The following evening, the Bennet girls, Mr. Collins, and Wickham assemble at Mrs. Philips’ house. Collins finds an earnest listener in Mrs. Philips and rambles on about Lady Catherine and her grandiose mansion.
Wickham seats himself next to Elizabeth, and the two start conversing. Wickham
tells her that he has been connected to Darcy’s family from infancy. Darcy’s
late father, an excellent man, had bequeathed him a good part of his estate,
but Darcy had treated him scandalously. Disregarding his father’s wishes,
he gave away Wickham’s share to someone else. This act of backstabbing,
Wickham says, compelled him to join the army, although he was brought
up to take a role in the Church. When Elizabeth asks Wickham about Darcy’s
sister, he replies that she is as proud as Darcy; she is now sixteen years
old and is ‘highly accomplished’. He also reveals that Lady Catherine
is Darcy’s aunt, and it is believed that Darcy will marry her daughter
and, thereby, unite the two estates. Elizabeth returns home with her mind
full of Wickham and what he has told her. She wonders how a sweet-tempered
man like Bingley could take for a friend a disagreeable man like Darcy.
This chapter diversifies the plot. Wickham blackens Darcy’s character by giving
Elizabeth a distorted account of what took place between himself and Darcy
over the estate of Darcy’s father. Elizabeth, who is already prejudiced
against Darcy, readily accepts Wickham’s account as truth, overlooking
a fundamental discrepancy between what Wickham asserts and what he does.
Wickham says that he does not intend to cast aspersions on Darcy’s character,
but that is exactly what happens. Wickham also talks at length about Darcy’s
pride. Elizabeth agrees with Wickham’s assessment, oblivious to her own
prejudice that dwarfs her vision. The irony of the situation is that Darcy’s
pride is a catalyst for prejudice, which, in turn, causes a chain-reaction.
Wickham’s prejudiced account of Darcy’s prejudice against him, prejudices
Elizabeth even more against Darcy, who seems to be prejudiced against
everyone! Elizabeth and Darcy must work through a depth of pride and prejudice
before their relationship can develop.
Elizabeth discloses to Jane everything that she has learned from Wickham. Jane wisely says that there are two sides to every story.
A ball is announced at Netherfield, and Mr. Bingley and his sisters call on
the Bennets to issue an invitation. Mr. Collins asks Elizabeth for the
first two dances. Elizabeth accepts grudgingly, for she had hoped to dance
with Wickham. For the next few days, the girls are confined indoors because
of the rains, but they eagerly await the Netherfield ball.
This chapter points out a contrast between the two oldest Bennet sisters. Jane is hesitant to believe Wickham’s account about Darcy; she always sees the good in a person and wants to give the benefit of the doubt. Elizabeth, on the other hand, accepts Wickham’s story as fact, largely because she is already prejudiced against Darcy. Although Elizabeth is usually more insightful of people than her sister, in this case she is totally blinded. She judges Darcy as unacceptable and finds Wickham acceptable, hoping to dance with him at the ball.
The excitement and eager preparations of the girls for the Netherfield ball
serve to stress the importance of social gatherings in the microcosmic
world the village gentry inhabit.
On the night of the ball, Elizabeth is despondent because Wickham is not present. Mr. Denny informs her that Wickham has been called to town. Elizabeth, however, suspects that he has chosen not to attend in order to avoid Darcy. She, therefore, decides to ignore Darcy. When she is compelled to dance with Darcy later in the evening, Elizabeth deliberately mentions Wickham. Darcy is disconcerted and speaks in a constrained manner. Elizabeth verbally attacks him, but Darcy remains quiet.
Miss Bingley speaks disdainfully about Wickham and advises Elizabeth not to believe his false story about Darcy. She criticizes Wickham, stating he is the son of a dependent of Darcy’s house. Elizabeth is put off by Miss Bingley and seeks her elder sister. Jane informs her that she has spoken to Mr. Bingley about Wickham. Bingley is ignorant about the facts surrounding the inheritance left by Darcy’s father, but he vouches for Darcy’s stainless reputation.
Mr. Collins sticks to Elizabeth throughout the evening and refuses to be introduced
to any other lady, totally exasperating Elizabeth. He is ecstatic to learn
that Darcy is Lady Catherine’s nephew. Elizabeth watches him speak gushingly
to Darcy, who responds to him with an air of distant civility. During
supper, Mrs. Bennet speaks profusely to Lady Lucas of her expectation
that Mr. Bingley will soon marry Jane. Mr. Darcy overhears them, and Elizabeth
tries vainly to check her mother’s unrestrained confidences. After supper,
Mary tries to entertain the party by singing. She has a faltering voice,
and her manner is pretentious. Elizabeth, who is already embarrassed by
her mother’s indiscreet behavior, is further mortified by her sister’s
attempts at singing. Thankfully, Mr. Bennet catches Elizabeth’s agonizing
glances and bids Mary to let the other ladies sing. Mr. Collins then gives
a pompous and contrived speech, which adds to the disasters of the evening.
The confrontation between Darcy and Elizabeth once again highlights Elizabeth’s prejudice. She is resolved not to be drawn into conversation with Darcy, but his proposal to dance takes her so much by surprise that she agrees to it. During the dance, they are initially very silent. Elizabeth finally forces a conversation which rattles with ironic dissonance. Elizabeth, hinting that she is referring to Wickham, asks Darcy if he ever reverses his judgement about the character of a person. She then remarks that "it is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first." The irony of her words is obvious, for she has misjudged Darcy.
Although Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy, she is intrigued by his character, which she views as complex; he is very unlike Bingley, who is more simple and easy to understand. Darcy is equally intrigued with Elizabeth and worries about her judging him incorrectly; but social decorum prevents him from openly contradicting her or telling her the truth about Wickham. It is ironic that Elizabeth fails to notice the difference between Darcy and Wickham. Wickham never misses a chance to besmirch Darcy, but Darcy is too much of a gentleman to say a word against Wickham.
The hierarchical structure of old English society and the snobberies of rank
are evident in this chapter. Elizabeth’s family appears gauche and unacceptable
among the high-brow Bingleys and their friends. Mary Bennet embarrasses
her sister and bores the company by her endless singing. Mrs. Bennet speaks
loudly and rudely about Darcy when he is within earshot; she also loudly
confides in Lady Lucas about her speculation that Bingley will soon marry
Jane. Both Darcy and Bingley are repulsed by the vulgar Mrs. Bennet and
her younger daughters. Elizabeth is aware of her family’s disgraceful
demeanor, but fails to comprehend how this will later jeopardize Jane’s
chances with Bingley,
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