After having met and conversed with Wickham, one of Lydia's soldier friends, on Bennet girls' way to visit relatives in Meryton, Elizabeth forms a poor opinion of Mr. Darcy. Then, in Chapter XVIII of Book I, when Wickham is not present at the ball, Elizabeth overhears Mr. Denny say that Wickham is trying to avoid "a certain gentleman here," so she holds her prejudice against Darcy: "Attention, forbearance, patience with Darcy was injury to Wickham."
At the ball at Netherfield, Elizabeth dances with an officer; she speaks of Wickham and learns that he is well-liked. So, when Mr. Darcy approaches her for a dance, Elizabeth accepts him only because she is taken by surprise. But, her friend Charlotte encourages her, saying that she will find him agreeable; however, Elizabeth replies sardonically,
“Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”
Thus, their conversation is brief; at first, Elizabeth resolves not to speak, but then decides it will ire him more to speak. His replies are cryptic; then, Darcy asks her, “Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?” Their conversation remains chilled and stilted. When Elizabeth attempts some ironic humor by saying that they are both taciturn unless they have something to impart which will stun everyone, Darcy returns her words with reticence. Elizabeth, then, mentions that she has made a new acquaintance on the way to Meryton, and "[A] deeper shade of hauteur" appears on Darcy's face. Still, Elizabeth continues her questioning of Darcy, taunting him with saying that she has heard that his
Darcy replies that he is careful in his judgments; further, he inquires why she asks him such questions, and adds that were she to form opinions about him now, she would do neither him nor herself any justice. With this remark, he parts coldly from her despite "a tolerably powerful feeling toward her." Clearly, there is a sexual tension that develops between Elizabeth and Darcy. This tension increases throughout the narrative as, for instance, during the period when Elizabeth comes to nurse her sister and stays at Netherfield. Interestingly, they converse with each other on a different plane from their speech to others. For example, Miss Bingley asks Elizabeth her opinion of Mr. Darcy:
"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."
"No"--said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension." ... "There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best of education can overcome."
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody."
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them."
Ironically, here Elizabeth believes she has the upper hand in their conversation, but it is Darcy who perceives her nature better than she does. Along with the mischievousness of Elizabeth, there is both a sexual attraction and an intellectual one between her and Darcy and a tension because of this that continues throughout the narrative until Elizabeth receives a letter from her aunt which causes her reassessment of her relationship with Darcy, whose proposal she has refused. When she is at Pemberley in Chapter XLIV, Elizabeth is impressed with Darcy's impeccable manners and, having heard such praise from his servants, she gains a new respect for him.
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
"I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself. "
Still, Elizabeth harbors some resentment for what she perceives as Darcy's interference in her sister's affairs. It is only later that she learns that Darcy has intervened on the sister's behalf. Finally, then, reason conquers Elizabeth's earlier prejudices, and she learns to be more straightforward. Nevertheless, Elizabeth realizes that it is her clever humor and challenging conversation of which Darcy is fond. In Chapter LX, then, she playfully asks Darcy how he could ever have fallen in love with her,
"I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?''
Darcy tells Elizabeth that she has released him from his vanity, and he has loved her for her wit, her convictions, and self-assurance. Clearly, they have greatly changed their perspectives: pride is humbled, and prejudice dispelled.