Pride and Prejudice: Group Read – Chapters 15-21: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day 7 Giveaway

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

Quick Synopsis

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.

Musings

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.

Further reading

‘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

14 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice: Group Read – Chapters 15-21: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day 7 Giveaway

  1. I enjoy the part where Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance. Even though she “is determined to hate” him, she still accepts him. And the whole dance scene that follows is great.

    Laurel Ann- I always thought Darcy turns red with anger at seeing Wickham and Wickham turns white with fear because he knows why Darcy is angry.

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  2. Laurel Ann, I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying this group discussion of Pride and Prejudice without zombies. You’re doing a great job!

    I’ve always wondered how Elizabeth could overlook the impropriety of Wickham in spilling the family secrets to a complete stranger. Even today, where the rules of society are much more lax, total strangers don’t give out personal information at a first meeting. But the fact that Wickham was willing to say such things about people he grew up with should have at least raised a red flag with Elizabeth. But he tickled her vanity because he shared such personal information. And he confirmed all her bad opinions of Darcy, a man she was determined to hate. I like how Jane Austen makes her heroine’s flaws so apparent in this scene.

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    • I am so happy to hear you are enjoying the group read Melissa Lynn. It takes a lot of time and many late hours to create these novel events, but I do enjoy it while pulling my hair out. I am always gratified to learn that others are actually reading along and commenting. Amazed really.

      I love how Wickham goes fishing at the start of his conversation with Lizzy. He asks her if she knows Mr. Darcy and she replies more than she would like. This opens the door to him and he continues to reveal bits and then the whole story. Brilliant dialogue by Austen.

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  3. Good post Melissa Lynn. Lizzy was so determined to hate Mr. Darcy that she would have believed anything about him, not thinking of society rules regarding Mr. Wickham and his tales.

    I always feel sorry for Lizzy having to dance with Mr. Collins, what punishment! And poor Jane and Lizzy when Mary exhibits her “talents”.

    I guess my favorite part of the ball would be when Darcy asks Lizzy to dance and seeing Jane dance and have Mr. Bingley’s attention.

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  4. I think Elizabeth’s willingness to entertain Wickham’s dispersions on Darcy are part of the moral core of this story. Even witty, intelligent, and perceptive Elizabeth Bennet can be lead astray by the connivance of a cunning and charming man. Which lady amongst us cannot recall some foolish incident from their past when they trusted a man who was unworthy? Wickham is Austen’s warning to all of us – no matter how highly we may think of our own discernment, first impressions are never reliable. We must judge people by their behavior, and Wickham’s willingness to share such personal stories after so short an acquaintance is like a flashing red warning sign which Elizabeth totally fails to perceive.

    I love your analysis of chapter 18, Laurel Ann. Perhaps what most strikes me in your highlighting of Elizabeth’s pride is the notion that we are always quickest to see the faults in others that we share ourselves. This is certainly true for Elizabeth. In an attempt at witticism she spats out that line – “I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds.” – yet complete fails to perceive the truth in it. Later in the book Darcy says (I don’t think this can count as a spoiler), “I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.” How very true! Elizabeth does not believe there is any similarity in the turn of their minds, even though there is. She is so blinded by pride that she cannot properly know herself – amusingly, just like Mr. Collins, who cannot judge his own worthiness honestly enough to realize that Elizabeth has not the slightest interest in him.

    This is great fun!

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    • Hi Alexa and thanks for your thoughtful observations. Yes indeed. What woman has not been deceived by the charms of a handsome man? One is blindly inclined to believe those you are attracted to and wish to win their affection. Sigh. Been there. Done that.

      I am of both camps on the first impressions lore. I often think my first instincts about a person are true and when I over analyze behavior my perceptions get muddied. Austen is telling us the opposite. That we see what we want to see and must learn the truth by example. Both work, but like Jane Bennet one does not know what to think, so I use both approaches.

      I must remember your advice about being quicker to see the faults in others that we have ourselves. It is good advice and can serve us well. I think about personality foibles that annoy me the most and narcissism drives me nuts. Someone like Mr. Collins who talks on and on about themselves oblivious to others is lately my undoing. I had never though of myself as conceited or narcissistic before, but LOL, here I am running a blog and writing about my passion for Austen till the cows come home!

      Your insights on Elizabeth’s pride are very well thought out and very helpful. Thanks for joining in.

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  5. I think my favorite part of the Netherfield ball is Charlotte. She seems to see things much more clearly than Elizabeth and it’s lovely to hear her take on things as she also tries to be true to her friend.

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  6. I’d like to second Jennrenee’s thoughts about Darcy and Wickham. From the moment Wickham enters the story, Darcy always seems so close to losing control around him, as if the slightest provocation would set him off. Pent-up anger often results in a red face. Wickham, meanwhile, is always trying to be smooth and charming, so I can easily imagine he turns white at the thought of having his charms put in danger.

    As for the ball, I can’t help but think that “the sparks fly” is so much an understatement. I’ve always thought of the Netherfield Ball chapter as one of the most charged scenes in the book: Elizabeth, doing her best to get a rise out of Darcy (as if that would confirm Wickham’s story) and Darcy, trying so hard to keep his temper in the face of her impertinence even when, at this point, he probably believes he loves her. There’s so much going on beneath the surface – if it took place in 2010, I can just imagine them ending the dance and then finding an empty closet somewhere!

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  7. I wonder whether Wickham (white) took in the scene and recognized at a glance that Darcy (red and angry) was attracted to Lizzie, and therefore tried to make mischief out of pure malice? I think the Netherfield dance scene was one of the most successful bits of the 2005 P&P (Kiera & Darcy dancing all alone).

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  8. I enjoy the entire Netherfield Ball chapter 18, but I will choose two passages to share here:

    [ When those dances were over she returned to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy, who took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him. He walked away again immediately, and she was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her.

    “I dare say you will find him very agreeable.”

    “Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! — To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”]

    Although the last part has been quoted already, I wanted to provide the entire passage. It especially demonstrates that deep inside, Lizzie is already showing conflicted feelings toward Mr. Darcy as she confesses it to Charlotte. I love this scene with Charlotte because she really is a good friend to Lizzie.

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