Jane and Elizabeth begin spending more time with the residents of Netherfield. Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst seem fond of Jane, and the attraction between Mr. Bingley and Jane continues to grow. Meanwhile, Elizabeth finds Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst to be self-important but approves of their brother and the relationship that appears to be developing between him and Jane. As for Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth continues to view him as proud and reserved. She is unaware that his original assessment of her has changed and that he has begun to be unwillingly drawn to her. When he mentions Elizabeth's "fine eyes" to Miss Bingley, Miss Bingley jealously teases him about wanting to marry Elizabeth.
One morning, Jane receives a request from Caroline Bingley to come to Netherfield for dinner. Observing that it looks like rain, Mrs. Bennet sends Jane to Netherfield on horseback rather than in a carriage so that she will have to spend the night at Netherfield rather than ride home in the rain. The ploy works, and the next morning, the Bennets receive a note from Jane informing them that she is ill from getting soaked as she rode to Netherfield the previous day and will have to remain at Netherfield until she is better. Although Mrs. Bennet is satisfied at the thought of Jane spending more time in Mr. Bingley's home, Elizabeth is concerned and decides to walk the three miles to Netherfield to see for herself how her sister is faring. When Elizabeth reaches Netherfield, she finds Jane to be sicker than her letter implied, and Miss Bingley reluctantly invites her to stay with Jane.
Although Elizabeth spends most of her time at Netherfield with Jane, she eats dinner with the others and joins them in the drawing room later in the evening. While Elizabeth is in their company, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are polite to her, but when she is absent, the two women take delight in criticizing her relatives and the fact that she walked all the way to Netherfield to see Jane. Despite the ladies' disparagement of Elizabeth, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy voice their approval of her.
The next day Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, and Lydia visit Netherfield to check on Jane. While they are there, Elizabeth is embarrassed by the gauche behavior of her family. Mrs. Bennet fawns over Mr. Bingley while simultaneously being blatantly rude to Mr. Darcy, while Lydia is overly forward with Mr. Bingley, reminding him that he promised to give a ball. Mr. Bingley good-naturedly agrees that he will give a ball as soon as Jane is better.
Two features that distinguish Elizabeth from other women throughout the novel are her quick wit and her energy. In these chapters, we see her display these qualities in a variety of situations, ranging from a one-on-one chat with her close friend to a neighborhood gathering to an unplanned stay with people who consider themselves to be her social superiors. In all of these instances, Elizabeth exhibits a vigor and intelligence that appeals not only to characters within Pride and Prejudice but to the readers of the novel as well.
Elizabeth's wit is evident in her dialogue, whether she is debating with Charlotte the reasons for marriage or discussing with Darcy the existence of accomplished women. Readers get a sense of her energy from her speech, as well, as she delivers opinions and retorts with precision and speed. But Austen also shows Elizabeth's energetic nature through her actions. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth enjoys physical activity, especially walking, and readers find the first evidence of this proclivity when Elizabeth easily walks the three miles from Longbourn to Netherfield to see her sick sister. The snide responses of Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst to Elizabeth's action demonstrate that such behavior is not the norm among gentlewomen.
Interestingly, the characteristics that set Elizabeth apart from other women in the novel are the very qualities that appeal to Darcy. He first notices that her face is "rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes." As he listens to her conversations, he is obviously intrigued by her ability to express herself and tells her that she speaks "with great energy." Darcy is also drawn to Elizabeth's "light and pleasing" figure and the "easy playfulness" of her manners. When she walks to Netherfield, Darcy feels "admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given her complexion."
Elizabeth's appeal for Darcy becomes even more apparent in the scene in which Darcy, Miss Bingley, and Elizabeth discuss the requirements of an accomplished woman. Miss Bingley has already demonstrated her own hopes of being the future Mrs. Darcy in her comments to him and her flirtatious behavior. In this scene, however, Austen gives a direct contrast between Miss Bingley and Elizabeth as they simultaneously interact with Darcy. While Miss Bingley agrees with everything Darcy says, Elizabeth counters his statements with her opposing opinions. When Elizabeth leaves and Miss Bingley begins to criticize her remarks as attempts to attract men, Darcy reveals his own intelligent wit by subtly reproaching Miss Bingley for her hypocrisy.
