Jane Austen's Villains and Question 17
I always wonder when we read Jane Austen how much we're actually missing, even though her writing sets out things so clearly that we think we're following along quite happily. But it seems to me there is a whole undercurrent in Pride and Prejudice about social status that is expressed through Lydia and Wickham, and I'd like to set it up as a question for discussion. For, as Mr Bennet says quite hopelessly, "Wickham's a fool if he takes her with a farthing less than ten thousand pounds." Mr Bennet is obviously distraught by the whole episode. It reveals his complete powerlessness to do anything. He is unfortunately aware that the only way he could have forced Wickham to marry Lydia is by physically fighting with him, and of course Wickham would have won. It is only when the powerful Mr Darcy steps in and pays off Wickham that the marriage can take place.
But here is my question:
How much of Elizabeth's dismay at discovering that it was Mr Darcy who rescued Lydia comes from being put into her place i.e. really fully understanding the inescapable difference in their social levels? In other words, did Elizabeth's pride (despite seeing Pemberley and comparing it to Longbourn) and her insistence on their equality as descendants of gentlemen receive a heavy blow? Did Jane Austen intend her to be humbled at this point?