Pride and prejudice and portraiture

First Impressions was the title Jane Austen originally gave to her best-loved novel, in which the thread of impressions, reflections, and portraiture runs through the narrative in interesting ways. In one of their early encounters at Netherfield, Elizabeth tells Darcy she’s trying to “take his likeness.” He replies gravely, “I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either." 

Disliking Darcy, and falling for Wickham, “whose very countenance may vouch for his being amiable,” Elizabeth is led astray by appearances. When she learns the truth about Wickham, she tells Jane: “One has all the goodness, the other all the appearance of it.” 

Months later, she contemplates the miniatures of Darcy and Wickham at Pemberly. How differently she sees both images, now that her eyes have been opened to the true characters of both men. Seeing them thus side by side she no longer deceives herself about the appearance of either, admitting to the housekeeper that Darcy is indeed very handsome, and nudging her aunt towards the possibility of Wickham's waywardness. When she stands before Darcy’s large portrait in the gallery upstairs, his image and his character come together for the first time. 

“She stood several minutes before the picture, in earnest contemplation, and returned to it again before they quitted the gallery...There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt at the height of their acquaintance."

This is a turning point, and when Darcy appears in the flesh soon afterwards, she beholds him changed; both from within and in her own perception of him. From this moment she begins to think she could be happy with him, but within another day or two, Wickham has intervened to separate them - in part because she has never unfolded his true character to anyone but Jane. 

This game of hide and seek is the engine of the novel. His pride and her prejudice are the masks they both wear, that must fall away before they can come together. Their first impressions must be replaced by the portraiture of genuine understanding, and patient skill.