Who betrays Elizabeth Bennet?

Whoever betrays Elisabeth, it is not Charlotte Lucas!

It has been suggested [e.g. John Sutherland] that Charlotte informed Lady Catherine as an act of revenge to pay back Elisabeth for her disbelief that she could accept Mr Collins's proposal of marriage. That, however, hardly fits with Charlotte's remarks and actions. She anticipates Elisabeth's likely reaction to hearing the news:
The least agreeable circumstance in the business was the surprise it must occasion to Elizabeth Bennet, whose friendship she valued beyond that of any other person. Elizabeth would wonder, and probably would blame her; and though her resolution was not to be shaken, her feelings must be hurt by such a disapprobation.
When Elisabeth is told, it follows much as Charlotte had anticipated:
"Engaged to Mr Collins! My dear Charlotte — impossible!"

The steady countenance which Miss Lucas had command­ed in telling her story, gave way to a momentary confus­ion here on receiving so direct a reproach; though, as it was no more than she expected, she soon regained her composure.
Despite Elisabeth's struggle to come to terms with Charlotte's surprise announcement, Charlotte is not particularly disturbed as 'it was no more than she expected'. And there is nothing to suggest Charlotte became angry or revengeful even for a single moment.

Charlotte is Elisabeth's best friend, and vice versa. Because Mr Collins is Elizabeth's cousin, his marriage causes Charlotte and Elizabeth to become cousins. Just before her marriage, Charlotte invites Elizabeth to come to stay in her new home as a welcome guest:
"I am not likely to leave Kent for some time. Promise me, therefore, to come to Hunsford."

Elizabeth could not refuse, though she foresaw little pleasure in the visit.

March was to take Elizabeth to Hunsford. She had not at first thought very seriously of going thither; but Charlotte, she soon found, was depending on the plan ...
Elisabeth stays with Charlotte for six weeks. Their friendship continues as sound and solid as ever. While Elizabeth is still at the Collinses, Mr Darcy makes a surprise visit and finds her alone. When Charlotte returns Mr Darcy leaves. Charlotte tells Elizabeth that she believes Darcy's actions indicate he loves her, and that she, Charlotte, wishes it so. Thoughts of Darcy loving her had never crossed Elizabeth's mind and would be abhorrent to her anyway. Why, oh why, does Charlotte raise the issue of Darcy's love, and therefore the possibility of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage, if her revengeful intention and desire is to stop their marriage? It doesn't make sense, so clearly it is not Charlotte who betrays Elizabeth.
A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensued, on either side calm and concise — and soon put an end to by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from their walk. The tête-à-tête surprised them. Mr Darcy related the mistake which had occasioned his intruding on Miss Bennet, and after sitting a few minutes longer without saying much to any body, went away.

"What can be the meaning of this!" said Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. "My dear Eliza, he must be in love with you, or he would never have called on us in this familiar way."

But when Elizabeth told of his silence, it did not seem very likely, even to Charlotte's wishes; ...
Mrs. Collins knew not what to make of him [Darcy]. Colonel Fitzwilliam's occasionally laughing at his stupidity, proved that he was generally different, which her own knowledge of him could not have told her; and as she would liked to have believed this change the effect of love, and the object of that love her friend Eliza, she set herself seriously to work to find it out.
She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea.
But Charlotte's perception proved to be correct. A few days later, Darcy tells Elizabeth he loves her and proposes to her but she rejects him. Elizabeth doesn't tell Charlotte about Darcy's declaration of love nor his proposal. Had she done so, Charlotte would surely have said "My dear Eliza, you will recall that I told you several times that he must be in love with you." She would then have told Elizabeth she was crazy for not accepting him.

But assume, for a moment, that Charlotte had been the informant:

A day after the Bingley/Jane engagement became known in Meryton, Charlotte would have received a letter from Lucas Lodge telling her about it. If this event caused her to invent the possibility of Darcy marrying Elizabeth what could she do, as a revengeful act, to stop it? Only one thing: tell Lady Catherine and hope she might stop it. But if Charlotte were the informant why did she wait several days before informing Lady Catherine? One morning, about a week after Bingley's engagement with Jane, Lady Catherine said to Elizabeth:
"A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr Darcy."
Mr Collins and Lady Catherine discussed the possibility of the marriage. Mr Collins then wrote a congratulatory letter to Mr Bennet, though, apparently, unaware of Lady Catherine's journey to Meryton to see Elizabeth, as he never mentions it.

