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pride and prejudice

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


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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