Pride and Prejudice Summary and Analysis
by Jane Austen
Volume I, Chapters 15-23
Volume I, Chapter 15 Summary:
Mr. Collins' upbringing by an "illiterate and miserly father" along with his unexpected good fortune in finding a patroness like Lady Catherine has led to his lack of good sense and his strange combination of obsequiousness and self-conceit. Now that he is settled he wants to "make amends" for inheriting the Longbourn estate by marrying one of the young ladies in the Bennet household. After meeting them, he was first attracted to Jane because of her beauty, but after hearing from Mrs. Bennet that Jane may soon be engaged, he switches his affections to Elizabeth.
Mr. Collins joins the ladies for a walk to Meryton. Upon reaching Meryton they meet Mr. Denny, an officer with whom Lydia and Kitty are acquainted, and he introduces them to a new member of the regiment, Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham is handsome and charming. While they are all conversing, Bingley and Darcy notice them as they are riding by and stop to greet them. As soon as Darcy notices Mr. Wickham, he turns white, and Mr. Wickham turns red. Bingley and Darcy continue on their way.
Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham take leave of the young ladies once they arrive at Mr. Philip's house. Jane introduces Mr. Collins to Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Philips plans to invite Mr. Wickham to dinner tomorrow and invites the Longourn ladies and Mr. Collins to join them.
Volume I, Chapter 16 Summary:
At the beginning of the event at the Phillips' house the next day, Mr. Collins speaks to Mrs. Philips about Lady Catherine and her mansion Rosings, and Mrs. Philips is favorably impressed.
Elizabeth forms a very favorable impression of Mr. Wickham, and converses with him at length during the evening. Elizabeth is curious to find out about the obvious animosity which exists between him and Darcy. Wickham brings up the subject by inquiring how long Darcy has been in the area. Elizabeth expressed her dislike of Darcy to Wickham, and Wickham mentions that he and Darcy have been intimately acquainted since childhood. After feigning to avoid the subject, Wickham divulges to Elizabeth that Darcy's father was his godfather and had promised to provide an ample living for him, but after his death Darcy had circumvented his father's promise and had given the living to someone else because of his dislike for Wickham. Elizabeth is outraged and suggests that Darcy ought to be publicly dishonored for his actions, but Wickham refuses to do so ought of respect for Darcy's father. Wickham attributes Darcy's dislike of him to jealousy. Elizabeth and Wickham also speak of Darcy's pride, which Wickham believes is the source of all his generosity in the use of his money and excellent care for his sister. Wickham alludes to a previously close but now very cold relationship with Darcy's sister.
Volume I, Chapter 17 Summary:
When, the next day, Elizabeth relates to Jane the substance of her conversation with Wickham, Jane refuses to think ill of either Wickham or Darcy, and assumes that they must in some way be mutually deceived.
Mr. Bingley and his sisters come to Netherfield to announce a ball. When Elizabeth asks Mr. Collins whether or not he plans to attend, he state that he does and asks her for the first two dances. While she had wanted to reserve those dances for Wickham, she gracefully accepts his offer. Elizabeth begins to realize that she has become Mr. Collins choice for a future wife, but she ignores his hints in that direction hoping that he will not ask her.
Volume I, Chapters 15-17 Analysis:
Pride and prejudice come to the fore once again in these scenes which introduce the reader to the character of Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth, always confident of her ability to judge the characters of others, quickly forms a favorable opinion of Mr. Wickham. This opinion is most definitely not hindered by the attentions which he pays to her. Yet while Elizabeth trusts Wickham and does not think that his account of Darcy could be in any way dishonestespecially since it corroborates with her own opinionthe attentive reader has reasons to suspect otherwise. Elizabeth is naturally curious as to why Wickham and Darcy reacted so strangely when they met one another on the street, and hopes that her conversation with Wickham will provide some clues. Wickhams very cautiously begins to ask Elizabeth about Darcy, and after hearing how much she dislikes him, he decides little by little to tell the story of his previous relationship with Darcy and Darcy's father. All the while, he pretends to be avoiding the subject and pretends that, out of respect for Darcy's father, he does not want to say anything negative about Darcy or to publicize what has happened. Yet the fact that Wickham so quickly divulges all the details of the story to Elizabeth after having just met her gives reason to doubt the sincerity of his supposed reluctance to defame Darcy's character. Elizabeth, however, sees no inconsistency in Wickham's behavior, and readily believes everything that he tells her, having judged him to be extremely amiable and trustworthy.
