Last Updated on June 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1091
The novel opens at Longbourn, the estate home of the Bennet family. Mrs. Bennet eagerly announces to her husband and daughters that a newcomer has arrived at Netherfield Park, a nearby estate. She wishes for her husband to express an interest in the newcomer’s identity, but Mr. Bennet will not be easily pulled into her conversation. Finally, Mrs. Bennet reveals that “Mr. Bingley” is the new arrival’s name and that he has a large fortune, which she believes is an advantageous turn of events for their five unmarried daughters. Mr. Bennet, determined to be difficult, comments that he fails to see the connection, leading his wife to inform him that “it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them.” Mrs. Bennet begs her husband to visit their new neighbor, but he refuses, apparently enjoying vexing his wife. Unamused, Mrs. Bennet pleads with him to consider the fate of their daughters, and he dryly suggests that Mrs. Bennet herself should visit and that he will send along his approval for Mr. Bingley to marry any of the Bennet daughters, though he shall toss in a special word for Lizzy. This preferential statement bothers Mrs. Bennet, who praises several of her other daughters instead and quips that Mr. Bennet has “no compassion for [her] poor nerves.”
As Elizabeth Bennet trims a hat, her father comments that he hopes Mr. Bingley will like it. Still annoyed, Mrs. Bennet pointedly comments that they have no way of knowing what Mr. Bingley would like since her husband refuses to pay him a visit. Kitty begins coughing, and her increasingly frazzled mother declares that the coughing is tearing her nerves to pieces. Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet discuss whether Mrs. Long, an acquaintance, might introduce them to Mr. Bingley. When Mr. Bennet comments that perhaps Mrs. Bennet will be able to make the introductions herself, Mrs. Bennet announces she is sick of hearing about Mr. Bingley. Her husband then casually reveals that this is too bad since he’s already paid the man a visit and they “cannot escape the acquaintance now.” Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed and observes that her husband has played a good joke on them all. She believes Lydia, though the youngest daughter, will dance with Mr. Bingley at the next ball, and Lydia agrees, noting that she is the tallest of the sisters.
Mrs. Bennet and her daughters try to pry details from Mr. Bennet regarding his visit with Mr. Bingley, but he evades all of their questions. Mrs. Bennet dreams of seeing one of her daughters settled at Netherfield and all the others equally well matched. A few days later, Mr. Bingley returns Mr. Bennet’s visit and sits with him for about ten minutes in the library at Longbourn before receiving an invitation to dinner at the Bennet household. Unfortunately, Bingley says he cannot attend the dinner, as he will be out of town the following day. The Bennets learn from Lady Lucas, who lives nearby, that Bingley plans to bring back a large party with him from London for a ball.
The Bennet girls are disheartened at the number of ladies who are expected to join Bingley but are later pleased when he arrives at the ball with only two of his sisters, his brother-in-law, and another young man named Mr. Darcy. The attendees at the ball consider Mr. Bingley handsome and gentlemanly, yet Mr. Darcy initially receives even more attention for his striking good looks and reportedly even larger fortune. However, the locals quickly determine that Darcy is “proud,” and the manners of Bingley are much preferred. While Bingley is lively, dancing every dance, Darcy dances only twice and only with women from his own party. He declines to be introduced to other young ladies and is thus quickly labeled as disagreeable.
At the ball, Elizabeth happens to overhear a conversation between Bingley and Darcy; Bingley comments on the lovely girls at the ball, and Darcy retorts that Bingley is dancing with the only pretty girl there—Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s elder sister. Bingley comments that Jane’s sister is sitting just behind Darcy and is “very pretty.” Darcy turns to look at Elizabeth and then tells his friend that she is “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Elizabeth retells this story with “great spirit” to her friends, a testament to her “lively, playful disposition.” In the end, Mrs. Bennet is pleased that Jane not only was asked to dance with Bingley twice but also appeared to have been favorably received by the women in Bingley’s party. She returns home to tell her husband all the details of the dance, but he quickly grows tired of her overly detailed report. She also mentions the way Darcy slighted Elizabeth and tells her husband that she “quite detest[s] the man.”
Chatting alone with Elizabeth, Jane admits to her sister that she is incredibly flattered that Mr. Bingley asked her to dance a second time. She loves his humor and manners, and Elizabeth playfully points out that he is also quite handsome. Elizabeth approves of Bingley, whom she finds very “agreeable,” adding that her sister has “liked many a stupider person.” Jane is fairly aghast at this statement, and Elizabeth explains that Jane is so kindhearted that she only sees the good in everyone. When Elizabeth asks if Jane likes Bingley’s sisters, Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Jane acknowledges that their manners are not as smooth as their brother’s but says she expects to find them all “charming” neighbors. Elizabeth is not convinced but keeps her reservations to herself, thinking that while Bingley’s sisters are beautiful and wealthy, they are also “proud and conceited.”
The narration then turns to a discussion of Darcy and Bingley’s friendship, which, despite their differing dispositions, is strong and enduring. The two balance each other in many ways: while Darcy is intelligent and reserved, Bingley is inviting and pleasing. These qualities are reflected in their conversation following the ball at Meryton: Bingley believes the girls are the prettiest he’s ever seen, and he thinks Jane is an angel. Darcy noted little beauty in the group and received no pleasure from the gathering—and he believes that even the beautiful Jane smiled too much. Bingley’s sisters admire Jane and classify her as a “sweet girl,” and their apparent approval makes Bingley feel that he can proceed to investigate the nature of his feelings toward Jane.
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