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Mrs. Bennet’s brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, come to spend Christmas at Longbourn. Mr. Gardiner is a sensible, gentlemanly person, and his wife is an amiable, elegant woman who is very fond of her nieces, especially the elder two. Mrs. Bennet airs her grievances to her sister-in-law, stating her distress over her failure to get Jane and Elizabeth engaged or married. Mrs. Gardiner suggests a change of scene for Jane to help get over her disappointment over Bingley. It is decided that Jane will return to London with her uncle and aunt.
While the Gardiners spend the week at Longbourn, there are frequent visitors; Wickham is the most regular one. Mrs. Gardiner views with suspicion Elizabeth’s attraction to Wickham. Mrs. Gardiner has spent a considerable time in Derbyshire and knows the area from where Wickham comes. They have mutual acquaintances there, and Wickham is able to update her with information.
Mrs. Gardiner talks of the Darcy family. She has seen Pemberley, the Darcy estate, which is very impressive. She also speaks very highly of the late Mr. Darcy. She has a vague recollection that his son, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is a very proud, ill- natured young man. This reconfirms Elizabeth’s opinion of him.
The Gardiners are essential to the plot because they later serve as a point of contact between Darcy and the Bennets. The Gardiner couple is also an intentional contrast to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. The Gardiners are sensitive, kind, refined, and immensely superior to the Bennet couple. Mrs. Gardiner has a genuine interest in her nieces and seems to be more sensitive about their needs than their own mother. In contrast, the Bennets are unrefined and socially unacceptable. They are not compatible with one another, and they are not very responsible parents. Mr. Bennet is very aloof and comes out of his shell mostly to poke fun at his wife’s foolishness. Mrs. Bennet is vulgar and has no understanding of anyone, particularly her daughters.
The Gardiners are also radically different from Mr. and Mrs. Philips. The Gardiners give the girls sound advice and watch out for their well-being; later in the novel, Mr. Gardiner tries harder than Mr. Bennet to find Lydia. By contrast, the Phillips couple fills the silly minds of Lydia and Kitty with tales of the red-coat officers and encourages their waywardness.