A Darcy/Elizabeth marriage would cause Mr Collins to become related to both Darcy and Lady Catherine! Undoubtedly, he would believe a miracle was occurring! If Charlotte had been trying to stop the marriage, Mr Collins would hardly be writing a congratulatory letter but likely be thinking how he could murder her.

How embarrassing for Charlotte if ever Lady Catherine told the world that she was the informant and had been her ally in trying to stop the marriage. Given Lady Catherine's outspoken nature she, very likely, would reveal her informant's name and heap praise upon her. Charlotte would never take such a risk even if she did want to hurt Elizabeth.

Charlotte, who is pregnant, would realise the forthcoming marriage of Jane and Bingley and a possible marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy will produce a tribe of kids and that her kids will be growing up with them. It is beyond belief to think that Charlotte, the supreme pragmatist, would wish to stop such a desirable and happy future.

Charlotte's friendship with Elizabeth means that she will be able to escape from Rosings, again and again, and go to Pemberley as the most welcome member of the family.

That Charlotte was not the informant is supported by none other than Jane Austin herself! Near the very end of the story [2nd last para­graph, Chapter 60], Charlotte actually does escape from Rosings and we are told of her feelings regarding Elisabeth's engagement to Darcy.

Before any answer could arrive from Mr Collins, or any congratulations to Elizabeth from his wife, the Longbourn family heard that the Collinses were come themselves to Lucas Lodge. The reason of this sudden removal was soon evident. Lady Catherine had been rendered so exceedingly angry by the contents of her nephew's letter, that Charlotte, really rejoicing in the match, was anxious to get away till the storm was blown over. At such a moment, the arrival of her friend was a sincere pleasure to Elizabeth, ...
At the very end of the story [4th last para­graph, Chapter 61], a strong hint is given to the person who would have wished to nip-in-the-bud any possibility of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage:
Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy's marriage;
Caroline wanted Darcy for herself and was jealous of Elizabeth.

Throughout the story people speak the truth but sometimes lie. Re­gardless of what anyone says, we are always told their inner thoughts and thus learn the character of that person. If Charlotte were being duplicitous, in posing as Elizabeth's best friend yet secretly detesting her and trying to stop her marriage, undoubtedly, Jane Austin would have told us.

So, who did betray Elizabeth Bennet?

Louisa Hurst betrayed Elizabeth Bennet

but only at the instigation and on behalf of her sister, Caroline.

Caroline's jealousy

Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her [Elizabeth]. Miss Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; ...

Convinced as Elizabeth now was that Miss Bingley's dislike of her had originated in jealousy, ...
Caroline wanted to marry Darcy but was jealous of Elizabeth in whom Darcy expressed an interest. Her jealousy induces her to denigrate Elizabeth and try to get Darcy to turn against her, however, what she says repeatedly produces the opposite effect of what she desires.

Caroline's thoughts on marriage

Elizabeth tells Jane the way Caroline's mind works:
"Miss Bingley is the more anxious to get Miss Darcy for her brother, from the notion that when there has been one intermarriage, she may have less trouble in achieving a second; in which there is certainly some ingenuity, and I dare say it would succeed, if Miss de Bourgh were out of the way."
So, it follows that when Bingley became engaged to Jane, presumably Caroline would instantly see the possibility of that intermarriage achieving a second, namely a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage.

Bingley/Jane engagement

The first person Bingley told of his engagement to Jane, was his sister, Caroline. He told her of Darcy's changed opinion of Jane and his approval of the match. Caroline would have disapproved but not have disclosed her feelings. She would realise that her alliance with Darcy that had so successfully forestalled Bingley from seeing Jane was well and truly over.

