LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
JANE AUSTEN (Pride and Prejudice)
LADY CATHERINE DE BOUBGH, a tall, large woman with strongly
marked features. Her manner is not conciliating, but such as to
impress upon others the inferiority of their rank. She speaks
in an authoritative tone of self-importance.
MB BENNET . . A “middle-aged, quiet, cultured man.
MBS BENNET . . . . . . . His wife.
Also middle-aged. She is a talkative, not very well-bred woman.
JANE . . . …. Their oldest daughter.
ELIZABETH . . . . Their second daughter.
She is a pretty girl of about eighteen or nineteen years of age. There
is a mixture of sweetness and archnesi in her manner that makes
it difficult for her to affront people.
LYDIA ….. Their third daughter.
THE REV. MR COLLINS . . A cousin of the Bennet family.
He is a tall, heavy-looking young man of jive-and-twenty. His air
is grave and stately and his manners very formal.
PERIOD . . . About the end of the eighteenth century.
SCENE. A sitting-room at Longbourn. Windows back
looking on to gardens. Doors R. and L. MRS
BENNET, JANE, and ELIZABETH are discovered seated,
employed in needlework. LYDIA is reading a book,
but with scant interest. After the curtain rises there
3 o LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
is a considerable pause while they all continue their
LYDIA (yawning and throwing down her book). Do you
know, mamma, that my Uncle Phillips talks of turning
away Richard ? and if he does Colonel Forster will hire
JANE. No, I don’t believe it.
LYDIA. But it is true, for my aunt told me so her-
self on Saturday.
MRS BENNET. Hush, hush, my dears. I hear the
gentlemen coming from their wine.
(Enter MR BENNET and MR COLLINS.)
MR COLLINS (crossing to MRS BENNET and taking a
chair by her). A most delightful dinner, my dear Mrs
Bennet, a most delightful dinner. And to which of
my fair young cousins, may I ask, do we owe the
excellence of the cooking ?
MRS BENNET (stiffening at the mere suggestion). To
none of them, Mr Collins. My daughters have nothing
to do with the kitchen. I can assure you we can
well afford to keep a cook.
MR COLLINS (greatly disturbed at his faux pas). Of
course of course. Dear me how could I have suggested
it ? I really must apologise allow me I beg.
MRS BENNET (softening). Pray do not mention it,
sir. I am not at all displeased.
MR COLLINS. I am vastly obliged, Mrs Bennet. I
cannot think how I came to suggest such a thing.
(He dissolves into an extremely uncomfortable silence.
There is another pause. MRS BENNET, JANE, and
ELIZABETH resume their needlework, while LYDIA
LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT 31
again takes up her book and idly turns over the
ME BENNET. I understand, Mr Collins, that you are
very fortunate in your patroness.
MR COLLINS (brightening). Yes, indeed, sir, it is so.
I assure you that Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s con-
sideration and attention to my comfort is truly
MRS BENNET (rather impressed). Indeed, Mr Collins,
that must be very gratifying.
MB COLLINS (with becoming solemnity). You are right,
Mrs Bennet. It is. Never in my whole life have I
witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank such
affability, such condescension as I myself have
experienced from Lady Catherine. I have had the
honour of preaching two discourses before her, and she
has been graciously pleased to approve of both of
them. (With increasing importance.) Already she has
asked me to dine twice at Rosings, and only last
Saturday sent for me to make up her pool of quadrille.
Moreover, my dear Mrs Bennet, she invariably speaks
to me as she would to any other gentleman, and (his
enthusiasm increases still more) she makes not the
slightest objection to my joining in the society of the
(LYDIA yawns audibly.)
MB COLLINS (much offended.) I fear that I importune
my young cousin.
MBS BENNET. Lydia, my child, I am amazed. How
can you so forget yourself ? Proceed, Mr Collins, I
beg. Lady Catherine appears to be a most agreeable
woman. Ah, it is a pity that great ladies in general
are not more like her.
32 LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
MR COLLINS (his enthusiasm returning). Yes, indeed,
madam. Although I believe by some people Lady
Catherine is reckoned proud, I have never found
anything but affability in her. Do you know, she
has even condescended to advise me to marry provided
(he casts his eyes in the direction of ELIZABETH, who
immediately applies herself to her work and avoids his
glance) I choose with discretion. Already she has
visited my parsonage, and has perfectly approved of
the alteration I am making. Indeed (he lowers his
voice and assumes the general bearing of one about to
impart a state secret of vital importance), she has even
vouchsafed to suggest the construction of some shelves
in one of the upstairs apartments. (He pauses to note
the effect of this new example of condescension.)
