The morning after the Netherfield ball, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. He outlines his motivation for proposing and promises never to bring up the fact that she brings so little money to the marriage. Torn between discomfort and the desire to laugh at his officious manner, Elizabeth politely refuses him. Mr. Collins, however, thinks that Elizabeth is being coy in refusing him and lists the reasons why it is unthinkable for her to refuse him — namely his own worthiness, his association to the De Bourgh family, and Elizabeth's own potential poverty. Mrs. Bennet, who is anxious for Elizabeth to accept Mr. Collins, reacts badly to the news of her daughter's resistance and threatens never to see Elizabeth again if she doesn't marry him. When Mrs. Bennet appeals to Mr. Bennet for support, though, he states that he would never want to see Elizabeth again if she did marry Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins finally realizes that his suit is hopeless and he withdraws his offer.
In the midst of the uproar over the proposal, Charlotte Lucas visits the Bennets and learns of Elizabeth's refusal of Mr. Collins. After Mr. Collins withdraws his offer, Charlotte begins spending more time with him, and within a few days, he proposes to her. Charlotte accepts, not for love but for security, and news of their engagement outrages Mrs. Bennet and shocks Elizabeth, who cannot believe her friend would marry where no love exists.
Meanwhile, Bingley leaves for what is supposed to be a temporary visit to London, but Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley stating that the whole party has left for London and will not return all winter. Caroline tells Jane that they are spending a great deal of time with Georgiana Darcy and hints that she would like Miss Darcy to marry her brother. Jane is dismayed by the news, but believes that Caroline's letter is written in friendship and goodwill. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is suspicious of the role Darcy and Bingley's sisters may be playing in keeping him and Jane apart.
Mr. Collins' proposal to Elizabeth is one of the most humorous moments in the novel. Austen has already established the absurdities in Mr. Collins' speech and manners, but his proposal raises him to new heights of pompous foolishness. Although Elizabeth at first is desperate to get away, note how she is overcome by the humor of the situation when Mr. Collins begins to speak of his feelings running away with him. There are obviously no feelings involved in his offer other than self-pride and condescension. Austen states that as he prepares for the proposal, "he set about it in a very orderly manner, with all the observances which he supposed a regular part of the business." For Mr. Collins, this is a business transaction, not the culmination of love for Elizabeth. And as Elizabeth has stated before, she wants to marry for love, not convenience.
Elizabeth's romantic view of marriage results in her feelings of shock and disappointment when Charlotte decides to marry Mr. Collins. Blind to Charlotte's practical reasons for accepting Mr. Collins, Elizabeth cannot conceive of Charlotte being happy in such a marriage.
Elizabeth's view of marriage and response to Charlotte's concept of marriage are interesting considering Elizabeth's family and future prospects. In seeking a love match, Elizabeth is searching for a relationship opposite to that of her parents. Her parents neither love nor like each other, which creates a fragmented household in which neither parent seems very happy. Perhaps Elizabeth's objections to Charlotte's realistic perception of marriage are actually objections to her own parents' relationship. However, nineteenth-century readers would understand the riskiness of Elizabeth's idealistic position. As Mr. Collins is quick to point out, Elizabeth will have a severely limited income when her father dies and the estate passes to Mr. Collins. Most young women in her situation in nineteenth-century Britain might dream of marrying for love, but would accept the necessity of marrying for security, as Charlotte does. Consequently, for Austen's readers, Elizabeth represents an ideal view of the world, while Charlotte represents reality.
diffidence lack of confidence in oneself.
diversion distraction of attention.
purport intention; object.
dissemble to conceal the truth or one's true feelings or motives.
vivacity liveliness of spirit; animation.
one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents Elizabeth's inheritance upon her mother's death will be 1,000 pounds, which will be invested in secure government bonds that generally yield four or five percent annually.
sanctioned authorized or permitted.
coquetry the behavior or act of a coquette; flirting.
vestibule a small entrance hall or room.
peevish hard to please; irritable; fretful; cross.
assiduous diligent; persevering.
abatement a lessening or reduction.
Grosvenor Street a street located in a fashionable part of London.
make their appearance at St. James St. James' Palace was where high-born young men and women were formally presented to the court, signaling their entrance into society.
coming out the formal introduction of a young woman into society.
charged given instructions or commanded authoritatively.
decorum propriety and good taste in behavior.
courtier an attendant at a royal court.
rectitude conduct according to moral principles; strict honesty.
the business of love-making the wooing, or trying to get the love of, a woman.