Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Contributed by Tereasa Jacob
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Chapter 18-23
Summary

Summary: Chapter 18

Elizabeth is very disappointed to discover that Wickham is not at the Netherfield ball. Mr. Denny claims that it is Darcy’s presence that makes Wickham want to stay away.  Elizabeth’s displeasure with the ball is made worse by the fact she has to endure two dances with the clumsy Mr. Collins. It becomes even more intense when she ends up dancing with Darcy. She finds it awkward to converse with him, and their interaction becomes especially difficult when she brings up Wickham. It is clear that Darcy has no wish to discuss him. After her dance with Darcy, Elizabeth is approached by Miss Bingley, who tells her she would be wise to stay away from Wickham. Elizabeth dismisses Miss Bingley’s advice as being a product of spite and snobbishness, and she ignores it. Jane soon informs Elizabeth that she has asked Bingley about Wickham and tells her what she discovered, but Elizabeth dismisses this by reasoning that all of Bingley’s information on Wickham must have come from Darcy.  Mr. Collins finds out that Darcy is a relation of Lady Catherine. Elizabeth tries to persuade Mr. Collins not to approach Darcy, but he will not listen. When he approaches Darcy, he is treated with contempt. It seems that Mr. Collins doesn’t even notice this: he is that obtuse.    

Elizabeth is mortified at supper when Mrs. Bennet loudly discusses the hoped-for engagement of Jane and Bingley. She tries to convince her mother to speak more quietly, pointing out that Darcy is evidently listening. Mrs. Bennet continues in her embarrassing behavior. When the meal is over, Mary makes things even worse by badly performing a song for the company. Mr. Collins then delivers a ridiculous and absurdly pompous speech. Elizabeth feels it wouldn’t be possible for her family to embarrass themselves more.

Summary: Chapters 19–21

Assuming that she will joyfully accept, the next day Mr. Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth. She gently and politely turns him down, but he doesn’t believe her. He declares his certainty that she will change her mind very soon. Mrs. Bennet is furious when she finds out that Elizabeth refused the proposal, as she thinks that the marriage would be very advantageous.  She declares that she will never see Elizabeth again if she does not marry Mr. Collins, and she asks her husband to order her daughter to marry him. In a way befitting his wit and general amusement in annoying his wife, Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth that if she marries Mr. Collins, he would refuse to see her again.

A few days after Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins’ proposal, Elizabeth sees Wickham in Meryton. After apologizing for not attending the ball, Wickham walks Elizabeth home. Elizabeth introduces him to her parents. A letter soon arrives for Jane. It’s from Miss Bingley, and it says that Bingley and his friends will be going back to London for a visit of indefinite length. It implies that Bingley plans to marry Georgiana Darcy, Darcy’s sister. Elizabeth reassures Jane, telling her she’s sure that Bingley will return to Netherfield and that the letter was all Miss Bingley’s doing and had nothing to do with Bingley himself.

Summary: Chapters 22–23

Surprising news arrives: Mr. Collins has proposed to Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas, and Charlotte has accepted. Elizabeth is in a state of disbelief and dismay, even though Charlotte insists that the match is a good one for her and better than anything else she could expect.  Mrs. Bennet is furious with her daughter for turning down the opportunity of marriage to Mr. Collins and giving Charlotte the chance to usurp her. Also, it seems that Jane’s marriage prospects are now limited, as time passes with no word at all from Bingley.

Analysis

Elizabeth continues in her prejudice against Darcy in these chapters. It is difficult for the reader to blame her for ignoring Miss Bingley’s warning about Wickham because we know Miss Bingley to be a spiteful and superficial person. It is true, though, that Elizabeth failed to ask Darcy directly about the issue while she was dancing with him. She does bring up the subject generally, but in a way that presumes Wickham must be telling the truth. It’s not very surprising that Darcy is unwilling to engage in the conversation given this approach.

When Mr. Collins approaches Darcy and doesn’t even notice the contemptuous way in which Darcy treats him, we fully see how absurd Mr. Collins’ snobbery really is. Mr. Collins has a perception of himself that refuses to incorporate any ideas of rejection or disdain. He feels that he is guaranteed a high place in society simply by virtue of his link to Lady Catherine. We see more evidence of Mrs. Collins’ obtuseness in the way he proposes to Elizabeth. Austen usually provides full descriptions of proposals only when they are rejected. This is mainly because there are so many possibilities for the dramatic and comic. Later in the story when Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s proposal, we experience a thrillingly dramatic moment. However, Mr. Collins’ proposal is entirely ridiculous. There is nothing dramatic there.  It’s obviously unsurprising that he will not accept “no” as an answer. He is so self-absorbed that he simply cannot comprehend any answer other than “yes.”

Mr. Collins’ decision to propose to Charlotte Lucas, however, is not at all comic. This is because Charlotte accepts him. Readers have often argued that Jane Austen’s novels, including Pride and Prejudice, are unrealistic in the idealistic way they tend to portrayal marriage.  The marriage of Charlotte to Mr. Collins strikes an undeniably somber note into the depiction of marriage in this novel. It is valid to interpret what happens to Charlotte as a part of the author’s criticism of a patriarchal society that gives unmarried women very few options and no real freedom of choice for what they want to do with their lives. While it’s true that Elizabeth sticks to her ideals and refuses to marry for any reason other than love, Charlotte is six years older than her and she feels the need to be a pragmatist. She feels compelled to make use of any opportunity that might arise to avoid ending up an old maid and dealing with the social scorn that comes along with that. Austen explains that Charlotte “accepted [Mr. Collins] solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.”

While Elizabeth and Jane eventually find happiness, at this point in the novel we get the impression that perhaps the Bennet girls are asking for too much and therefore losing out. When Charlotte declares,  “I am not a romantic, you know…I ask only a comfortable home,” it seems implied that it is Elizabeth’s tendency to romanticism that makes her ask for more than perhaps she will be able to have. 

Elizabeth was forced to deal with Miss Bingley’s snobbery, and now Jane is also faced with the young woman’s scorn. In her letter to Jane, Miss Bingley implies that Bingley will marry Georgiana Darcy, indicating that Jane is too “low” to be a suitable bride. It is clear that while Darcy is later burdened with blame for separating Jane and Bingley, Miss Bingley must have also played a significant role in it, too. 

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