One of the more intriguing mysteries of Pride & Prejudice relates to the question of who “betrayed” Elizabeth Bennet to Lady Catherine De Burgh. Various people have tried their hand at unraveling this mystery, and the sorts of solutions we posit to those mysteries tell us more about ourselves than about the books we are writing about. One book I recently read, for example, used this titular mystery as a way of positing that Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s plain and practical and sensible older friend and neighbor, was embittered by marrying the officiously foolish Mr. Collins and took the opportunity to blurt out their supposed attachment as a means of ruining her friend. I do not consider this to be likely, not least because Charlotte Lucas had no reason to be discontented about her state as a married woman who had a better destiny than being a poor spinster. If Mr. Collins was a foolish man, and he was, he was not evidently abusive to her, and she could have done a lot worse. Moreover, she had in her future the likely position of being the mistress of Longbourne, which was nothing to sniff at.
Other commentators, like Dr. Octavia Cox, and indeed the text of Pride & Prejudice itself, suggests that Lady Catherine found out about the supposed connection through some gossipy Lucas, and if it was not Charlotte Lucas who betrayed her, it was Mr. Collins himself, who may have heard about it from his correspondence with Sir William Lucas. Both of them would have had different, and not entirely blameworthy motives, for speculating about the matter. For Mr. Collins, having gossip to spread about Darcy would have been a way of confirming to Lady Catherine his usefulness as a means of keeping her informed about her relative and their dealings. Similarly, Sir William Lucas would have been able flattered about his role in bringing together the connection between these two worthy and complex characters.
Indeed, Sir William Lucas himself appears, for all of his follies, to be the gracious person who bestows a great deal of authorial providence on Elizabeth and Darcy, and if he feels he deserves some credit for bringing the two of them together, it is because he does deserve some credit. There are three main ways in Pride & Prejudice that he serves to bring the two of them together, and each of them is critical in moving the romantic plot of the novel forward. First, it is in his own parlor, while he is trying to convince Darcy of the value of dancing that he brings Elizabeth to Darcy’s attention as a worthwhile dancing partner. Elizabeth was previously the recipient of some not very gracious discussions about not being handsome enough to tempt Darcy and is not perceptive enough to recognize that Darcy’s feelings have already started to change about her, but his bringing the two of them in conversation provides a way for her wit to impress him and for him to think of her as a desirable partner for more than dancing. This would obviously have a major effect on the plot as a whole.
Sir William Lucas’ second intervention is no less consequential. It is, after all, he who brings Elizabeth (along with his second daughter Maria) to Rosings Park to spend a few weeks with Charlotte Lucas and thus with the Rosings Park party, including Darcy and his cousin. Those few weeks spent at Rosings Park are of immense importance to the novel as a whole. They bring about Darcy’s disastrous first proposal of marriage to Elizabeth, which forms the decisive romantic crisis at the midpoint of the novel, and they also bring about the communication in the form of this letter that allow Elizabeth to better understand both him and Wickham and to spark her critical self-examination of her own pride and prejudice that allow her to be a more worthy romantic heroine and that allow her to recognize Darcy as a worthy partner as well. It is worth considering just how important those face to face interactions are. There are only four face-to-face periods that Darcy and Elizabeth have between meeting and the successful proposal of marriage, and Sir William Lucas plays a role in three of them. That deserves at least some matchmaking credit.
And it is the third intervention that prompted this whole post in the first place. Sir William Lucas is a likely source of the intelligence that leads Lady Catherine to try to flex her power to bully Elizabeth into disclaiming any interest in marrying Darcy. Elizabeth’s spirited response to seek her own happiness and not bow to the will of someone wholly unconnected in the matter gives Darcy reasonable hope that her feelings have changed, and thus encourages him to propose to her a second time, this time successfully. It is unclear what Sir William will do to leverage the gratitude that Elizabeth and Darcy would feel for his role in bringing them together. We do not know from the novel about there being any particular closeness between the Lucases and the Darcys after the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy, but since we know that having a role in bringing the two together made them far closer to the Gardiners, one wonders if Sir William will try to promote himself as a matchmaker for the extra clout. Stranger things have happened, and it never hurts to have a worthwhile patron of the power of Darcy to look out for one’s family and interests.