Mr. Gardiner is Mrs. Bennet’s brother. He resides in Cheapside, London, and is in a respectable trade. He is a sensible, educated, well-mannered man. His wife is an amiable, intelligent, elegant woman. The Gardiners are loved much by their nieces. They spend every Christmas at Longbourn.
Elizabeth's interest in Wickham
Mrs. Gardiner notices Elizabeth’s growing interest in Wickham, but understands that he cannot afford to marry her. So she cautions her niece, “Perhaps it will be as well if you discourage his coming here so very often." (Chapter link)
Insight: Mrs. Gardiner view reflect the general attitudes of the time regarding marriage as a practical institution rather than a romantic ideal, as Elizabeth often tries to portray it.
Gardiner's Invitation to the Lake CountryAfter Elizabeth learns that Wickham is to marry Mary King, she receives an invitation from the Gardiners for a summer tour to the Lakes. After she accepts, the Gardiners are forced to settle for a visit to Derbyshire -- Mrs. Gardiner has spent many years in her youth -- so that Mr. Gardiner can return to London earlier for business. This is the first step on the path that takes Elizabeth to Pemberley.
Why does Gardiners' invitation come just after news about Wickham?
Insight: As long as Elizabeth was emotionally involved with Wickham, her relationship with Darcy could not develop. At first Wickham actively sabotaged it by lying to Elizabeth. Even after Darcy exposed Wickham, still she was attracted to him and could not bring herself to expose his character. The announcement of Wickham's engagement to Miss King severes the emotional link in Elizabeth. Her attitude to Darcy has already become much more positive. His passion for her remains intense. When the obstacle is removed, life responds setting in motion events that will bring them together at Pemberley.
Insight: The Gardiners are positive people with genuine goodwill for Elizabeth. There is none of the jealousy or competitiveness which Mrs. Bennet and her sister feel. There goodwill makes them subconscious instruments for good to come to her in life. Charlotte plays the same role consciously in encouraging Elizabeth to respond to Darcy and in playing host to her at the hermitage while Darcy is visiting Rosings.
Mrs. Bennet's contribution
Insight: Mrs. Bennet is a major obstacle to the marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth. But at a deeper level, she is a cause of their coming together. She is the one with the intense aspiration for the marriage of all her daughters. It is her aspiration that attracts the opportunities for accomplishment in marriage even while her external behavior is cancelling those very same opportunities. It is also her energy, tempered by a good education and her father's culture, that Darcy admires in Elizabeth's fine eyes. Darcy is attracted to her energy, freshness and lack of inhibition, which come from the aspiring lower classes, not from the conventional gentility. That comes to her from her mother. It is Mrs. Bennet's sister-in-law who grew up in Lambton and creates the occasion for the visit to Derbyshire. It is also true that Elizabeth's meeting with Darcy at Rosings came through Mr. Bennet's nephew, Collins. So both parents contribute to her social elevation in life. Elizabeth represents the blending of two classes and it is that blend which appeals to Darcy and results in her elevation.
Visit to Pemberley
Once in Derbyshire, Mrs. Gardiner suggests visiting Pemberly. Elizabeth is alarmed, she does not want to meet Darcy. But Mrs. Gardiner insists on seeing the beautiful grounds of the estate, and persuades Elizabeth to go along. It is here that Darcy meets Elizabeth again.
The Gardiners’ residence at Cheapside is the subject of Caroline’s sarcasm, but Darcy sees they are polished and cultured. He is able to relate to them, and like them. They represent the highest point in social attainments within Elizabeth’s family. Mr. Gardiner has substantial wealth and sophisticated urban manners. Even from Mrs. Bennet's side there is some redeeming social value! By accepting the Gardiners, Darcy has embraced the best and highest of Eliza’s family. And by saving Lydia from disgrace, he embraces the worst and lowest.
The Gardiners are much astonished by Darcy’s cordial treatment, but ask Elizabeth for no explanation. Mrs. Gardiner waits on Darcy and Georgiana at her house, visits them at Pemberly, Mr. Gardiner accepts Darcy’s invitation to fishing in the grounds of Pemberly. Darcy’s intense affection for their niece is very clear to them.
When news about Lydia’s elopement reaches Elizabeth, Darcy arrives! It is at the Gardiners’ residence that Elizabeth confesses to him, and he feels partly responsible. After making arrangements for Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, it is the Gardiners he approaches for assistance. On learning that Darcy has settled Wickham’s debts, Mr. Gardiner offers to repay him, but Darcy adamantly refuses to accept any payment. Mr. Gardiner is fully willing to assume the responsibility that is not his to bear. Life pays for him and gives him full credit. Darcy pays on Mr. Gardiner’s behalf in gratitude to the Gardiners for bringing Eliza to him. He wants his role to be kept secret. The Gardiners contribute to Lydia's marriage, but they lack the strength or intensity of determination, therefore the actual act is done by Darcy. Perhaps no one else could have handled Wickham.
Lydia’s inadvertent remark about Darcy attending her marriage makes Elizabeth write to her aunt asking for an explanation. Mrs. Gardiner is happy to tell the truth. Mr. Gardiner is not comfortable with passing as the benefactor. His genuine discomfort makes Elizabeth write, and relieve him of his borrowed feathers. Mrs. Gardiner explains Darcy’s benevolent role in detail, eliciting gratitude and admiration in Elizabeth. The letter also broadly hints at Elizabeth’s own marriage to Darcy!
After their marriage, Darcy and Elizabeth are on intimate terms with the Gardiners. Darcy begins to love them as much as Elizabeth. They feel gratitude for the aunt and uncle, since it is they who bring Elizabeth to Pemberly, revive the relationship and unite the two.
The Gardiners have genuine goodwill for the Bennets. Therefore they become instruments of luck to all of them. They invite Elizabeth to travel with them, alter their travel plans and bring her to Derbyshire, and in contact with Darcy again. In Pemberly, they present the occasion for Darcy to show he has given up his arrogance and can relate to her family. They play a role in resolving the crisis over Lydia’s elopement. They are directly or indirectly connected with their nieces’ marriages.