Not far from the Bennet residence lives the Lucas family. Sir William Lucas is friendly and obliging and was given the title of knight by the king during his mayoralty. Mrs. Bennet considers his wife, Lady Lucas, a “valuable neighbor.” The Lucases have several children, and Charlotte, who at about twenty-seven is the eldest, is Elizabeth’s close friend. The Lucas ladies and Bennet ladies meet to talk about the events of the ball, and Mrs. Bennet compliments Charlotte on being Mr. Bingley’s first choice of dance. Charlotte defers the compliment, noting that he seemed to prefer his second dance—with Jane—better. She goes on to say that rumors are circulating about Bingley’s comments on the unparalleled beauty of Jane Bennet.
The conversation soon turns to Mr. Darcy, and the consensus of the group is that he seemed too quiet and disagreeable. Jane divulges that, according to Bingley, Darcy is only talkative around “intimate acquaintance” and that his friends find him “remarkably agreeable.” Charlotte mentions that she wishes Darcy had danced with Elizabeth, and Mrs. Bennet instructs her daughter to avoid dancing with him should the situation ever present itself. Elizabeth assures her mother that she will never dance with the man. Charlotte notes that Darcy has every right to be proud: after all, he is wealthy, has a wonderful family, and generally everything works in his favor. Elizabeth archly responds that she could “forgive his pride if he had not mortified [hers].”
The ladies of Longbourn and Netherfield exchange visits, and Jane finds favor with Mr. Bingley’s sisters. His sisters find Mrs. Bennet “intolerable” and the younger sisters “not worth speaking to,” but they wish to get to know Elizabeth and Jane better. Elizabeth does not change her initial opinion of Bingley’s sisters, finding them “supercilious” and difficult to like. Elizabeth later mentions to Charlotte that although she thinks Jane is on the path toward love with Bingley, Jane is guarded with her emotions, so it is difficult to perceive her true feelings. Charlotte thinks that this could be a disadvantage to Jane: in keeping her feelings about Mr. Bingley so private, she might miss her opportunity to win his heart. Charlotte explains that men need help in deciphering the desires of women and that in “nine cases out of ten a woman had better show more affection than she feels,” advising that Jane make the most out of every opportunity she has to share time with Bingley. Elizabeth says that Jane is simply trying to determine the “degree of her own regard” toward Bingley, but Charlotte replies that happiness in marriage is a matter of chance and that Jane should jump now at the chance to be with Bingley.
Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, she is beginning to find favor in the eyes of Mr. Darcy. Though he barely considered her at the ball, in subsequent interactions, Darcy has begun to notice the intelligent expression in Elizabeth’s dark eyes. Her figure now strikes him as rather light and pleasing, and her playful nature is intriguing. Wanting to know more about her, Darcy begins to insert himself into the conversations she has with others. At a party at the Lucas estate, Sir William Lucas presents Elizabeth to Darcy as a dance partner; however, Elizabeth resists, even after Darcy requests the honor of her hand. Left alone, Darcy is approached by Caroline Bingley, who complains about the noise and the people. Darcy comments that he has actually been thinking about the beauty of one pair of eyes, and Caroline is shocked to learn that Darcy is thinking of Elizabeth Bennet....
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She scoffs at the idea of such a ridiculous union, joking about the mother-in-law he would have, but Darcy listens to her with “perfect indifference.”
The narrator explains that Mr. Bennet’s property is entailed and must pass to a male heir. Since the Bennets only have daughters, their home will be inherited by distant male relation upon Mr. Bennet’s death. Mrs. Bennet inherited enough from her father to ensure her own comfort, but there will be nothing left for her daughters.
The Bennet girls often travel to Meryton to visit Mrs. Phillips, their maternal aunt. The youngest Bennet daughters, Catherine (“Kitty”) and Lydia, frequently visit their aunt to hear news of the militia regiment that has recently come to town. After listening to his youngest daughters’ endless talk of young officers, Mr. Bennet proclaims his Catherine and Lydia the “silliest girls in the country”—much to the dismay of his wife.
A letter arrives from Caroline Bingley inviting Jane to visit Netherfield; Jane begs for the carriage, but her scheming mother refuses, noting that it should rain and then Jane will be forced to spend the night at the Netherfield. Sure enough, after Jane leaves, an unrelenting downpour begins, and it is clear that Jane cannot return. The following morning, Jane sends word to Elizabeth that she is ill, which she attributes to being soaked by the rain. Feeling anxious for her sister, Elizabeth is determined to walk the muddy route to Netherfield to visit her. Mrs. Bennet protests, exclaiming that she will look a mess when she arrives, but Elizabeth retorts that she will look fine to see Jane, who is the only person she cares about.
Elizabeth crosses fields and jumps stiles to reach her sister at Netherfield. Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are shocked to see that she journeyed alone and in such unfavorable conditions, and Elizabeth is convinced that they hold her “in contempt for it.” After being told that Jane hasn’t rested well and is feverish, Elizabeth is taken to her sister, who is delighted for this company. An apothecary arrives and instructs Jane to remain in bed. Elizabeth cares for her sister until the mid-afternoon, when she reluctantly mentions that she needs to head home. After Jane expresses concern about her sister’s departure, Caroline extends a reluctant invitation for Elizabeth to remain at Netherfield. Elizabeth agrees, and a servant is sent to Longbourn to retrieve some additional clothing.
At dinner, Elizabeth notes Caroline and Mrs. Hurst’s apparent “indifference” toward Jane, but she also recognizes Mr. Bingley’s genuine concern for Jane. After Elizabeth leaves to check on her sister, Caroline and Mrs. Hurst criticize her decision to trek through the mud to Netherfield, saying she has no style, no taste, and no beauty. Mr. Bingley disagrees, saying that Eilzabeth’s sisterly affection is pleasing, and his sister comments to Darcy that surely this display has affected his admiration of her. On the contrary, Darcy says, he enjoyed the brightness that the additional exercise brought to Elizabeth’s eyes. The women then turn to discussing the “vulgar relations” of the Bennet girls, noting that such “low connections” will surely hurt their chances of marrying well.
Taking a break from caring for Jane, Elizabeth rejoins the group downstairs. Caroline inquires about Darcy’s sister, and the conversation turns to a discussion of what qualities make an “accomplished” woman—after Darcy comments that he only knows around six. The general consensus among the group is that such a woman must not only possess a thorough knowledge of singing, drawing, dancing, reading, and languages but also maintain an air of confidence and a certain tone of voice. Elizabeth, however, rejects this list of ideal qualities, archly remarking that she’s never met such a woman. When Elizabeth returns to Jane, the sisters criticize her for “undervaluing” other women. Elizabeth returns to announce that Jane is doing poorly, and it is decided that Mr. Jones, the local physician, should be called if Jane’s condition isn’t improved by morning.