Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1385
Essential Passage 1: Book 1, Chapter 3
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“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Benet.
“Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you!”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own, and coldly said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained, with no very cordial feelings toward him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.
At the ball at Meryton, the Bennet family meet Mr. Bingley as well as his friend and advisor, Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley is taken with Jane Bennet, dancing with her twice, a clear signal that she has gained his favor. Mr. Darcy, however, dances only with those whom he is already acquainted, which does not include any of the local people and especially not the Bennet girls. Standing near the two gentlemen, Elizabeth Bennet overhears their conversation. Bingley chides Darcy for being “fastidious” in his opinion of the ladies, but Darcy says that Bingley has already chosen for himself the only attractive girl in the room—Jane Bennet. Bingley suggests that Darcy ask Jane’s sister, Elizabeth, to dance, but Darcy refuses by saying that her modicum of beauty is not enough to tempt him. Elizabeth goes immediately to her sisters and friends, more amused than offended by Darcy’s prideful attitude and remarks.
Essential Passage 2: Book 1, Chapter 22
Charlotte did not stay much longer, and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins' making two offers of marriage in three days was nothing in comparison of his being now accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte's opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own; but she could not have supposed it possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte, the wife of Mr. Collins, was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself, and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.
Because the Bennets' Longbourne estate is "entailed" (i.e., legally inheritable only by male descendants), the girls will lose their home once their father dies. It is therefore imperative that they marry well. Mr. Collins, a rector, is the heir to the estate, even though his father and Mr. Bennet have long been in conflict. After his father’s death, Mr. Collins tries to make amends for the quarrel and comes to visit the Bennets (Mrs. Bennet suspects, however, that he has come just to “scout out” his future home). He proposes marriage to Elizabeth, who adamantly rejects such a union, finding Mr. Collins odious and obnoxious. Mrs. Bennet is upset because the marriage would allow the family to keep Longbourne, but Mr. Bennet approves of and supports Elizabeth’s decision. Mr. Collins then turns to a Longbourne neighbor, Charlotte Lucas, who is Elizabeth’s closest friend outside of the family. When Mr. Collins proposes, Charlotte accepts, which horrifies Elizabeth. She reflects on her Charlotte's sad fate of choosing security over happiness, something that Elizabeth could not do herself.
Essential Passage 3: Book 2, Chapter 13
“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities—who have often disdained the generous candor of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameless mistrust. How humiliating is this discovery! Yet how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either as concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”
Darcy has approached Elizabeth and confessed his love for her, even though he feels that it is not in his best interests. He deplores her family, sees her social and financial status as beneath him, yet he loves her still. Elizabeth is shocked by this confession, particularly because Darcy has sabotaged her sister's engagement. Elizabeth bluntly rejects his proposal of marriage, stating that he would be the last man on earth she would consent to marry. The next day, as she is out walking, Darcy approaches her and hands her a letter in which he explains his reasons for convincing Bingley to end his courtship of Jane. Elizabeth sees the reasonableness of his impressions, because he is unfamiliar with Jane, and Jane is inhibited in expressing her feelings. Elizabeth sees that she has been prejudiced against Darcy and blind to his true motivations. She has a moment of epiphany, one in which she truly sees how prideful she has been herself and how unfair she has been in her judgment. It is at this moment that her feelings about Darcy begin to change.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Burdened by a neurotic mother, an uninvolved father, silly sisters, and categorizing friends and neighbors, Elizabeth Bennet is an independent woman in a frustratingly conventional world. Even though a financially profitable marriage is the only recourse for a woman of her social status, Elizabeth refuses to be thrust into such a relationship. Encountering the available and very wealthy Mr. Darcy, she is amused rather than upset by his rejection of her. She finds his narrow views of herself and other country people to be misguided and laughable. Instead of being blinded by his “ten thousand a year,” Elizabeth sees only his hubris and conceit. It is on this initial impression that she continues to develop her opinion of Darcy.
Elizabeth also sees marriage to Mr. Collins as unacceptable, even though the fate of her family depends on her acceptance of his proposal. By rejecting him, she allows the estate of Longbourne to pass out of her branch of the family and into the hands of Mr. Collins. Convinced of the rightness of her decision, she nevertheless knows that a marriage freely chosen and based on independence is not the frequent lot of women. She is thus depressed by the loss of her friend, Charlotte Lucas, who does choose to accept Mr. Collins’s proposal. Coupled with her depression is a feeling of isolation because Elizabeth believes there is not a single man of honor with whom she might be compatible. As Mr. Darcy sees himself better than country people, so Elizabeth sees herself superior to any prospective mates around her.
Yet with the reading of Darcy’s letter, which explains his motivations, Elizabeth comes to know herself more clearly. It is not only Darcy’s pride that has stood in the way but her own as well. Although his observations concerning Jane were wrong, Darcy now appears to Elizabeth as a person who is indeed flawed, as she herself is, but equally capable of being honorable. Her rejection of his proposal, however, has left her even more alone than before. Without hesitation or regret, she pridefully rejected a marriage of monetary convenience, but she now knows that pride has denied her—temporarily at least—a marriage of genuine love and happiness.