The Bennets have modest means. Mr. Bennet has only an income of two thousand a year, which unfortunately will pass to a distant cousin on his death. Mrs. Bennet has inherited only four thousand pounds from her father, which does not offer substantial security to her daughters.
The young Bennet girls, especially Catherine and Lydia, frequently visit Meryton. It is a village in the vicinity of Longbourn where their maternal aunt, Mrs. Philips, resides. The arrival of a military regiment in the neighborhood is a source of great excitement for the young girls. Mrs. Philips' accounts of the officers entertain Catherine and Lydia, and they talk endlessly about the soldiers. Their father is bothered by their perpetual talk of men and calls them the silliest girls in the country. Mrs. Bennet always defends them.
A note arrives for Jane from Caroline Bingley, asking her to dinner since her brother and Darcy are dining out. Jane leaves for Netherfield on horseback, and heavy rains prevent her from returning home. A letter arrives at the Bennets the next morning, stating that Jane is unwell, and, therefore, detained at Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet is thrilled rather than being upset on hearing this news. She views it as a favorable development of the matrimonial dream that she has for Jane. Elizabeth is genuinely worried about her sister and walks three miles to Netherfield to check on her. By the time she reaches the Bingley residence, Elizabeth is a mess. The ladies are appalled to see her dirty appearance. Darcy wonders why she has walked such a long distance in bad weather and all alone. At the same time he admires her brilliant complexion, which is aglow with the warmth of exercise.
When Elizabeth is taken to Jane, she finds her feverish. She has caught a
violent cold and needs bed-rest. Elizabeth is grateful when she is invited
to stay with her sister. A servant is dispatched to Longbourn to inform
her parents and to bring clothes for Jane and Elizabeth.
Mrs. Bennet's excessive concern of getting her daughters married is partially due to the financial circumstances of the Bennets, which are made clear in this chapter. If something happens to Mr. Bennet, the family will have no income and Mrs. Bennet's inheritance from her father is meager.
The appearance of the military regiment in Meryton paves the way for the later introduction of Wickham. It also brings out the worst in the youngest Bennet daughters, who can talk of nothing but the handsome officers.
The family's reaction to Jane's sickness if very typical. Mrs. Bennet is delighted at the situation, for she sees it as an opportunity for Jane to spend some time with Bingley; she does not seem the least bit concerned about Jane's health. By contrast, Elizabeth is extremely concerned and walks the long distance to Netherfield in bad weather to check on his sister. Her concern once again highlights that Elizabeth is driven by feeling and impulse.
The Bingley sisters are also contrasted to Elizabeth in this chapter. They pretend to care about Jane and fawn over her in a counterfeit manner. Also reflecting their shallowness is their ready to please attitude towards Darcy, which is quite lackluster when compared to Elizabeth's emotions about Darcy.
This chapter is structurally important to the novel. Through Jane's illness,
the author brings together the four main characters, Darcy, Bingley, Elizabeth,
and Jane, and develops their personalities.
After dinner, Elizabeth returns to Jane, who is not improving. Elizabeth is very touched by Mr. Bingley's genuine concern for her ailing sister and the attention he pays to both of them; he is the only one that does not make her feel like an intruder at Netherfield.
After Elizabeth departs from dinner, Miss Bingley begins to criticize her manners, saying that Elizabeth is a crude mixture of pride and impertinence and that she lacks style and grace. Mrs. Hurst agrees with her whole-heartedly and again describes the slovenly fashion in which Elizabeth has arrived at Netherfield. Mr. Bingley defends Elizabeth, praising her independent spirit and her great concern for her sister. Darcy remarks that the walk had illumined Elizabeth's fine eyes.
Later in the evening, Elizabeth joins the party in the drawing room, where
everyone is engaged in a game of cards. Elizabeth declines to play, preferring
to read a book. Miss Bingley makes catty remarks about her choice, but
Mr. Bingley kindly brings Elizabeth some books from his modest collection.
The conversation turns to Darcy's fine home, Pemberley, with its imposing
library. The mention of Pemberley excites Miss Bingley, and she pays exaggerated
tributes to Darcy's house and his accomplished sister'. There are subtle
overtones of criticism targeted at Elizabeth in Miss Bingley's observations.
This chapter further develops the characters of the Bingley sisters. For all their purported sophistication, they act in an uncultured manner as they deride Elizabeth. Bingley and Darcy refuse to join in the criticism of Elizabeth. In fact, both men defend her, which upsets Caroline Bingley.
During the chapter, Darcy states what qualifications his future wife must possess. He refuses to have a dumb beauty for his wife. Instead, he is seeking a lady with taste, elegance, and intelligence. Elizabeth certainly possesses all three of these traits, even though Darcy does not yet fully realize that fact.
It is important to notice the manner in which the characters speak in this
and other chapters. Darcy speaks in long, involved sentences in a carefully
thought-out manner, reflecting his basic nature. Elizabeth answers him
pertly and concisely. Darcy is impressed with Elizabeth's ability to summarize
the essence of an argument with so much ease.