Foreshadowing is not a significant element in Pride and Prejudice. The novel relies on the existence of suspense about how conflicts will be resolved. For example, will Jane and Bingley be able to marry? Will Lydia’s elopement be legitimized by a legal marriage? Too much foreshadowing might diminish this suspense. However, Austen is also interested in showing how characters can be blind to important information, and the use of foreshadowing allows her to show individuals failing to notice clues that were right in front of them.
When Elizabeth learns that Charlotte is going to marry Mr. Collins, she is completely shocked. However, Austen has actually foreshadowed this event. Charlotte has already shown a very practical and possibly even cynical perspective on marriage. When Charlotte and Elizabeth discuss Jane’s desire to marry Bingley, Charlotte explains that she does not think it is important for a woman to love a man when she marries him, saying, “When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chuses.” Charlotte also explains that she believes that “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” This attitude foreshadows Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins by showing that she is not picky about who she is willing to marry.
The shocking event of Lydia running away with Wickham is foreshadowed when Elizabeth learns from Darcy that Wickham had previously tried to elope with Georgiana Darcy. Learning this part of Wickham’s history dramatically changes the way Elizabeth thinks about his character. However, she does not see this information about his past as a clue to how he might behave in the future and does not take this information seriously enough to share it with people other than Jane. As a result, when Elizabeth learns of her sister’s elopement, she blames herself for not having revealed his true character. The foreshadowing of Lydia’s elopement is significant not only because of how Austen hints at events to come but also because she shows Elizabeth ignoring those hints and therefore failing to accurately interpret the character of those around her.