance.
I recall the feeling of triumph I experienced when I saw the disappointed look on your face after I refused to dance a reel with you. A simple reel! I took it as an opportunity to strike out at you in defiance of what I interpreted to be your conceit over everyone and everything attached to me.
I cannot bear to see your image in my mind as I recall my humiliating behavior at the ball at Netherfield. Once again, I received a simple request for a dance, and once again, I used it as opportunity to prove my defiance. Had I looked carefully, I would have noticed the strain around your eyes as you struggled to know your heart in regard to me. Instead, I quizzed you about your character and cast a shadow over it. I purposefully took your words out of context when I accused you of never forgiving. How shocked you must have been when I endeavored to provoke your anger with comments about Mr. Wickham, and that so soon upon the heels of all that your sister had suffered. I am so sorry for that pain and for adding to your injury. It was unforgivable of me.
Mr. Darcy, I understand completely your efforts in behalf of Mr. Bingley in distancing him from my family. Other than my sister, Jane, we are loud, rude and an embarrassment everywhere we go. Jane, on the other hand, is a perfect model of behavior to which any woman may aspire. I believe that our invitations in the neighborhood are given out of obligation due to my father's position in society, rather than any wish to see us.
Despite the injury to my sister, you were right to try to preserve your friend, whom I know you dearly love, from an attachment that would bring him only harm. I apologize for my whole family. Without a doubt Mr. Bingley was attached to my sister, and the efforts you felt you had to undertake to separate them caused him pain. He is a kind, gentle man and did not deserve it.
In my situation now, sir, I view you as the noble defender of your sister and friend, and I am very willing to acknowledge the protection you have provided me. In the letter you gave me following our disagreement, you revealed all that you knew of Mr. Wickham's character and behavior towards your family. I took this as a warning. For a while, I confess, I succumbed to his power of attraction. Your warning has caused me to examine more carefully the intimacies I have made and those I may someday form. It is conceivable to me that I may have been Mr. Wickham's next victim, and that I am not, I owe to you.
How can the events of that evening be considered a disagreement? Mr. Darcy, you offered me your love and companionship. In you, I know I would have found a sympathetic heart in whom it would have been a privilege to confide. Your counsel and advice would have guided my every action.
Your generosity is boundless. In your offer, I knew, was couched the promise to assist my mother and sisters when they were required to vacate Longbourn. You did this all for me, a woman from whom you had never received a tender word, a soft caress, or a warm embrace. I had done nothing to warrant your regard. I had given you no reason to love me.
As I listened to your offer, I was caught up in my own pride and could not bear to hear your awful descriptions of my family, all of which I knew were true. I took my anger out on you. I know that my family and I were the reason for Jane's loss of happiness. What can we ever do to make that up to her?
I lashed out at you, refusing to acknowledge your rightful position as a gentleman and once again accusing you of hurting Mr. Wickham. I proudly spurned your love and in every word I spoke, I hoped to inflict pain on your heart. I told myself I never wanted to see you again.
I believe a man must be in a very fragile situation as he awaits an answer from his beloved after he has offered her his heart and hand. You came to me trying to explain the difficulties you had to overcome in offering yourself to me, and that despite all, you loved me. I am still incredulous. You wanted me - a woman unworthy of your love.
A woman is never obligated to accept a man's proposals, but she must treat with delicacy the exposed feelings of his heart. In my anger and arrogance, I delivered what I hoped would be a crippling blow. I said that you were the last man on earth I could ever be prevailed on to marry and that no form of address would have persuaded me to accept you.
You know not how those words haunt me. I am wracked with guilt at the very thought of them. I accused you of pride and, therefore, assumed I was without it. How wrong I was! All along it has been my own pride that has led me, on each occasion we came together, to strive to hurt or embarrass you. It is a miracle that you would profess to love me. I am not deserving even of your slightest notice. Please forgive me.
The last week of my visit at Hunsford was unendurable. There seemed at every occasion someone speaking of you, usually Lady Catherine or Mr. Collins. They had only good things to say about you and in my heart I agreed with them, but kept silent. Your aunt spoke freely of your intended marriage to Miss De Bourgh and I felt the stirrings of jealousy in my heart.
By the time I reached London on my return trip to Longbourn, I was convinced of how wrong I had been about you, but it was of no consequence. I was certain that I would never see you again.
I believe the most shocking event of my life was the moment that we came upon each other behind the stables at Pemberley. I thought I would never survive the embarrassment I felt at encountering you there. I recalled immediately all the evil I had spoken to you and against your character and wished only to shrink from your presence.
You were so kind to me. I discerned you were nervous. You repeatedly asked the same questions about my family and the length of my absence from Longbourn. Then you suddenly turned back towards the house and in another moment, were gone. I was bewildered. Had I actually seen you or was this some kind of image I had conjured up from the recesses of my mind? I concluded it must be the later, since if it truly had been you, you would not have spoken to me, but would have left immediately, supposing me to be your worst enemy.