Once again we see how Elizabeth's prejudgments of Darcy lead to a complete lack of objectivity. Of course, these prejudgments themselves are a result of wounded pride. Her hasty positive judgment of Wickham also seems to be closely connected with his ingratiation of her pride by choosing to converse with her over all the other ladies present.
Austen attempts to make the reader suspicious of Wickham's character, as his avowed desire to refrain from injuring Darcy's character seems difficult to reconcile with the ease with which he contradicts that desire in his conversation with a Elizabeth. Wickham's account introduces a crucial tension in the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth which will only be resolved as their pride and prejudice are dispelled at the end of the novel.
Volume I, Chapter 18 Summary:
At the Netherfield Ball Elizabeth is disappointed because of Wickham's absence, which she assumes is all Mr. Darcy's doing. After relating her disappointment to her friend Charlotte Lucas, she suffers through her two dances with Mr. Collins. Mr. Darcy asks her for a dance and Elizabeth is so taken by surprise that she accepts. During the dance with Mr. Darcy Elizabeth makes a bit of sarcastic conversation, poking fun at his character. She alludes to her new acquaintance with Wickham and to the fact that she thinks he has not behaved well toward him. They change the subject after a brief interruption from Sir William Lucas, but then she goes back to it by asking him about his previous admission that he has a tendency toward resentment, explaining that she is unable to figure out his character because she has received such contradictory accounts. After the dance they part in silence but Darcy forgives her questioning and blames Wickham.
Miss Bingley, having heard from Jane that Wickham has talked with Elizabeth about Darcy, tries to warn her not to trust Wickham and assures her that Darcy has done nothing wrong to Wickham but that Wickham has treated Darcy shamefully. Elizabeth reacts rudely and considers Mr. Bingley to be blinded to the truth. Jane also tells Elizabeth that Mr. Bingley believes Darcy's behavior is above reproach and that Wickham is not reputed to be of good character, but Elizabeth dismisses Bingley's opinion because he received all his information from Darcy.
Mr. Collins finds out the Darcy is Lady Catherine's nephew and decides to introduce himself, in spite of Elizabeth's warnings that it would be inappropriate to do so because of Mr. Darcy's superior social status. Darcy is surprised at Mr. Collins but replies to him with civility and then walks away.
Jane seems to be having a wonderful time with Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth enjoys herself in thinking of her sister's happiness. Mrs. Bennet is also happy to see how well Jane and Mr. Bingley are getting along, and during dinner speaks unceasingly and loudly about the imminence of their engagement in close proximity to Mr. Darcy, much to Elizabeth's great embarrassment.
After dinner Mary accepts an invitation to play and sing at the piano, and is insensible to Elizabeth's hints that she ought to decline. After Mary's second piece Elizabeth gets her father to tell Mary to stop playing. Mr. Collins then makes a speech about the importance of music which nonetheless should not take precedence to more important parish duties. Elizabeth feels completely embarrassed by her family's conduct during the evening.
At the end of the ball Mrs. Bennet invites Bingley to dinner at Longbourn and he promises to come as soon as he returns form a short trip to London.
