About the Author
Elizabeth Bennet was born on 7 May 1775, second daughter of a minor country gentleman. Her 1796 marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy, grandson of statesmen Sir Alexander Darcy (1700-1732) and Charles Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl of Ravenshaw (1715-1783), brought her into the middle aristocracy of late Georgian England. Mrs Darcy was admired by contemporaries for her wit, charm, and elegance.
Her early letters have never before been published.
About the Editor
Anna Bridges was born in Concord, Oregon, in 1968. She attended Columbia University in New York, and received her doctorate in Nineteenth-Century British History from the University of Newcastle in 1994. Dr Bridges is currently living in Washington, working on her next book, a biography of Charlotte, Marchioness of Anglesey.
Letter 1: Mrs Darcy to Mrs Bingley
My dearest Jane,
Mr Darcy and I have arrived safely at Pemberley, so you need worry no longer. The journey was easy and comfortable and not one misadventure befriended us. I shall presume that you and my brother Bingley remain in the same good health and spirits of three days ago; of course, if you enjoy a wealth of mishaps you must inform me.
For the sake of my mother’s nerves, I have given her a minute account of my gowns, jewels and carriages. You may appeal to her for details of my present comforts, if you wish them - preferably in the company of Mrs Long or Lady Lucas. I am sure talking of Mrs Darcy will be almost as great a comfort to her as visiting Mrs Bingley!
Pemberley is as lovely as I remembered, though of course it looks very different now. Everything from the house to the stream to the wood is covered in snow, and I have scarcely dared venture out of doors. Besides, making my way around the house is an adventure in itself. I have lost my way four times already. The servants, no doubt, think me mad and pity my husband; he offered to draw me a map.
[. . .] We have already been visited by our nearest neighbours, Mr and Mrs Brooke. They are very good sort of people, not at all elegant but kind and friendly. They paid their respects, and congratulations, and took advantage of the opportunity to remind Mr Darcy of an assembly ball at Marshstoke. He looked as if he would rather walk over hot coals and said we might, perhaps, consider attending. This was so promising that Mrs Brooke shook my hand four times.
The Brookes were followed by the Howards, who are the nephew and nieces of Mr Darcy’s grandmother1 - Lord Carrington and his wife and cousin. The latter is nearly thirty, quite lovely, and, I gather, a sort of Evangelist who has decided to give her life over to religion. She quite evidently thinks me too flighty, too worldly, and too fond of Mr Darcy for my own good. I have determined on giving her every opportunity of enjoying her disapproval.
Lord and Lady Carrington are good natured, sensible and pleasant. I do not imagine any great love-affair between them - she was an American heiress with a great fortune, the Howards all but penniless, and Mr Darcy tells me the whole thing was arranged by their families - yet they seem remarkably well suited and thoroughly content with themselves and each other.
Otherwise, I spend my time looking over the accounts (which I do not understand) and planning meals (if only Mama had ever let us near the kitchen!). The housekeeper is kind and if she feels any disdain at my ignorance, she says nothing of it. Indeed, she seems only too delighted at the opportunity to regale me with tales about the house and the family - I could not get on without her. I can only hope your Nicholls half as capable and good natured.
[. . .]
There, I have delayed my responsibilities as long as I may. I must return to memorising the servants’ names: thankfully the coachman, postilion, groom, and three footmen are all named John. If only the laundry-maids, scullion, and half the housemaids are Mary, I shall know them within the year.
Letter 2: Mrs Darcy to Mrs Collins
My dear Charlotte,
Mr Darcy and I offer our very very best wishes and hopes for you and your child.
Though present circumstances do not allow me to admire Catherine’s many perfections in person, I know your ability with pen and paper. Sketch me an image of her and I shall send more compliments than you can bear.
Letter 3: Mrs Darcy to Mrs Bingley
I give you joy of our new niece2, and hope that if she ever comes to be hanged, it will not be till we are too old to care about it.
I should be honoured, I know, but I cannot believe her name a mark of anything superior to ambition and flattery. Of course it is not the poor child’s fault, and I am glad to be one of her godparents. I only hope I am a wiser one than my father-in-law.
Letter 4: Mrs Darcy to Catherine Bennet
I must ask a very great favour. If my mother can spare you, I should dearly love to have you at Pemberley with me. I have grown to such a size that I cannot easily fend for myself, and I think you would enjoy yourself very much. There are balls and assemblies and we shall see that you have the best of everything. In addition, Miss Darcy is so shy and retiring that I cannot help but think you would be a good influence on her.
If that does not convince you, I feel obliged to mention that a certain Colonel Fitzwilliam is very charming, very agreeable, and on terms of the most constant intimacy with my husband.
Your affectionate sister,
Letter 5: Mrs Darcy to Mrs Bingley
Catherine has settled in quite comfortably with us. I hope you may spare her for a long while.
Already we have seen a good deal of improvement. I do not know whether it springs more from fear of Mr Darcy, or admiration of Miss Darcy’s elegant ways, or Lydia’s absence, but we are all very glad to see it. When she heard herself described as ‘Miss What’s-her-name - Mrs Darcy’s sister, that pretty, sweet tempered girl’ I thought she might faint or cry. She is so impressionable and eager to please that, for all her forwardness and high spirits, I really think she requires nothing more than a little kindness and direction.
