Chapters 18–23 Summary
Upon arriving at the Netherfield ball, Elizabeth is greatly disappointed to learn that Mr. Wickham has decided not to attend, as he wishes to avoid Mr. Darcy. As promised, Elizabeth must endure the first two dances with Mr. Collins, who is both awkward and without ability as a partner. Unexpectedly, Mr. Darcy then approaches to ask Elizabeth for a dance, and she surprises herself by accepting. During their dance, Elizabeth brings up Wickham, and Darcy’s demeanor quickly changes. He allows that while Wickham’s personality allows him to make friends easily, he has a harder time keeping them. Sir William Lucas drops in on the dancing couple to comment on a likely union between Jane and Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy looks with a “serious expression” toward his friend. They part in silence, and Darcy realizes that he is forming “powerful feelings” toward Elizabeth.
Miss Bingley approaches Elizabeth, telling her that she is aware of Elizabeth’s new friendship with Wickham. She cautions Elizabeth, steadfastly vouching for the character of Darcy and insisting that he has been nothing but kind to Wickham. After she leaves, Elizabeth dismisses her as “willfully ignorant” of Darcy’s true character. Elizabeth then meets up with Jane, who has been asking Bingley questions about Wickham’s character. Bingley is confident in the goodness of Darcy, and although he lacks the details of the conflict, he considers Wickham a very imprudent man. Elizabeth chooses to ignore his perspective as well, reasoning that Bingley only knows what Darcy has told him.
Mr. Collins interrupts to tell Elizabeth that he has just learned that Lady Catherine’s nephew is at this party. Elizabeth tries to dissuade him from introducing himself to Mr. Darcy—Darcy is Mr. Collins’s social superior, and thus any introductions should be initiated by Darcy, not Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins ignores her protests, telling her that she does not understand the special laws governing the clergy. Elizabeth watches helplessly as Mr. Collins approaches Darcy and then as Darcy replies with “distant civility” before quickly moving away.
Left to observe Jane and Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth begins to imagine their likely marriage. At dinner, Mrs. Bennet imagines the same, only her speculations are loudly announced to Lady Lucas and, to Elizabeth’s dismay, are clearly overheard by Darcy. After dinner, the party seeks someone to sing, and Elizabeth is mortified when her sister Mary, who is not talented, volunteers and—even worse—begins a second song after her first one ends. Though she agonizes over her family’s embarrassing behavior, Elizabeth notices that Jane is still pleasantly talking with Bingley, who seems not to have noticed the family’s antics. Later in the evening, Mr. Collins informs Elizabeth that he desires to “remain close to her throughout the evening” so as to recommend himself to her.
Eventually, the ball concludes, and Mrs. Bennet arranges for their carriage to arrive a quarter hour after everyone else leaves, much to the dismay of Bingley’s sisters. Ignorant of this, Mrs. Bennet is certain that Jane will be married and settled at Netherfield in three or four months and is confident that even Elizabeth, her least favorite daughter, has found a “good enough” match in Mr. Collins.
After breakfast the next day, Mr. Collins asks Mrs. Bennet for a private audience with Elizabeth. Though Elizabeth begs her mother not to leave her, Mrs. Bennet insists that her daughter stay and listen to Mr. Collins. Left alone, Mr. Collins tells Elizabeth that he has selected her as his future wife and then proceeds to list all the reasons for his choice: He believes it is his duty as a clergyman to be married, and Lady Catherine has told him he needs an “active, useful” woman in his life. He also mentions that this union will benefit Elizabeth by keeping Longbourn estate in the immediate family. Elizabeth finally interrupts with her thanks but...
(The entire section is 1,436 words.)