Caroline's plan to reverse a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage

Caroline would realise that Darcy's changed mood shattered her prospect of marrying him and that he very likely would wish to marry her rival, Elizabeth. She would need to find some way to reverse Darcy's thinking. What could she do about it?
  • Caroline has an ally in her sister, Louisa Hurst, who thinks as she thinks.
  • They want Bingley to break off with Jane and so not marry below their class.
  • A potential ally is Lady Catherine who would not wish Darcy to marry below his class.
  • They want Bingley to marry Darcy's sister, Georgiana.
  • They want Darcy to marry Caroline.
  • Lady Catherine expects Darcy to marry her daughter, Anne.
  • They have to think of a way to handle that problem.
  • Under no circumstances ought Caroline meet Lady Catherine for she may think Caroline is really only seeking to end a possible Darcy/Elizabeth marriage so that she can marry Darcy, and in so doing preclude Darcy from marrying Anne, as had already been planned years before.
  • The obvious person to approach Lady Catherine is Louisa. She can tell Lady Catherine she is mortified by her brother's engagement below his class, but with her nephew Darcy's approval. She can warn Lady Catherine that Darcy is also in danger of marrying into the same undesirable family.
  • Because Louisa is a married woman, Lady Catherine would have nothing to fear from her for the Darcy/Anne marriage. Lady Catherine might suggest Louisa's sister Caroline may wish to marry Darcy. Louisa could dismiss that by saying Caroline is aware of, and agrees with, Darcy's pre-commitment to Anne and besides she has several admirers who seek her hand.

Lady Catherine's visit to Elisabeth

One morning, about a week after Bingley's engagement with Jane, Lady Catherine de Bourgh went to Longbourn to see Elizabeth.
Lady Catherine: "A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr Darcy. Has it not been industriously circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?"

Elizabeth: "I never heard that it was."
Lady Catherine is wrong. No such report exists. 'industriously circulated by yourselves' implies a rumour of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage had been spread far and wide by the Bennet family. None of the Bennets can stand Darcy and the two closest to Elizabeth, her father and Jane, know how intensely she dislikes him. Clearly, the Bennets never created a rumour and so no report was spread abroad. Evidently, someone invented the Darcy/Elizabeth marriage idea and, five days after the Bingley/Jane engagement, put it privately to Lady Catherine in the hope she might intervene to stop them marrying.

The aftermath of Lady Catherine's visit

The discomposure of spirits which this extraordinary visit threw Elizabeth into, could not be easily overcome; nor could she, for many hours, learn to think of it less than incessantly. Lady Catherine, it appeared, had actually taken the trouble of this journey from Rosings, for the sole purpose of breaking off her supposed engagement with Mr Darcy. It was a rational scheme, to be sure! but from what the report of their engagement could originate, Elizabeth was at a loss to imagine; till she recollected that his being the intimate friend of Bingley, and her being the sister of Jane, was enough, at a time when the expect­ation of one wedding made everybody eager for another, to supply the idea. She had not herself forgotten to feel that the marriage of her sister must bring them more frequently together. And her neighbours at Lucas Lodge, therefore (for through their communication with the Collinses, the report, she concluded, had reached Lady Catherine), ...
Elizabeth for once was really, really dumb! Why did she think the report came from Lucas Lodge? She knows if they dreamed up a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage they would tell everyone, yet [as already pointed out] no rumour exists. Why didn't she think of Caroline Bingley as the originator of the report? It ought to have been obvious to her that Caroline was the likely source, for the simple reason she had already explained to Jane how Caroline's mind worked.

Elizabeth appears to have completely forgotten her perceptive observ­ation. Despite that, she still ought to have considered each of the likely candidates. There aren't very many to think about. Elizabeth might ask herself, "I wonder who would go privately to Lady Catherine with a fictional story of a marriage between Darcy and me? What would be the reason for putting this to her? Presumably, so that she would stop any possibility of Darcy and me ever marrying. But who would be so desperate to go to all that trouble? Perhaps someone who wants Darcy for herself, and is jealous of me. I haven't the foggiest notion who that might be. Then again, maybe it's just something the Lucases dreamed up." This doesn't say much for Elizabeth's capacity to think when her lackadaisical father, who neither knows, nor cares, nor thinks about family matters also comes up with the Lucases.