MR BENNET (who throughout the discourse has worn
an air of patient resignment). Very proper and civil
of her, I am sure. And does she live near you, sir ?
MR COLLINS. My humble abode is only separated
from Rosings Park by a narrow lane.
MRS BENNET. And has she any family ?
MR COLLINS. Only one daughter, madam, who is
the heiress of her very considerable property.
MRS BENNET (dolefully). Ah, then she is better off
than many girls. What sort of a young lady is she ?
MR COLLINS. She is indeed a most charming young
lady. Lady Catherine herself says that in point of
true beauty she is far superior to the handsomest of
her sex, because there is that in her features which
makes her a young lady of distinguished birth.
She is, unfortunately, of a sickly constitution, but
is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive
by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies.
MRS BENNET. And has she been presented ?
LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT 33
MR COLLINS. Alas, no ! Unhappily her indifferent
state of health prevents her being in town, and by
that means, as I told Lady Catherine myself one day,
the British Court is deprived of one of its brightest
jewels. Her ladyship was most pleased (with self
complacence). That is the kind of little thing that
pleases her, and you may imagine I am happy on every
occasion to offer such delicate little compliments which
are always acceptable to ladies.
MB BENNET (aside to ELIZABETH). The man is even
more absurd than I thought. ( Aloud.) It is indeed
happy for you, sir, that you possess the talent of
flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these
pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the
moment, or are the result of previous study ?
MR COLLINS (with befitting modesty). They arise,
sir, chiefly from what is passing at the time, though
sometimes I amuse myself with suggesting and arranging
such elegant little compliments as may be adapted to
ordinary occasions. I always wish to give them as
unstudied an air as possible.
MR BENNET. Indeed indeed most interesting.
MRS BENNET. But to return to Miss de Bourgh.
May I ask, sir, whether she is betrothed ?
MR COLLINS. It is generally understood that she
will become the wife of her cousin, Mr Darcy. ( At
this for the first time ELIZABETH evinces interest and listens
to the ensuing conversation with a smile.} The arrange-
ment, I believe, was entered into when they were both
MRS BENNET. Mr Darcy ! Why that would be Mr
Bingley’s disagreeable friend. You remember him,
Elizabeth, and how you disliked him ?
ELIZABETH (rising}. Oh, yes, mamma, I remember
34 LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
him perfectly but see, the afternoon is so fine that
surely Mr Polling would like a walk in the garden ?
MR COLLINS (also rising). That would be charming,
my dear Miss Elizabeth, quite charming. I shall be
delighted to accompany you.
ELIZABETH (quickly). I pray you will excuse me, sir,
I have a slight headache.
MB COLLINS (distinctly rebuffed). Oh !
ELIZABETH. But Lydia will feel honoured to do so,
I feel sure.
MRS BENNET. Yes, Lydia, my dear, go with your
(LYDIA rises with no very good grace, and goes out
followed by MR COLLINS.)
MR BENNET (with a yawn). I think I’ll go to the
library for a while. That fellow’s conversation has
made me tired.
MRS BENNET (rising and putting away her work).
Very well, Mr Bennet, and I will accompany you.
There are several little matters upon which I wish to
MR BENNET (without much enthusiasm). Very well,
my dear. Come if you must.
(JANE rises and prepares to follow them, but ELIZABETH
ELIZABETH. Stay, dearest Jane. There is something
I must tell you.
JANE. Why, Lizzie, what is it ?
ELIZABETH (hesitatingly}. Jane, I am engaged.
JANE. Engaged. To whom ?
ELIZABETH. To Mr Darcy.
LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT 35
JANE. No, no, you are joking, Lizzy. I cannot
believe it. Engaged to Mr Darcy ? It is impossible.
ELIZABETH (earnestly). Yet, indeed, dear Jane, I am
in earnest. I speak nothing but the truth. He loves
me, and we are engaged.
JANE (doubtingly). But, Lizzy, you know how you
ELIZABETH (with a little laugh}. Oh, that is all for-
got. Perhaps I did not always love him so well as I do
now, but in such cases a good memory is unpardonable.
JANE. Good Heaven ! Can it really be so ? Yet
now I must believe you. (Kisses her.) My dear, dear
Lizzy, I would, oh, I do congratulate you, but are you
certain forgive the question are you quite certain
that you can be happy with him ?
