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...
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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 declines the offer. Undeterred, Mr. Collins replies that he knows women often decline proposals as a matter of form so that men will repeat them two or three times, but Elizabeth counters that such women would be quite daring to risk potential happiness on a gamble. Elizabeth wishes him well and insists that the family won’t begrudge him inheriting Longbourn when the time comes; however, Mr. Collins still won’t accept her refusal, which he thinks is merely an attempt to increase his love “by suspense.” He informs Elizabeth that he’s certain she will come around once he brings the matter to her parents.
Mr. Collins finds Mrs. Bennet as he exits and tells her that he is encouraged by Elizabeth’s rejection, noting that it adds to her “bashful modesty.” Mrs. Bennet is shocked and promises him that her headstrong and foolish daughter will be brought to her senses. Mr. Collins begins to second-guess himself, speculating aloud about whether such a woman could make him happy. Mrs. Bennet asks her husband to force Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins and threatens never to see her daughter again if she refuses. After hearing all the details, Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth that if she doesn’t marry Mr. Collins, she’ll never see her mother again—but if she does marry him, she’ll never see her father again, and Elizabeth is relieved to have her father’s support. Charlotte Lucas stops by, and Mrs. Bennet begs her to convince Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins; however, Mr. Collins reenters the room and informs Mrs. Bennet that he must withdraw his proposal, though he bears no ill will toward the family.
After the failed proposal, Mr. Collins scarcely speaks to Elizabeth but finds a listening ear in Charlotte Lucas. Meanwhile, Jane receives a distressing letter from Caroline Bingley, which she privately shares with Elizabeth. In it, Caroline conveys that the Bingleys have departed for London and do not plan to return to Netherfield for the foreseeable future. She also pointedly writes that her brother has always admired Miss Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, and that the entire family—herself included—hopes for a union between the two. Elizabeth comforts Jane, saying that Caroline knows her brother is in love with Jane and is simply trying to manipulate the situation, as the Bennets do not have the wealth or status Caroline expects in her brother’s future wife. Jane, however, refuses to consider that her friend would intentionally hurt her and hopes instead that Caroline is simply mistaken about her brother’s feelings.
Mr. Collins continues to spend time with Charlotte Lucas, and Elizabeth is grateful to her friend for keeping him distracted and in good spirits. What Elizabeth doesn’t know is that Charlotte’s attentions toward Mr. Collins have drawn his affection, and early one morning, he hastens to Lucas Lodge to profess his love for Charlotte and ask for her hand in marriage. Miss Lucas’s parents consider this a good match, as they can provide little fortune for their daughter. Charlotte believes Mr. Collins to be “neither sensible nor agreeable” and finds his company irksome; however, as a plain twenty-seven-year-old woman of no fortune, she considers herself very fortunate to have received such a proposal. Charlotte arrives at Longbourn to privately convey these developments to Elizabeth, who is shocked by the news. Charlotte is a bit insulted by her friend’s incredulous response to her engagement and defends her choice, explaining that she has never been a romantic and believes that her opportunity for happiness is as great as any other woman getting married. After she leaves, Elizabeth ponders the strangeness of Mr. Collins proposing twice within three days and the willingness of her friend to sacrifice “feelings” to “worldly advantage.”
Sir William Lucas arrives at Longbourn to announce the engagement of his daughter. His news is met with disbelief by Mrs. Bennet, who is still convinced that Mr. Collins will marry Elizabeth. When Elizabeth affirms her knowledge of the engagement, her mother is livid: a month passes before she can speak civilly to the Lucases, and many months pass before she forgives Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Elizabeth’s relationship has grown more distant, causing Elizabeth to turn her attention toward Jane, who has still heard nothing from Bingley. As time passes, Elizabeth begins to worry that Bingley’s sisters will be successful in keeping him away from Jane. Charlotte’s visits to Longbourn now pain Mrs. Bennet, who complains to her husband that one day she will be forced out of her home so that Charlotte Lucas can move in.