Mr Collins's letter

The next morning, Mr Bennet received a letter in the post. Elizabeth thinks it might be from Lady Catherine. She knows Lady Catherine could have returned home to Rosings [fifty miles of good road and little more than half a day's journey], written a letter, posted it, and for it to arrive at Longbourn next morning. Elizabeth would have known the Hunsford postal service timetable because she wrote home frequently during the six weeks she stayed with the Collinses who live within walking distance of Rosings. In fact, the letter is not from Lady Catherine but from Mr Collins in which he tells of talking to Lady Catherine the previous night. He posted the letter and it arrived at Longbourn the following morning.
Mr Bennet says to Elizabeth,"I have received a letter this morning ... from Mr Collins. He begins with congrat­u­la­tions on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter, of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases.

What relates to yourself, is as follows: 'Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mrs Collins and myself on this happy event [Jane's engagement to Bingley], let me now add a short hint on the subject of another; of which we have been advertised by the same authority. Your daughter Elizabeth, it is presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet, after her elder sister has resigned it, and the chosen partner of her fate may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land.'

Can you possibly guess, Lizzy, who is meant by this? 'This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire, — splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. — We have reason to imagine that his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye.'
Mr Darcy, you see, is the man! Could he, or the Lucases, have pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related?"

More from Mr Collins's letter: 'After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, that she and her noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.'
Note Mr Collins's terminology: 'of which we have been advertised by the same authority.' Who is this authority? Mr Collins doesn't know and so cannot name the person in his letter. The authority who has put forward the possibility of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage to Lady Catherine would appear to be from a similar stratum of society and thus able to influence her. Lady Catherine divulges what she has been told but not its source. The word 'advertised' suggests the spreading far and wide of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage rumour. It seems that Lady Catherine's informant claimed the existence of a rumour simply as a way of provoking her into action, which it does. Later, when Lady Catherine meets Elizabeth she accuses her of spreading the rumour, but no such rumour exists, proof that the rumour idea was an invention of Lady Catherine's authorative informant.

Who could be the authority?

People tell of events that have occurred and when they occurred. If these events are treated retrospectively and listed chronologically the sequence may lead to working out who is Lady Catherine's informant. First, then, a list of things that were said where time is mentioned:
  • Lady Catherine goes to Longbourn to confront Elizabeth one morning [Monday], about a week after Bingley's engagement with Jane.

  • Mrs Bennet: "May I take the liberty of asking your ladyship whether you left Mr. and Mrs. Collins well."

    Lady Catherine: "Yes, very well. I saw them the night before last." i.e. Saturday night.

  • Lady Catherine tells Elizabeth that two days ago, i.e. Saturday, she had been informed of her likely marriage to Darcy.

  • Meanwhile, Mr Collins writes a letter to Mr Bennet 'After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion.'

Points relevant to the time factors

On Saturday, Lady Catherine is informed by an unnamed authority of a likely Darcy/Elizabeth marriage. Who is the mystery person?

That night, the Collinses visit Lady Catherine. Though they know of the Bingley/Jane engagement (it is public knowledge) it is unlikely they would mention it to Lady Catherine, who knows neither party and would have no interest in them even if she did.

It seems very unlikely Lady Catherine said anything about a possible Darcy/Elizabeth marriage, otherwise Mr Collins would have immediately written his congratulatory letter to Mr Bennet on Sunday, If he had written it then and posted it, it would have been in Mr Bennet's hand first thing Monday morning, several hours before Lady Catherine arrived. But as that never happened, it appears conclusive, that on Saturday night, the Collinses knew nothing of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage, nor were told anything about it.

Clearly, Lady Catherine's informant was not Charlotte, otherwise Mr Collins would have already written his letter and posted it, with a likelihood of it being delivered Sunday, or Monday at the latest. But no letter arrives on either of those days which pretty much proves Charlotte said nothing and knew nothing of a possible Darcy/Elizabeth marriage. Also, if Charlotte had been the informant, Mr Collins would have named her, not referred to her as an authority. The 'authority' told Lady Catherine the Darcy/Elizabeth marriage had been industriously circulated. That claim was an invention of the informant and so easily proven false that Charlotte would never be so stupid to say it, hence, Charlotte is definitely not the informant.

Lady Catherine's discussion with Mr Collins on Sunday night, regarding a possible Darcy/Elizabeth marriage, would seem to have triggered his desire to write to Mr Bennet and drop a hint or two about what he had just learned. He would write his 'hot news' item on Monday and send it off as soon as possible. Mr Bennet received it Tuesday morning.

