Summary and Analysis
Feeling a sense of obligation to the Bennet family because of the entail, Mr. Collins plans to ask one of the Bennet daughters to marry him. After Mrs. Bennet tells him that they expect Jane to be engaged soon, he decides to propose to Elizabeth. That resolved, Mr. Collins joins Elizabeth and her sisters as they walk to Meryton where Lydia and Kitty are excited to see some of the officers stationed there. Everyone's attention is drawn to a new officer — George Wickham — who impresses Elizabeth with his good looks and charming manners. As Elizabeth and her sisters are speaking with Wickham, Darcy and Bingley ride up to them. Elizabeth is intrigued to notice that Darcy and Wickham recognize each other, and as the two men barely acknowledge each other, Wickham looks pale and Darcy appears angry.
The next day, the Bennet sisters and Mr. Collins return to Meryton to dine with Mrs. Bennet's sister, Mrs. Philips. Some of the officers are also present, including Wickham, who seeks Elizabeth out and sits next to her as she plays cards. Wickham astonishes her by revealing the nature of his relationship with Darcy, telling her that his father was Darcy's father's steward and that he and Darcy grew up together. According to Wickham, he was a favorite of Darcy's father and when Darcy's father died, Wickham was supposed to have received a position as a clergyman at the rectory that the Darcy family oversees. However, Darcy gave the job to someone else — out of jealousy, Wickham presumes — and left Wickham to fend for himself. Wickham declares that both Darcy and his sister are proud and unpleasant people, and Elizabeth eagerly concurs with his opinion.
When Elizabeth shares Wickham's story with Jane, Jane insists there must be some sort of misunderstanding on both Wickham's and Darcy's parts. Elizabeth laughs at her sister's kind nature and declares that she knows Wickham to be right. As they are discussing the matter, Bingley calls to invite the family to a ball at Netherfield in a few days. Everyone is delighted, including Mr. Collins who, to Elizabeth's dismay, secures her promise that she'll dance the first two dances with him.
At the ball, Elizabeth is disappointed to discover that Wickham is absent and blames Darcy for making him uncomfortable enough to avoid coming. She is so surprised, however, when Darcy asks her to dance with him that she agrees to it without thinking. As they dance, they are at first interrupted by Sir William, who alludes to the anticipated engagement between Jane and Bingley. Darcy seems troubled by this, but is then distracted when Elizabeth raises the subject of Wickham. They discuss Wickham tensely and end their dance feeling angry and dissatisfied.
At dinner, Elizabeth is mortified by her mother's incessant chatter to Lady Lucas about Jane and Bingley getting engaged. She notices that Darcy can't help but hear her mother's loud whispers and unsuccessfully encourages her mother the change the subject. After dinner, Elizabeth's sense of humiliation grows as her parents and all of her sisters except Jane act foolishly and without restraint. Mr. Collins adds to her misery by continuing to hover near her, causing Elizabeth to be grateful when Charlotte engages him in conversation.
With the introduction of Wickham to the novel, the plot begins to become more complicated. Note that even though Elizabeth is perceptive enough to immediately sense that something is wrong between Wickham and Darcy, her perceptive abilities where Darcy and Wickham are concerned will be blinded by her prejudice, rendering her unable to see Darcy's or Wickham's true natures.
Elizabeth's prejudices stem from her first impressions of the men. Whereas she was initially repulsed by Darcy's arrogant and reserved manners and his insulting refusal to dance with her, she is attracted to Wickham's "happy readiness of conversation — a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming." Additionally, Wickham further pleases Elizabeth by favoring her with his attention at her aunt's house. In other words, Wickham has behaved opposite to Darcy in his first encounters with Elizabeth, appealing to her appreciation of friendly manners and conversation as well as to her pride in being the woman he chose to sit with.
Consequently, Elizabeth's prejudice is so strong against Darcy and for Wickham that she will accept at face value everything that Wickham says. As Wickham talks about Darcy's pride, Elizabeth fails to note that her own pride is blinding her to a basic incongruity. Wickham professes to be discreet and hints that he would not defame anyone's character, but he talks extensively about Darcy. Elizabeth would not have tolerated such a conversation if anyone except the disagreeable Mr. Darcy were the subject of the talk. Austen emphasizes a theme of prejudice as Wickham imposes his prejudice upon Elizabeth and makes her even more prejudiced against Darcy, who, it is hinted, is prejudiced against all people.
