Elizabeth, happening to see the countenance of both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. Both changed colour; one looked white, the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat — a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it? The Narrator, Chapter 15
Mr. Collins has designs on marrying one of the Bennet daughters. The ladies walk to Meryton and are introduced to Mr. Wickham. Bingley and Darcy arrive to join the group. Elizabeth notices Darcy and Wickham’s reaction when they meet. At a card party at the Phillips’, Wickham reveals his history with Mr. Darcy who has treated him badly, ruining his future. This confirms Elizabeth’s dislike of him. The Bennet’s and Mr. Collins attend the Netherfield Ball. Elizabeth dances with Mr. Darcy and she tries to analyses his character which puzzles her exceedingly. Jane and Bingley’s romance progresses. Elizabeth is embarrassed by her family’s inappropriate behavior in front of Darcy and the Bingley sisters. Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She refuses, much to Mrs. Bennet’s displeasure. A letter arrives from Caroline Bingley. The Netherfield party has departed for London with no immediate plans to return. Elizabeth blames the snooty Bingley sisters for parting them. Jane is heartbroken. Mrs. Bennet is despondent.
Even though Mr. Collins is not a sensible man, Mrs. Bennet’s ill opinion of him changes to favorable once she realizes he is wife hunting at Longbourn. He fancies Jane, but she redirects his attention to Elizabeth, her most ill-suited daughter for his needs. This is a great example of her ineptitude in reading personalities. Her daughter Elizabeth who claims to be a student on the subject observes Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham’s reaction when they first meet on the street in Meryton. One turns white and the other red. Which turns what color has long been a favorite Janeite debate. My bet is on Darcy turning white with horror and Wickham red with embarrassment. You can throw your theory into the ring! We learn a bit more about the Bennet’s aunt Phillips and how the grape vine worked so efficiently in Regency times.
Mrs. Philips a very attentive listener, whose opinion of his consequence increased with what she heard, and who was resolving to retail it all among her neighbours as soon as she could. The Narrator, Chapter 16
Since communication is by word of mouth or by written letter, visiting their aunt in Meryton for news would be the big event of the day for the Bennet ladies. Mrs. Phillips seems to be the hub of information gathering bits from friends, servants and townsfolk and passing it on. Her party is swimming with news and information. Everyone is enamored with Wickham’s gentlemanlike appearance and all the ladies are eager for his attention, but Elizabeth is the lucky lady. I wonder why he selected her to confide his ill-treatment by Darcy? Because she quickly reveals her dislike of him? On first acquaintance he reveals way too much information for my comfort, but Elizabeth is all ears and eager to side with him against Darcy. We know that Elizabeth is clever and observant, but gullible too? In her defense, his story is so believable. Every question she raises that might challenge the validity is met with a plausible explanation. Why not expose Darcy’s bad behavior to others?He does not want to sully the memory of old Mr. Darcy’s fondness for him. Why can’t he seek legal recourse? There is just such an impediment in the will to prevent it. His story makes him out to be an honorable gentleman and Darcy proud and spiteful. Elizabeth leaves the party satisfied with more information to confirm her beliefs about Darcy and her head full of Mr. Wickham.
“To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.” Elizabeth Bennet, Chapter 18
The Netherfield Ball sees a confident Elizabeth sparing with Mr. Darcy for her own gratification and then the tables turning on her when her family’s inappropriate behavior embarrasses her in front of him and the Bingley sisters. I have long admired chapter 18 as one of the best that Austen has written. Everything about it just shines. The set-up, the dialogue and the outcome are one of three important axis’ of the novel. The conversation of Elizabeth and Darcy while they dance is eye popping. You can just see the sparks fly. She has gone way beyond playful and is duly impertinent.
“I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.” Elizabeth Bennet, Chapter 18
She and the community have called Mr. Darcy proud and arrogant, but she has sunk to that precipice in her indignant goading of Mr. Darcy. She is mocking him. She cannot make out his character. It puzzles her exceedingly. What? She knows exactly what his character is and it has been confirmed by Wickham’s story. She is pleased with herself and above her company until the tide turns with Sir William Lucas’ comment to Darcy about Jane and Bingley’s impending marriage. Now her family’s inappropriate behavior will embarrass her into reality. Her mother brags too loudly about the benefits of Jane and Bingley’s marriage throwing other rich men in the path of her other daughters, Mary plays and sings so badly that her father asks her to stop to let other young ladies exhibit, Lydia and Kitty are chasing after officers and Mr. Collins decides to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy even though they have not been formally introduced. Horrors, mortification and shame.
That his two sisters and Mr. Darcy, however, should have such an opportunity of ridiculing her relations, was bad enough, and she could not determine whether the silent contempt of the gentleman, or the insolent smiles of the ladies, were more intolerable. The Narrator, Chapter 18
Much has been written about Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth and I will be brief. His pompous reasons for marrying and his lack of feelings for Elizabeth are evident. Her turn down is a warm up to what we all know is coming. (No spoilers for first timers, I promise) The effusive language that Austen chooses to use for him is just so perfect. He talks just to hear his own voice. No less than five times he is not dissuaded by her refusal. Is he listening? No, and that is the beauty of his conceit for our enjoyment and Elizabeth’s exasperation. He and Mrs. Bennet have a lot in common in that respect. They both talk for their own gratification, certain that their way is the best. Mr. Bennet seems to pick this up and is amused by their absurd behavior. When his wife insists that he convince Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, and then the opposite happens, he gets the last say. It is one of the best examples of Austen’s brilliant use of irony.
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” Mr. Bennet, Chapter 20
And then the other shoe drops. All of Elizabeth’s fears about her family’s crass behavior come to fruition. The Netherfield party departs for London and with them, Jane’s romance and Mrs. Bennet’s hopes of a daughter happily married. Ugh.
- Group reading schedule
- Pride and Prejudice: Reading Resources
- Pride and Prejudice: List of Characters
- Pride and Prejudice: Plot Summary Chapters 15-21
- Pride and Prejudice: Quotes & Quips Chapters 15-21
- Pride and Prejudice without Zombies Event Schedule
‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’: Day 7 Giveaway
Enter a chance to win one copy of the Insight Edition of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen by leaving a comment stating what is your favorite scene at the Netherfield Ball or which is your favorite quote from the novel by midnight, Saturday, July 24th, 2010. Winner will be announced on Sunday, July 25th. Shipment to continental US addresses only. Good luck!
Upcoming event posts
Day 08 June 25 Tourism in Jane Austen’s Era
Day 09 June 26 Group Read: Chapters 22 – 28
Day 10 June 28 Dancing at the Netherfield Ball