Summary and Analysis
As Jane continues to recuperate at Netherfield, Elizabeth again spends the evening in the drawing room with the Bingleys, Hursts, and Mr. Darcy. She observes Miss Bingley's obvious attempts to flirt with Darcy, but Darcy seems unmoved by her efforts. Elizabeth is energized by the group's discussion of character, especially the contrast between Bingley and Darcy. Bingley, they note, is impetuous and impressionable, while Darcy is ruled by reason and reflection. Although Elizabeth frequently challenges Darcy's comments, he continues to find her more and more attractive and realizes that he "had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her." Only the social class of some of her relatives prevent him from pursuing the attraction.
The next evening, Jane is feeling well enough to join the group in the drawing room after dinner. Jane's attention is quickly monopolized by Bingley, leaving Elizabeth to again watch Miss Bingley disturbing Darcy with idle chatter. Eventually, Miss Bingley asks Elizabeth to walk around the room with her and then draws Darcy into a conversation with them, which soon turns into a debate between Darcy and Elizabeth over folly, weakness, and pride.
Troubled by his fascination with Elizabeth, Darcy resolves to pay her less attention while she remains at Netherfield. Meanwhile, with Jane feeling better, both Jane and Elizabeth are eager to return home. Mrs. Bennet resists sending them the carriage, so they borrow Bingley's and depart on Sunday, five days after Jane's arrival at Netherfield. Although Mrs. Bennet is displeased that they left Netherfield so quickly, Mr. Bennet is glad to have them home again.
The day after Jane and Elizabeth return home, their father announces that a visitor will be arriving that afternoon. The visitor is William Collins, Mr. Bennet's cousin and the man who will inherit Longbourn after Mr. Bennet dies. The estate is entailed, meaning that, according to the terms of inheritance, it must go to a male heir. Because Mr. Bennet's children are all female, the property will, by law, go to the next closest male relative: Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet points out to his wife and daughters that Mr. Collins, as heir, "may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases" when Mr. Bennet is dead.
Mr. Collins proves himself to be a curious blend of pompousness and obsequiousness. He is proud of his standing as the rector of the Hunsford parish and his patronage by Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and he does not hesitate to speak at length about his (or Lady Catherine De Bourgh's) opinions. At the same time, however, he displays a relentlessly deferential manner, apologizing at length, for example, when he offends Mrs. Bennet by implying that they cannot afford to have a cook on staff. Mr. Bennet finds his cousin absurd and is amused by him, while Kitty and Lydia are shocked at Mr. Collins' announcement that he never reads novels. When he instead tries to read to them from Fordyce's Sermons, Lydia offends him by beginning to talk of something else.
The arrival of Mr. Collins brings the issue of the entail to the forefront and helps readers to understand Mrs. Bennet's obsession with getting her daughters married. She doesn't want her daughters to get married simply for the prestige and wealth it may bring them, although that has appeal. Instead, there is a more urgent force behind Mrs. Bennet's fixation on marriage — the entail. Because Mr. Bennet has no male heirs, upon his death his estate will go to Mr. Collins rather than to any of his daughters. Because Mr. Bennet has mismanaged his money, his wife and daughters will be nearly destitute when he dies, unless the Bennet girls marry. Consequently, Mrs. Bennet hopes for a wealthy husband for at least one of her daughters so not only that daughter will be cared for, but Mrs. Bennet and any unwed sisters will be provided for, as well.
One of the delights of reading Austen is witnessing her remarkable skill at shaping characters into unique individuals through the most commonplace actions or events. In these chapters, for example, the development of Darcy and Mr. Collins' characters is of especial interest. The personalities of both men are revealed through similar acts — letter writing, speaking, and reading — but while their activities are the same, the manner in which they engage in the activities varies with each man, thereby illustrating the differences in their personalities.
Before the advent of devices such as the telegraph or telephone, letter writing was a very important mode of communication, as demonstrated by the large number of letters and references to letters that occur in Pride and Prejudice. As Darcy and Bingley discuss, one's style of writing reflects that person's way of thinking. So it is natural for someone as impetuous and changeable as Bingley to write, as his sister describes, "in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest."
Darcy's writing style is quite different, though. He states that he writes "rather slowly" and that his letters "are generally long." Miss Bingley comments that he writes evenly and Bingley declares that Darcy "does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables." These characteristics of Darcy's writing style serve to reinforce and expand what readers have already gathered about him: Darcy likes to think things through and is cautious when making choices or decisions, even when choosing the right word to write. Additionally, to whom he is writing to is as important as how he writes her. By writing a long, carefully worded letter to his sister, Georgiana, Darcy exhibits that he both cares for his sister and takes his responsibility for her seriously. These hints at an emotional attachment to his sister contradict Elizabeth's perception of him as cold and unfeeling. However, just as Austen's readers aren't able to read that letter, Elizabeth is not yet able to truly read Darcy.