Mr Collins's letter does not name Lady Catherine's informant, presumably because she never told him who it was. Why would she? If the unnamed authority was of the same class as Lady Catherine's stratum of society it would not be a name to divulge to the low class, Mr Collins, regardless of how often Lady Catherine might choose to discuss things with him.

Nor does Mr Collins mention Lady Catherine's intended trip to see Elizabeth, simply because he never knew anything about it. Although they had talked together Sunday night, she did not mention of her intention to go to Longbourn first thing in the morning. She has her own privacy.

Lady Catherine meets Darcy

On her return journey to Rosings, Lady Catherine passed through London where she met Darcy and expressed her disapproval of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage. Darcy's response was to race off to Netherfield, then to Longbourn to propose to Elizabeth.

The Outcome

She [Elizabeth] soon learnt that they were indebted for their present good understanding to the efforts of his aunt, who did call on him in her return through London, and there relate her journey to Longbourn, its motive, and the substance of her conversation with Elizabeth; dwelling emphatically on every expression of the latter which, in her ladyship's apprehension, peculiarly denoted her per­verseness and assurance; in the belief that such a relation must assist her endeavours to obtain that promise from her nephew which she had refused to give. But, unluckily for her ladyship, its effect had been exactly contrariwise.
"Lady Catherine's unjustifiable endeavours to separate us were the means of removing all my doubts. I am not indebted for my present happiness to your eager desire of expressing your gratitude. I was not in a humour to wait for any opening of yours. My aunt's intelligence had given me hope, and I was determined at once to know every thing."

"Lady Catherine has been of infinite use, which ought to make her happy, for she loves to be of use."
Only after receiving Darcy's letter saying he had become engaged to Elisabeth did Lady Catherine express her violent disapproval but by then it was too late.

Though Darcy and Elizabeth saw Lady Catherine as something of a fairy godmother, the real fairy godmother was Caroline for it was she who, though wishing to keep them separated, actually caused them to come together. Caroline's endeavours to turn Darcy against Elizabeth repeatedly produced the opposite effect of what she desired but this final reversal proved to be her biggest failure and Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy's marriage.

A Timeline

To get some idea of the passage of these events needs a timeline. The range of day names chosen is arbitrary but they fit the time intervals.
Sat: Darcy goes to London [but to return in 10 days time].
Mon:Bingley/Jane engagement.
Tue: The situation of affairs in the Longbourn family could not be long a secret. Mrs Bennet was privileged to whisper it to Mrs Phillips, and she ventured, without any permission, to do the same by all her neighbours in Meryton.
Wed:Charlotte Collins learns of the Bingley/Jane engagement in a letter from Lucas Lodge.
Sat: (1) An unnamed authority tells Lady Catherine of a possible Darcy/Elizabeth marriage.
(2) That night, the Collinses visit Lady Catherine.
Sun: (1) That night, Lady Catherine discussed the possibility of a Darcy/Elizabeth marriage with Mr Collins.
(2) Lady Catherine decides to visit Elizabeth BUT does not tell Mr Collins of her plan.
Mon: (1a) Lady Catherine goes to Longbourn to confront Elizabeth - about a week after the Bingley/Jane announcement.
(1b) She tells Elizabeth that two days before, i.e. Saturday, she had been informed of her likely marriage with Darcy.
(1c) On her return journey, Lady Catherine stops off in London to see Darcy, to tell him of the Darcy/Elizabeth marriage idea, to condemn it, and to criticise Elizabeth.
(2) Mr Collins writes to Mr Bennet.
Tue: (1) Mr Bennet receives Mr Collins's letter.
(2) Darcy returns to Netherfield.
Sat: Darcy visits Longbourn.
Sun: Darcy/Elizabeth engagement.
Mon:Mr & Mrs Bennet are told of the engagement.
Tue: Darcy writes to Lady Catherine. Elizabeth writes to her aunt. Mr Bennet replies to Mr Collins.
Wed:Lady Catherine receives Darcy's letter and is furiously angry – tells the Collinses about it.
Thu: The Collinses escape to Lucas Lodge.

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