Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Contributed by Tereasa Jacob
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Chapter 13-17
Summary

Summary: Chapters 13–15

The morning after Elizabeth and Jane return home from their stay at Netherfield, Mr. Bennet announces he has received a letter from a cousin, Mr. William Collins. He explains that Mr. Collins will soon be visiting the Bennets. This is significant, as this young man is the heir to the Longbourn estate. Mr. Collins is a clergyman whose patron is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a wealthy noblewoman. He serves as the vicar for her parish. Mr. Bennet says that the contents of his letter are “a mixture of servility and self-importance.” After Mr. Collins arrives for his visit to Longbourn, it is clear that his personality is a perfect reflection of how he came across in his written correspondence.  With a very formal manner, he apologizes for the fact that he stands to inherit the estate but then spends a great deal of time examining and admiring the property.

At dinner, Mr. Collins talks a great deal about the wealthy Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her heiress daughter. He lavishly praises them, showing he clearly thinks they are models of perfection in every way. Once the meal is over, he is asked to read aloud but refuses to choose a novel. Instead, he reads passages from a book of sermons. The girls find this very boring, and Lydia rudely interrupts and begins talking about soldiers. This so offends Mr. Collins that he refuses to continue reading and decides to join Mr. Bennet for a game of backgammon, instead.

It becomes clear that Mr. Collins hopes to find someone to marry, and that he would like to find his wife from among the Bennet sisters. Mrs. Bennet lets him know that Jane is expected to be very soon engaged. He decided that Elizabeth will be the recipient of his attentions. He soon accompanies the Bennet sisters on a walk to Meryton, the nearby town. While there, they see Mr. Denny, one of Lydia’s officer acquaintances. Denny is there with a friend, Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham has recently joined the militia, and he is very handsome and charming. Darcy and Bingley happen upon the group. It is clear that Darcy and Wickham already know each other, and that they are certainly not friends. They are very cold in manner in their interaction.

After Darcy and Bingley leave, the group visits Mrs. Bennet’s sister, Mrs. Phillips, who lives in Meryton. Mrs. Phillips invites the Bennets and Mr. Collins to dinner the following night. The Bennet girls convince him to also invite Mr. Wickham. After the group returns to Longbourn, Mr. Collins spends a great deal of time talking about how impressed he was by Mrs. Phillip’s breeding and manners.

Summary: Chapters 16–17

Wickham attracts a lot of attention at the Phillips’s dinner party the next night. Mr. Collins is comparatively ignored. Elizabeth soon finds herself in conversation with Wickham, and the young man tells him the story of his life. He says that he had originally planned for a career in the Church of England as a clergyman, but that a lack of money prevented him from doing this.  Wickham says that he had been promised an inheritance by Mr. Darcy’s father, and that Darcy found a way to deny him what he was intended to have.

Elizabeth immediately believes Wickham’s story, as she likes him and dislikes Mr. Darcy. Later on, Elizabeth finds out from Wickham that Darcy is a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins’ wealthy patroness. Wickham says that Lady Catherine is “dictatorial and insolent.” After the party, Elizabeth’s head is filled with nothing “but Mr. Wickham, and what he had told her.”  ” She is bolstered in her opinion that Darcy deserves only her contempt.

Analysis

Mr. Collins, a character whose treatment by the author is arguably Jane Austen’s greatest example of satire, is introduced in these chapters. Wickham, the novel’s most villainous character, is also introduced. Mr. Collins is a parody of a serious clergyman. He is a vehicle for the author’s criticism of the custom of entailment, to show how ludicrous it is that the law will force Mr. Bennet’s estate to pass to this foolish young man instead of his own offspring. The author’s portrayal of Mr. Collins is also key to her criticism of snobbery in the novel. Unlike Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins is a snob not by virtue of his own rank but that of people with whom he can claim an association: Lady Catherine and her daughter.   Despite the fact that Mr. Collins does not occupy a high place on the social hierarchy and therefore does not benefit very much from class hierarchy, he is an enthusiastic believer in the existing social system. He is more than willing to be a toady to Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He never feels embarrassed about his fawning behavior. Instead, he feels that she has so much value as a noblewoman that he has the right to be self-important just as a result of the fact that she is his patroness.

Austen is skilled at making ridiculousness and stupidity comical, and Mr. Collins’ silly speeches are an excellent example of this. He becomes increasingly absurd as the story moves forward, but his ridiculous self-importance and bizarrely strict views of politeness make him a target for Mr. Bennet’s unique sense of humor. The suggestion that Mr. Collin’s pretense might have a deeper origin than suspected is seen in Mr. Bennet’s question as to whether he thinks up his compliments in advance. None of the novel’s ridiculous characters have any sense of how absurd they really are, and Mr. Collins is no exception. He replies to Mr. Bennet’s question with the answer that his compliments “arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.” It is impossible to disagree with Mr. Bennet’s assertion that “his cousin was as absurd” as he had anticipated (and hoped). 

Mr. Collins’ arrival in the story comes very soon before that of Wickham, and we see the former’s ridiculous nature contrast with Wickham’s charm. Wickham is described as being extremely handsome, but all of his appeal is on the surface. There is nothing good about him within, although Elizabeth does not know this. It is partly Wickham’s superficial attractiveness (and the fact that she doesn’t like Darcy) that make Elizabeth so quickly believe him over Darcy. While Darcy’s pride is clear from when he first appears in the novel, Elizabeth’s prejudice becomes equally evident in how she immediately believes that Darcy must be in the wrong. While readers may well be suspicious of a man who exhibits self-pity and tells very personal stories to a woman he has just met, Elizabeth doesn’t appear to have any doubt of his trustworthiness. This is evidence of the impact “first impressions” can have, an important theme in the novel. Elizabeth dislikes Darcy from the beginning of her acquaintance of him, and has the directly opposite response to Wickham. She allows herself to like Wickham from her very first conversation with him, and she chooses to believe everything he says despite the fact that Darcy has not had an opportunity to give his side of the story and Jane advises her against accepting everything a new acquittance says as true so easily. 

In these chapters, readers are also introduced to Mrs. Phillips and her household. While Mrs. Phillips is less shrill than Mrs. Bennet, her sister, she remains another decidedly low-class family connection for the Bennet sisters. Mr. Phillips, Mrs. Phillips’ husband, is an attorney in Meryton. This makes the Phillips family occupy a dramatically lower social station than the Bingleys, Darcys, and other people like them.

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