Scene Breakdown: Elizabeth Bennet Visits Pemberley in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice 2005

So much of this chapter is probably as perfect as it gets in the entire book — even more so than Darcy’s (final) and more vulnerable proposal that’s easily so favorable. But there is also something so telling about visiting one’s childhood home — the place where they are their truest self, which holds so much power in fiction. It’s literally one of the loveliest tropes because in whatever fiction it’s present in, and perhaps even in some instances of real life, there is something so indescribably vulnerable about the transparency that’s so evidently present. That’s especially the case with Pemberley.

There are quite a few passages throughout the chapter that seamlessly detail Elizabeth’s innermost thoughts and the progression of her feelings. (Literally, too many beautiful instances.) But perhaps the most obvious is when she notes to the good opinions of his servant who’s certainly estimable in Elizabeth’s eyes.

“There was certainty at this moment, in Elizabeth’s mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt at the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people’s happiness were in his guardianship!–how much of pleasure or pain was it in his power to best!–how much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and she stood before the canvas on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression” (198). 

Not only could Elizabeth believe that Mrs. Reynolds might be selling Darcy with too much praise and glee, but she could, as a human continue to put up walls around herself. She could refuse to hear nothing good about him. However, beyond the fact that she is being told of a lot of things, she feels so much of it, too solely by being there. There is something about being in the home of someone that could speak louder than words ever could. If walls could talk, they would share the stories of Pemberley and the Darcys, but since that is an impossible feat, it’s the gut feelings that do the talking instead. So often, especially in the 19th century, portraits told the very stories that words couldn’t as well (Did the person look friendly or like a foe?). Thus to see the warmth in the painted portraits of him, to hear the stories of his childhood and dedication to the estate that come from a place of sincerity, by a woman who truly does know him (and all of them), brings her the very sense of contentment that she (arguably) so often disregarded in his presence prior.

And more than that, a home is so often a reflection of the family and whether the home is warm or cold is a reflection of the relationships within the family members. Pemberley is the very place where Darcy could easily be his best, truest self. It’s the place that’s full of the most love for him, his most fond memories and that’s clearly something that is reflected throughout the chapter. If the Darcys weren’t good people, if the house didn’t hold such fond memories for the entire family, the text would tell readers of a different feeling that is evoked. It wouldn’t be a home, and though there are parts of it that feel and mirror a museum, Pemberley is a character, too.

It’s the character that opens up Elizabeth’s eyes and fills her with the very type of longing and contentment that her own home does–her own family does. And that’s something that could be said about a myriad of places in literature/TV/or film. Places become characters when they are the source of colossal moments like this. In all adaptations, the chapter/scenes at Pemberley are the tipping point because it’s told through the eyes of a character whose words can be analyzed in a plethora of ways. Every shot of Pemberley in films/TV is immediately transportive, it’s felt. And so much of this warmth comes from the very heart and vulnerability that Darcy, Georgiana, and their late father have left behind. It is reflected in the eyes of the servants and how proud they are to work in that home, to live in it, and to know the people who’ve made it this way. 

Elizabeth’s thought process and ramblings in this moment are the very reflections of the life she’s longed for, not a large estate, but a place that feels like home–a man that feels like home. A person who awakens so much more within her and a person who’s a reflection of her, too. It’s knowing that here, in Pemberley, and thus inadvertently with Darcy (especially following his previous proposal), there is not as much prejudice as she previously thought–there is only understanding, longing, and the very overwhelming emotions one should experience when realizing that there’s more to one’s presence than they once believed.

(P.S. this was used as a short assignment for grad school and I just knew I needed to share it on here, too because we’re all such huge fans of Austen. I also specifically chose this shot from the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice to feature as our image because it’s the very shot of Pemberley that somehow, and unsurprisingly always gives me butterflies. That sense of contentment? You just have to look at this shot and you could feel it, too.)

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