I was completely taken unawares when I saw you shortly thereafter on the path as we were walking by the stream. How could I have ever accused you of being prideful? The kindness and consideration you showed to my aunt and uncle will never be forgotten. Your easy manners and the way you fell into conversation with us were a pleasure to behold. I was astounded at your sociability towards my relations and me.
My aunt suggested that you held me in warm regard. How could that be true after all I had said and done? How dare I presume to imagine you could love me? My very presence at Pemberley was an insult to you. Please forgive me for coming. If we had only known you would be there, we would not have applied for a tour of the place. Your housekeeper said you would be gone for an additional day.
I am sorry for being so nervous and agitated as I was when we walked alone back to the house. Your voice is a constant presence in my mind, and you cannot imagine the pleasure it was for me to hear your deep, resounding tones once again. In your voice, I hear gentleness and longing, and my heart wants to burst as it struggles to reach out and be held by you. In every moment that we have been together, I felt safe and protected, as if you project an unseen barrier around me through which no danger can penetrate. There were so many things I wanted to say to you, and a myriad of apologies I wanted to make, but most importantly, I wished to make a confession of returning the love I was sure you no longer felt for me.
I will always be grateful to you for your gentleness and kindness when you came upon me reading Jane's letters announcing Lydia's elopement. I was horrified and all I could think of was finding my aunt and uncle. Thank you for sending for them. I am sorry I could not thank you at the time.
When you heard the news of Lydia, your countenance grew dark as you began to pace the room. My tears were then for myself as I knew I had lost every chance of seeing you. You cannot know how much I longed to remain behind and tell you all the things I could not say before. Instead of being in your presence and being allowed the chance to atone for my misjudgment of you and seek your forgiveness, I was forced to leave in disgrace, never to be worthy of your society ever again. No, my tears were not for Lydia.
I have not seen you since that day in Lambton, but, oh, how I have longed to! There is no comfort in my life but the hope that you will seek me out. I wander for hours up and down the lanes surrounding Longbourn straining to hear and see the first signs of your arrival. I know it is in vain, for you will never come. I long to show you the quiet, private places I have discovered in the surrounding countryside, places to which I often retire and think of you without interruption, places where my cries will not be heard.
I recall a time when I was playing the piano at Rosings and watched you approach me from the drawing room. You were gazing at me with that special look in your eye. Had I watched with a heart not blackened by prejudice, I would have seen not your censure, but your approval and I could have answered your longing to touch me and hold me with a desire equal to your own. You cannot possibly know what I would give to have you look at me in that way again.
Too late to be blessed by the knowledge, I have come to realize how much I love you. All along yours was the good opinion that I sought. I can no longer remember a time when I did not love you. Remembrances of your handsome features, commanding voice and impassioned looks accompany me each day and join me each night when I bask in the warmth of your love. In my dreams, I feel your hands explore the curves of my body and I take delight in the warmth of your kiss. You cannot understand the agony I suffer when night becomes day and the dreams fade to darkness.
Even now, when I do not know where you are, but am certain in the knowledge that I shall never see you again, you seek the best interests of my family. As I write this, Mr. Bingley is in the drawing room with my sister and family and is sitting down to cards. I know that he would not be here if you had not believed my words concerning Jane's attachment to him. I know he would not be here without your encouragement. Once again, all I can do is thank you. They will be very happy together, and though they may never know it, like all of my family, they owe their happiness to you.
This is a long letter. I have written much more than I intended. Please be assured, my love...I can call you that because you are most beloved by me, that my respect, gratitude and love will always belong to you.
I remain forever yours,
Elizabeth carefully folded the letter and placed it deep in her pocket. Having put away her pen and paper, she returned to the drawing room. She was surprised to find that her mother had disbanded the card party and that the room was empty except for Jane and Mr. Bingley who were standing by the fire in deep conversation. They quickly separated when they noticed her, their bright smiles revealing their happiness.
Mr. Bingley bowed and left the room and Jane hurried over to Elizabeth.
"Oh, Lizzy, how shall I endure such happiness? I am to be married to Mr. Bingley. To know that I shall be bringing such joy to all my dear family! Oh, how shall I endure it?"
Jane paused as the sisters embraced.
"Lizzy," continued Jane, "he loves me. He has always loved me. I must go to Mother. I would not for the world wish that she should hear the news from anyone but me."
Jane stepped away from Elizabeth and walked quickly to the door. With her hand on the knob, she turned around and looked at Elizabeth.
"If only I could see you as happy as I am, Lizzy."
Jane opened the door and was gone.
Elizabeth went near the fire and knelt down by the grate. Taking out her letter she turned it over in her hands, and after a moment of silent reflection, kissed it, and then threw it into the flames. With tears in her eyes, she watched the fire devour the letter.