Volume I, Chapter 18 Analysis:
Elizabeth's prejudice is highlighted even further in this chapter. In spite of the fact that Mr. Darcy is quite cordial to her and even invites her to dance, she is barely civil to him and even brings up the topic of Wickham, letting him understand in barely veiled language that she believes Darcy has acted unjustly. Even after being given further reason to doubt Wickham's sincerity from the accounts of Miss Bingley and Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth refuses to reconsider her opinion. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, seems to be increasingly enamoured with Elizabeth, and is willing even to excuse her insolence with regard to Wickham, blaming it on him for having deceived her rather than on her for her rash judgment. It is ironic that Elizabeth criticizes Miss Bingley for her prejudice against Wickham when in fact Miss Bingley is correct and Elizabeth is the one who is prejudiced toward Wickham and against Mr. Darcy.
The social interactions at the ball provide the reader with a picture of the formalities of early 19th century English society and the extreme importance which rank and wealth played in social relations. Elizabeth is extremely aware of these social conventions, and is continually being embarrassed by her family's lack of propriety. Mr. Collins' introduction of himself to Mr. Darcy as well as his long and pompous speeches combined with her mother's indiscreet conversation about hopes for a marriage between Elizabeth and Bingley and Mary's poor performance skills serve to completely mortify her.
Volume I, Chapter 19 Summary:
The next day Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, in a long speech explaining that he considers it appropriate for him to marry and that he wants to marry one of the Miss Bennets in order lessen the difficulty of the entailment of the estate. Elizabeth refuses him in no uncertain terms, but Mr. Collins refuses to believe that her refusal could be sincere, considering it a formality of female coquetry to always refuse a proposal the first time. Elizabeth repeats and strengthens her refusal, but as he still cannot believe her to be sincere, she simply leaves.
Volume I, Chapter 20 Summary:
When Mrs. Bennet hears that Elizabeth has refused to marry Mr. Collins, she entreats Mr. Bennet to force Elizabeth to change her mind. Mr. Bennet agrees to speak with Elizabeth, but actually tells her that he would never hear of her marrying such a man as Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bennet does not give up however, and continually attempts to persuade Elizabeth to accept the proposal. In the midst of all this confusion, Charlotte Lucas comes to visit. Eventually Mr. Collins accepts Elizabeth's refusal.
Volume I, Chapters 19-20 Analysis:
Mr. Collins' proposal and his reaction to Elizabeth's refusal solidify Austen's portrait of this absurd character. The proposal itself is delivered in such a way that it seems more appropriate for a business deal than for a declaration of love. Mr. Collins explains to Elizabeth that he had come to Longbourn with the purpose of finding of a wife both on account of Lady Catherine's advice and on account of a desire to make amends for the difficulties involved in the entailment of the Longbourn estate. Only after he explains these cold considerations does he mention that he has a high regard for Elizabeth.
Mr. Collins' comic inability to believe that Elizabeth could possibly be sincere in her repeated refusals of his proposal demonstrate how little respect he has for Elizabeth and how completely conceited he is. He is not the least discouraged by Elizabeth's clear refusal, and simply shrugs it off as some sort of female coquetry. Words, for Mr. Collins, are not expressions of genuine thoughts and feelings but a means of filling certain formalities of social propriety. Thus even when Elizabeth speaks sincerely to him in no uncertain terms about her feelings he assumes that her words, like his, are merely the fulfillment of some strange female tradition which requires that a woman refuse a proposal the first time it is made. Since none of his own words express genuine thoughts or feelings, he assumes that no one else's words do either. Further, his conceit prevents him from seeing any reason why Elizabeth would not want to marry him. Mr. Collins is an example of someone who sees marriage more as a partnership for social and financial advantage than as a relationship to express the love and affection of two people for each other.
The fact that Charlotte Lucas is so kind as to engage Mr. Collins in conversation and thus relieve the Bennets of the task, just as she did at the night of the ball, is presented by Elizabeth as an act of kindness on Charlotte's part. However, considering Charlotte's previously expressed views on her willingness to marry merely for financial reasons, Charlotte's friendliness toward Mr. Collins foreshadows that another marriage is soon to come.