Meanwhile, Mr. Collins also writes a letter that introduces himself not only to Mr. Bennet but to Austen's readers as well. The impression the letter gives is that the writer is a curious blend of arrogance and obsequiousness. Mr. Collins apologizes in one sentence for a breach between the families, and then brags about his patroness and his position as clergyman. He then begins apologizing again for potentially offending the Bennet daughters. Regardless of whether he is apologizing or bragging, Mr. Collins delivers his sentiments in extremely long and complex sentences. From this letter, Elizabeth can accurately assess him as a man who lacks sense.
Just as their style of writing reflects different aspects of Darcy and Mr. Collins' characters, so does the two men's style of speaking. Darcy, who is slow to write and careful of his word choice, is slow to speak and speaks judiciously, so that no word is frivolous. However, it is interesting to note how quickly this reticent man can be provoked into a fast-paced debate by Elizabeth. When Miss Bingley tries to get his attention while he is writing the letter to Georgiana, he responds with curt statements or with silence. However, as soon as Elizabeth makes a comment, Darcy begins responding at length, easily matching her intelligence and wit. His reaction to Elizabeth indicates how much he enjoys challenging and being challenged by her sharp mind.
Mr. Collins' speaking style, on the other hand, is as rambling as Darcy's is reserved. Like his letter, Mr. Collins communicates in long, convoluted sentences that range from unending apologies for some imagined slight to imperious moralizing for some perceived lapse into impropriety. Whereas Darcy usually requires someone to draw him into a conversation, Mr. Collins needs no such invitation. In fact, he generally delivers dense monologues on his or Lady Catherine De Bourgh's opinions with little concern for what others may think or want to say. It appears that the only person Mr. Collins finds more interesting to listen to than himself is Lady Catherine.
Austen rounds out the revelations of Darcy and Mr. Collins' characters in these chapters by showing the men's different approaches to reading. Darcy's extensive library at Pemberley is described earlier in the novel, indicating that Darcy and his family enjoy books and reading. Also, Miss Bingley notes that Darcy prefers the solitary activity of reading over the social activity of cards. As in the case of his writing to his sister, Miss Bingley finds it nearly impossible to distract Darcy from his book. She is finally able to gain his attention when she asks Elizabeth to join her in walking around the room. Just as Darcy is drawn out of his reticence when speaking with Elizabeth, he is also drawn out of his reading by her as he "unconsciously closed his book" to observe her moving around the room.
Mr. Collins, on the other hand, seems to have an entirely different relationship with books. His rejection of novels and consequent limiting of his exposure to books contrasts Darcy's ever-growing library. Additionally, while Darcy reads silently, Mr. Collins readily agrees to read aloud to the Bennets. Rather than selecting something that everyone will enjoy, Mr. Collins chooses a book of sermons and reads them "with very monotonous solemnity." His style of reading is just as imposing and ridiculous as his style of speaking or writing. Similarly, Darcy's style of reading reflects his reserved and aloof mannerisms.
piquet a card game for two persons, played with 32 cards.
he . . . blots the rest Bingley writes so quickly that the ink makes blots on the paper, blurring his words.
panegyric high or hyperbolic (exaggerated) praise; laudation.
laudable worthy of being lauded; praiseworthy; commendable.
precipitance great haste; rashness.
celerity swiftness in acting or moving; speed.
aweful inspiring awe; highly impressive.
expostulation the act of reasoning with a person earnestly, objecting to that person's actions or intentions; remonstration.
approbation official approval, sanction, or commendation.
a Scotch air a Scottish song or tune.
a reel a lively Scottish dance.
felicity happiness; bliss.
gaily in a gay manner; happily; merrily; joyously.
When the ladies removed after dinner to go away. It was the custom for women and men to separate for a time after dinner. The men smoked cigars, drank, and discussed business or other subjects "unsuitable" for female ears, while the women talked and waited for the men to join them.
I shall send round my cards I will send out invitations.
propitious favorably inclined or disposed; gracious.
postscript a note or paragraph added below the signature in a letter or at the end of a book or speech as an afterthought or to give supplementary information.
laconic brief or terse in speech or expression; using few words.
flog to beat with a strap, stick, or whip, especially as punishment.
iniquitous showing iniquity; wicked; unjust.
filial of, suitable to, or due from a son or daughter.
ordination being ordained (officially installed), as to the religious ministry.
patronage support, encouragement, or sponsorship, given by a patron.
the offered olive branch peace offering.
se'night [Archaic] a week.
asperity harshness or sharpness of temper.
affability the quality of being pleasant and easy to approach or talk to.
condescension the act of condescending, or descending voluntarily to the level, regarded as lower, of the person one is dealing with; being graciously willing to do something regarded as beneath one's dignity.
discourses long and formal treatments of a subject or subjects, in speech or writing; lectures; treatises; dissertations.
quadrille a card game, popular in the eighteenth century, played by four persons.
phaeton a light, four-wheeled carriage of the nineteenth century, drawn by one or two horses, with front and back seats and, usually, a folding top for the front.
Has she been presented? Has Miss De Bourgh been brought to be introduced formally to the Queen?
a circulating library a library which loans books for use elsewhere, sometimes for a daily fee.
importune [Obsolete] to trouble; annoy.
affront an open or intentional insult; slight to one's dignity.