ELIZABETH (returning the kiss). Yes, dearest Jane,
there can be no doubt of that. It is already settled
between us that we are to be the happiest couple in
Enter MRS BENNET. She is evidently in a great flurry.
MRS BENNET. My dears, there is a grand carriage
coming up the drive. To whom can it belong ?
(JANE runs to the window and peeps out.)
JANE. It has stopped at the door, and there is a
lady alighting. Oh, she has come in.
Enter a Servant.
SERVANT. Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Enter LADY CATHERINE. She walks with a very stately
air and has the bearing of one fully cognisant of her
own superiority over the world in general.
36 LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
LADY CATHERINE (to MRS BENNET, who is utterly over-
come with amazement and flattery at receiving so important
a guest). Mrs Bennet, I presume.
MRS BENNET. Yes, my lady, and I
LADY CATHERINE. I hope you are well. These, I
suppose (indicating JANE and ELIZABETH), are your
MRS BENNET. Yes, madam. This is my eldest
daughter, Jane, and this is my second, Elizabeth.
LADY CATHERINE. Indeed. Then this is the young
lady I have come to see.
(MRS BENNET betrays a lively interest.)
ELIZABETH (composedly). I am honoured, I am sure.
LADY CATHERINE (to MRS BENNET). You have a
very small park here.
MRS BENNET (deprecatingly) . It is nothing in com-
parison, doubtless, with Rosings, my lady, but I assure
you, it is much larger than Sir William Lucas’s.
LADY CATHERINE. Indeed ! (She looks about her
with a supercilious air.) This must be a most incon-
venient sitting-room for the evening in summer. The
windows are full west.
MRS BENNET. Oh, I can assure your ladyship that
I never sit here in the evening.
LADY CATHERINE (turning). Miss Bennet, I shall be
obliged if you will favour me with a few moments’
conversation. I observed just now that there seemed
to be a prettyish kind of wilderness on one side of
your lawn. I shall be glad to take a turn in it, if
you will favour me with your company.
MRS BENNET. Oh, I would not hear of it, my lady.
Pray allow me to withdraw ?
(LADY CATHERINE bows stiffly.)
LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT 37
MBS BENNET. Jane, my dear. (MRS BENNET crosses
to door followed by JANE.)
MRS BENNET (turning to LADY CATHEKINE and
curtsying.) My Lady!
LADY CATHERINE (stiffly inclining her head). Madam !
Exeunt MRS BENNET and JANE.
ELIZABETH. Will your ladyship be seated ?
LADY CATHERINE. Thank you. (She sits dovm.)
You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand
the reason of my visit hither. Your own heart, your
own conscience, must tell you why I came.
ELIZABETH. Indeed, you are mistaken, madam. I
am not at all able to account for the honour of seeing
LADY CATHERINE (angrily). Miss Bennet, you ought
to know that I am not to be trifled with. But however
insincere you may be, you shall not find me so. A
report of a most alarming nature reached me two days
ago. I was told that you, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would,
in all likelihood, be shortly united to my nephew, my
own nephew, Mr Darcy. Though I know it must be
a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him
so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I
instantly resolved on setting off for this place that
I make my sentiments known to you.
ELIZABETH. If you believed it impossible to be true
I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What
could your ladyship propose by it ?
LADY CATHERINE. At once to insist upon having
such a report universally contradicted.
ELIZABETH (coolly). Your coming to Longbourn to
see me will be rather a confirmation of it if indeed
such a report is in existence.
38 LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
LADY CATHERINE (indignantly). If ! Do you pretend
to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously
circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that
such a report is spread abroad ?
EUZABETH. I never heard that it was.
LADY CATHERINE. And can you likewise declare
there is no foundation for it ?
EUZABETH. I do not pretend to possess equal frank-
ness with your ladyship. You may ask questions
which / shall not choose to answer.
LADY CATHERINE (angrily). This is not to be borne.
Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has
my nephew, made you an offer of marriage ?
ELIZABETH. Your ladyship has declared it to be
LADY CATHERINE. It ought to be so. It must be so
while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts
and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have
made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his
family. You may have drawn him in.
ELIZABETH. If I have then I shall be the last person
in the world to confess it.
LADY CATHERINE. Miss Bennet, do you know who
I am ? I have not been accustomed to such language
as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the
world and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns.
ELIZABETH. But you are not entitled to know mine,
nor will such behaviour as this ever induce me to be
LADY CATHERINE. Let me be rightly understood.
This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire,
can never take place no, never. Mr Darcy is engaged
to my daughter. Now what have you to say ?