Volume I, Chapter 21 Summary:
Mr. Collins reacts by treating Elizabeth coldly for the rest of the day and shifting his attentions to Charlotte Lucas.
The girls all walk to Meryton after breakfast. Elizabeth speaks with Wickham and he accompanies them back to Longbourn, paying particular attention to Elizabeth.
When they return Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley stating that they have all left Netherfield for town and have no intention of returning. She states that Mr. Bingley will most probably not return for at least another six months. The letter also speaks of the family's expectation that Mr. Bingley will marry Georgiana Darcy, implying that they do not want him to marry Jane. Elizabeth attempts to comfort Jane by reassuring her that Mr. Bingley really is attached to her and that in spite of his sisters' efforts to prevent him from marrying Jane he will most assuredly return to Netherfield.
Volume I, Chapter 21 Analysis:
By informing the reader of Bingley's departure only through the letter of Caroline Bingley, Austen leaves many details up to the speculation of the reader. The description of Jane and Bingley at the Netherfield Ball leaves little room for doubt as to their mutual regard. It seems clear, therefore, that without outside persuasion he would not simply leave Netherfield with no intention of returning in the near future. According to the letter, Mr. Bingley himself had only planned to be away from Netherfield for a few days to attend to someone business. It seems that Caroline and her sister, and perhaps Mr. Darcy as well, plan to follow him and to persuade him not to return at all. This scheme seems particularly likely considering that Mr. Darcy had overheard Mrs. Bennet's jubilant conversation at dinner regarding what she considered to be the imminent engagement of Jane and Bingley. Knowing how much Mr. Darcy is concerned with social status, it is not unlikely that he would try to persuade Mr. Bingley not to propose to Jane.
Volume I, Chapter 22 Summary:
Charlotte Lucas continues to engage Mr. Collins in conversation for the rest of the day. Early the next morning Mr. Collins goes to Lucas Lodge to propose to Charlotte. Charlotte accepts and Sir William and Lady Lucas approve of the match.
Mr. Collins left the next day without informing the Bennets of his engagement. His promise to return soon was met by assurances on the part of Mr. Bennet that they would not be offended if the fulfillment of his duties prevented his speedy return.
Later in the day Miss Lucas tells Elizabeth about her engagement. Elizabeth is shocked but tries to be kind in her reaction. She is however, very unhappy about Charlotte's decision because she thinks that the match is completely unsuitable.
Volume I, Chapter 23 Summary:
Later in the day Sir William Lucas came to announce the engagement, to the great surprise of the rest of the family. Mrs. Bennet is incredulous and after being convinced that the news was true is extremely angry at Elizabeth for having turned down the proposal.
Elizabeth and Charlotte do not discuss the subject of the marriage between themselves, and their friendship gradually diminishes.
Jane and Elizabeth are concerned because they have not heard anything at all from Mr. Bingley.
Mr. Collins returns again to Longbourn in order to make preparations for his marriage. The Bennets are not too happy to see him but they are glad that he spends most of his time at Lucas Lodge.
Volume I, Chapters 22-23 Analysis:
The account of Charlotte's engagement to Mr. Lucas provides the reader with one of the two competing views of marriage which recur throughout the book. Charlotte has a conventional and pragmatic view of marriage. She is resigned to the fact that as a woman without an independent income she will need to marry in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, and has no particular hopes of actually finding a husband whom she loves. This view is best expressed in the narrator's comment about Charlotte "Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want."
Austen thus uses Charlotte and her pragmatic view of marriage as a contrast to Elizabeth's resolve to marry on the basis of love. Charlotte acts as the prototype of a typical upper class young woman in Austen's time, while Elizabeth is the exception. She is willing to sacrifice the assurance of being comfortably married in the hopes of obtaining greater happiness by marrying someone whom she actually loves. The irony is that in the end Elizabeth ends up not only with a marriage based on mutual affection but also with one that is even more financially advantageous than Charlotte's.
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- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 1-6
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- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 15-23
- Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters 1-10
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