In other matters, my husband has been prevailed upon to write to his aunt. I am afraid that I can no longer see her merely as a source of amusement; for all their disagreements and flaws, the Fitzwilliams are a devoted family - pride, as well as affection, allows nothing less! - and there has never been the slightest estrangement between them. I know it seems incredible to us, but so it is. Lady Catherine adored her sister and doted on my husband and though the quarrel is not my fault, nor anyone’s but hers, I am sorry to be cause of it. Certainly I do not wish my child to be born into such a state of affairs.
As for the matter you wrote to me of - Jane, truly, you need not worry. You have been married but seven months and I am sure Mr Bingley could not want for any greater happiness. Never mind his sisters, they are in no position to hint after nephews and nieces.
Letter 6: Mrs Darcy to Mr Bennet
I hardly have words to write to you, yet how could I not? Nothing will ever be the same again. But I shall tell you straightaway that I have a daughter.
You will laugh, but I cannot help but think it wonderful that Elizabeth was born here, at such a time. The harvest was good and Lord Ravenshaw3 got his act passed and Lady Catherine’s last letter was almost civil. So everything, it seems, has turned out well. It shan’t last, such times never do, but to know that my child was born at a place and a time where everything was beautiful and most everyone pleased with everyone else, particularly her parents - it all seems so very right, as if all is as it should be.
I am rather maudlin, forgive me. Miss Darcy is the most doting aunt and I cannot help but think it as if Elizabeth is the best of us all, so she is in danger of becoming dreadfully spoilt. I shall never laugh at those silly mothers again, I have become so much one myself. My husband is much more sensible, except when he thinks nobody can see him. I know you will love her as much as we do, and more rationally too.
Do say you will attend the christening; I know it is a great journey but Mr Darcy and I shall arrange everything. Colonel Fitzwilliam is godfather, and Jane and Lady Auckland4 godmothers, so it will be a nice quiet family affair.
Letter 7: Mrs Darcy to Mrs Gardiner
My dear aunt,
I must beg your pardon for the manner in which I write - I hardly know what to say, or how to say it - yet the matter is simple and so I shall put it simply.
At about this time last month, I began falling ill; - or rather, I already was ill with a cold (a trifling little matter, and all my own fault), and feverish in consequence of it. I supposed that responsible for my other indispositions, since all but one passed at about the time I began to recover. Yet that has continued, or rather, it is not. I have not had any courses for about six weeks now, and I can only think - but Elizabeth is not three months old now, and this began in November.
Aunt, I truly cannot think of anyone else to ask. Should I tell Mr Darcy? Do you know if there is another explanation? How do I - I should be happy, and I am, but what am I to do? Do you remember poor Mrs Goulding? She had twelve children by thirty and died of the last. You must forgive me, I cannot order my thoughts. I shall be myself again, but please send one of your kind sensible letters, full of advice and news.
Letter 8: Mrs Darcy to Mrs Bingley
My dearest sister,
I would wish you every joy, but I can see that your happiness is already greater than my poor hopes. If there is anything Darcy and I may do for you or your Eliza5, you have only to ask. Oh Jane - I do not words to express how delighted I am - we both are, but myself particularly. Last year, my name was chosen out of ambition, to flatter me and placate my husband; but your choice, I know, springs only from the most disinterested affection.
Kitty is already fretting over both of us and our children. I have promised to enquire very regularly after you, so expect a constant influx of letters. As we are soon to descend upon Ecclesford (“for Mrs Darcy’s health,” quoth Lord Ravenshaw), they should be no expence to you. Send me minute accounts of yourself and wish good humour upon my venerable aunt - Lady Catherine is to join us in Cornwall. - Although my son was christened Edward for my uncle -- and Mr Darcy's -- he has names enough to satisfy every Darcy, Fitzwilliam, Carteret and Howard in existence. Lady Catherine, in particular, is so delighted that she feels obliged to instruct us in person.
I have sent Lydia a note of what might be termed congratulations, and some money. No doubt the birth of her son is a fine occasion for a new bonnet. - Forgive me, but I cannot cherish your illusions as to her character or W.’s. Yet it seems cruel that our niece and nephew are living in squalor while Elizabeth and Edward and Eliza will never know what it is to want for anything, and I wear pearls in my hair.
1Lady Georgiana Carteret, formerly Lady Georgiana Darcy, née Lady Georgiana Howard, eldest daughter of the impecunious Duke of Holdernesse.
2Elizabeth "Bess" Wickham, daughter of Lydia Wickham (née Bennet), Mrs Darcy and Mrs Bingley's younger sister.
3Edward Fitzwilliam, fifth Earl of Ravenshaw (1741-1827), Darcy’s maternal uncle.
4Philadelphia Stanley, Lady Auckland, née Philadelphia Carteret, daughter of Mr Darcy's grandmother and thus half-sister to his father. She was on close terms with her Darcy relations and seems to have been friendly to young Mrs Darcy.
5Elizabeth Jane Bingley, eldest child of Mr and Mrs Bingley.