ELIZABETH (quite unmoved). Only this that if it is
LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT 39
so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make the
offer to me.
LADY CATHERINE (after a moment’s hesitation). The
engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From
their infancy they have been intended for each other.
It was the favourite wish of his mother and of hers.
While in their cradles we planned the union, and now, at
the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be
accomplished, in their marriage, to be prevented by a
young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the
world, and wholly unallied to the family ! Do you pay
no regard to the wishes of his friends to his tacit
engagement with Miss de Bourgh ? Are you lost to
every feeling of propriety and delicacy ? Have you not
heard me say that from his earliest hours he was
destined for his cousin ?
ELIZABETH. Yes, and I have heard it before. But
what is that to me ? If there is no other objection to
my marrying your nephew, I certainly shall not be kept
from it by knowing that his mother and his aunt wished
him to marry Miss de Bourgh. You both did as much
as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion
depended on others. If Mr Darcy is neither by honour
nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is he not to
make another choice ? And if I am that choice, why
may I not accept him ?
LADY CATHERINE. Because honour, decorum,
prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet,
interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his
family or friends if you wilfully act against the
inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted,
and despised by every one connected with him. Your
alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never be
mentioned by any of us.
40 LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
ELIZABETH (still perfectly unmoved). These are heavy
misfortunes, but the wife of Mr Darcy must have
extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached
to the situation, that she could, upon the whole, have
no cause to repine.
LADY CATHERINE. Obstinate, headstrong girl! I
am ashamed of you ! Understand, Miss Bennet, that I
came here with the determined resolution of carrying
out my purpose, nor will I be dissuaded from it. I
have not been used to submit to any person’s
whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking
ELIZABETH. That will make your ladyship’s situa-
tion at present more pitiable, but it will have no
effect on me.
LADY CATHERINE. I will not be interrupted ! Here
me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed
for each other. They are descended on the maternal
side from the same noble line, and on their father’s
from respectable, honourable, and ancient, though
untitled families. Their fortune on both sides is
splendid. What is to divide them ? The upstart pre-
tensions of a young woman without family, connections,
or fortune! Is this to be endured? It must not, it
shall not be ! If you were sensible of your own good,
you would not wish to quit that sphere in which you
have been brought up.
ELIZABETH. In marrying your nephew I should not
consider myself quitting that sphere. He is a gentle-
man and I am a gentleman’s daughter : so far, we are
LADY CATHERINE. Your father may be a gentleman.
But what was your mother ? Who are your uncles and
aunts ? Do you imagine me ignorant of their position ?
LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT 41
ELIZABETH. If your nephew does not object to them,
they can be nothing to you.
(LADY CATHERINE makes an exclamation of anger.)
LADY CATHERINE (after a moment’s deliberation). Will
you promise me never to enter into an engagement
with him ?
ELIZABETH (decisively). I will make no promise of
LADY CATHERINE. Miss Bennet, I am shocked and
astonished. I expected to find a reasonable young
woman. But do not deceive yourself that I shall ever
recede. I shall not go away till you have given me
the assurance I require.
ELIZABETH. And I certainly never shall give it.
I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly
unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr Darcy to marry
your daughter, but would my giving you the wished-
for promise make their marriage at all more probable ?
Supposing him to be attached to me (LADY CATHERINE
winces) would my refusing to accept his hand make
him wish to bestow it on his cousin ? Allow me to
say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which
you have supported this extraordinary application have
been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. I
must beg to be importuned no further. (She rises.)
LADY CATHERINE. Not so hasty, if you please I
have by no means done yet.
ELIZABETH. I do not think you can have anything
more to say. You have insulted me in every possible
method. I must beg leave to wish your ladyship good-
day. (She curtsies.)
LADY CATHERINE (rising highly incensed). Unfeeling,
selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection
42 LADY CATHERINE’S VISIT
with you must disgrace iny nephew in the eyes of
ELIZABETH. Lady Catherine, I have nothing further
at all to say.
LADY CATHERINE. Very well. But do not imagine,
Miss Bennet, that your ambitions will ever be gratified.
I shall now know how to act. (She stalks majestically
to the door and then turns to ELIZABETH again.) I take
no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments
to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I
am seriously displeased.
ELIZABETH (with a little laugh) . Poor Lady Catherine !
(The dock on the mantleshelf chimes the half -hour.)
ELIZABETH (taking up her hat from the window seat).
Now to meet my dear Darcy.
Exit through windows at back.