Note also in these chapters the examples of the importance of manners and decorum in nineteenth-century British society. In observing the characters' behaviors and comments, it seems that in society, manners are associated with social class and accordingly with the quality of a person's character. So, for example, members of the aristocracy, such as Darcy or Lady Catherine De Bourgh, are perceived as justifiably proud in their manners because of their status in society. The Bingley sisters, who aspire to that level, are also proud and careful in their manners and distinguish with whom they associate among the Bennet family based on manners. Jane and Elizabeth, who display proper behavior, are acceptable, while Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, who speak and act on whim with no thought for appropriateness, are shunned. The differences in the Bennet girls' manners could be viewed from a societal perspective as reflecting the differences in their parents' class and backgrounds: Jane and Elizabeth are more closely associated with their father, a landowning gentleman, whereas Mary, Kitty, and Lydia emulate their mother, the daughter of a lawyer.
However, Austen's sense of irony comes through as she plays with this traditional societal perception of class and manners. Throughout the novel, she satirizes the manners of all classes, exposing people who have excessive pride as rude and often foolish, regardless of wealth or station. In these chapters, Austen uses Mr. Collins as an extreme example of how excessive pride can affect one's manners. In Mr. Collins' case, he prides himself on his sense of respectability, his profession, and his association with Lady Catherine. As a result, he behaves in a ridiculous fashion, going so far as to break one of society's rules and introduce himself to Darcy rather than waiting for Darcy to acknowledge their connection. Similarly, Mrs. Bennet appears absurd as she ignores decorum and talks unrestrainedly about Jane's prospective marriage to Bingley. With both Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth acts as the voice of propriety, explaining to her unreceptive relations the proper way to behave.
The behavior of Elizabeth's family at the Netherfield ball embarrasses her because she understands the proper and improper modes of conduct at such an event. Remember also that Elizabeth's sense of etiquette has affected her perceptions of Wickham and Darcy — one man behaved appropriately upon their first meeting and the other did not. Austen's heroine seems to have a very democratic sense of proper manners, for rather than judging people by their class, she evaluates them based on how they treat others. Consequently, she likes Bingley and Wickham, who treat everyone equally, but dislikes Bingley's sisters and Darcy, who appear overly proud.
living in England, a church benefice (an endowed church office providing a living for a vicar or rector).
the living of Hunsford the endowed office provided for the vicar or rector in the town of Hunsford.
veneration a feeling of deep respect and reverence.
obsequiousness the showing of too great a willingness to serve or obey; a fawning.
amiable having a pleasant and friendly disposition; good-natured.
represented described as having a specified character or quality.
prepossession the fact or condition of preoccupying (someone) beforehand, to the exclusion of later thoughts or feelings.
incumbent lying, resting, or pressing with its weight on something else.
folio a large size of book, about twelve by fifteen inches.
cessation a ceasing, or stopping, either forever or for some time.
muslin a strong, often sheer cotton cloth of plain weave.
commission an official certificate conferring rank.
corps a tactical subdivision of an army.
regimentals military uniform.
very pleasing address pleasing conversational manner.
game of lottery tickets a card game.
the chimney-piece [Obsolete] a decoration over a fireplace.
imitations of china paintings on china.
the fish betting chips in a game.
wonderful causing wonder; amazing.
veracity habitual truthfulness; honesty.
shoe-roses shoe laces that are ribbons tied to look like a rose.
hauteur disdainful pride; haughtiness; snobbery.
steward a person put in charge of the affairs of a large household or estate, whose duties include supervision of the kitchen and the servants and the management of household accounts.
insolent boldly disrespectful in speech or behavior; impertinent; impudent.
probity uprightness in one's dealings; integrity.
imprudent not prudent; without thought of the consequences; lacking in judgment or caution; rash; indiscreet.
her manner affected behaving in an artificial way to impress people; full of affectation.
tythes units that are one tenth of the annual produce of one's land or of one's annual income, paid as a tax or contribution to support a church or its clergy; any taxes or levies.
conciliatory tending to conciliate or reconcile (to win over; soothe the anger of; make friendly; placate).