Miss Bingley's behavior toward Darcy makes the reader recall the first sentence of the novel: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Austen has shown how desperately the mothers of Hertfordshire county have thrown their daughters at Bingley, and made clear that Darcy is much wealthier than Bingley. The only thing saving him from matchmaking schemes is his reserved, proud demeanor. However, his demeanor does not put off Caroline Bingley, and it is probable that he receives similar fawning treatment from a great number of aristocratic women. Consequently for Darcy, Elizabeth's forthrightness and apparent dislike of him are probably refreshing qualities in a woman. If Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are examples of the women Darcy is used to dealing with, Elizabeth's spirited manner must be a welcome change, as is the fact that she is not pursuing him and his fortune.
A little knowledge of nineteenth-century society helps modern readers to understand some of Austen's ironic social commentary in this section. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst take great delight in ridiculing Jane and Elizabeth's relatives who are pseudogentry, or professionals who do not own land, such as their Uncle Philips who is an attorney. Members of the landowning gentry, such as Darcy, or the soon-to-be-landowning gentry, such as Bingley, would consider those who earn their money through trade (a profession) to be socially inferior. Elizabeth's father is among the landed gentry, but her mother comes from a trade family. Consequently, Jane's and Elizabeth's standing in the eyes of elitists like the Bingley sisters is diminished due to their mother's family connections. However, their criticism of the Bennets is ironic, because Austen notes early on that "their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade." In other words, the Bingleys' inherited fortune originates from the very circumstances that they now scorn.
Vingt-un a card game, similar to the American card game of twenty-one.
Commerce a card game which was a predecessor of poker.
archly in an arch manner; pertly and mischievously.
complacency quiet satisfaction; contentment.
when am I to wish you joy? "I wish you joy" or "I wish you happy" was the way people in early nineteenth-century Britain congratulated someone on becoming engaged to be married.
entailed to limit the inheritance of property to a specific line or class of heirs.
milliner a person who designs, makes, trims, or sells women's hats.
tête-à-tête a private or intimate conversation between two people.
prognostic a forecast; prediction.
stile a step or set of steps used in climbing over a fence or wall.
apothecary [Old-fashioned] a pharmacist or druggist: apothecaries formerly also prescribed drugs.
retire to go aay, retrat, or withdraw.
at five o'clock the two ladies retired to dress It was the custom to change into more formal clothes for dinner.
ragout a highly seasoned stew of meat and vegetables.
countenance calm control; composure.
nonsensical unintelligible, foolish, silly, or absurd.
petticoat a skirt, now especially an underskirt often trimmed at the hemline as with lace or ruffles, worn by women and girls.
not doing its office not performing its function or characteristic action.
Cheapside street and district of London; in the Middle Ages it was a marketplace.
vulgar of, characteristic of, belonging to, or common to the great mass of people in general; common.
vulgar relations Here, the Bingley sisters are making fun of Jane's relatives, who work for a living.
repaired to her room went or betook herself to her room.
loo a card game that was played for money.
playing high betting large amounts of money.
mean ignoble; base; small-minded; petty.
solaced lessened or allayed (grief or sorrow).
temper frame of mind; disposition; mood.
prospect the view obtained from any particular point; outlook.
suffered allowed; permitted; tolerated.
mince pies pies with a filling of mincemeat.
efficacy power to produce effects or intended results; effectiveness.
tax to impose a burden on; put a strain on.
the youngest should tax Mr. Bingley Here, Lydia is placing on Mr. Bingley the obligation of giving a ball.
brought her into public at an early age introduced her formally into society at an early age. Lydia has had her "coming out" early.