Jane receives another letter from Caroline Bingley, confirming that her family intends to stay in London through the winter. Caroline also boasts about her increasing intimacy with Miss Georgiana Darcy in anticipation of an engagement between the young woman and Bingley. In private, Jane confesses her disappointment to Elizabeth. When Elizabeth argues that Darcy and Caroline must have dissuaded Bingley from following his heart, Jane refuses to believe them capable of such subterfuge.
Mrs. Bennet only aggravates Jane's distress by speaking of Bingley often, while Mr. Bennet characteristically remains distant from his daughter's affairs. Throughout this difficult period, the Bennet family receives some comfort from Wickham's frequent visits. Soon enough, Wickham has shared his story about Darcy's deception to all of Hertforshire. Everyone accepts that the haughty Mr. Darcy committed such wickedness.
When the time comes, Mr. Collins leaves Longbourn with his usual solemnity. Soon afterwards, Mr. Gardiner and Mrs. Gardiner (Mrs. Bennet's brother and sister-in-law) visit Longbourn. The narrator makes clear that they are sensible, intelligent, and refined. Furthermore, Elizabeth and Jane are quite fond of them. One day, Elizabeth tells Mrs. Gardiner about Jane's heartbreak over Bingley. Mrs. Gardiner offers to bring Jane back to London in order to cheer her up. Elizabeth secretly hopes that Jane might run into Bingley while she is in London. During her visit, Mrs. Gardiner also observes Elizabeth's attraction to Wickham. Mrs. Gardiner enjoys speaking with Wickham about their mutual acquaintances, like Mr. Darcy and his father.
Mrs. Gardiner speaks to Elizabeth privately on the subject of her attraction to Wickham, warning her about becoming attached to a man with so few financial prospects. Though she makes no assurances about her attraction one way or the other, Elizabeth does promise to be cautious. Soon after the Gardiners and Jane leave for London, Mr. Collins returns to Hertfordshire for his wedding. Before the ceremony, Charlotte Lucas makes Elizabeth promise to visit her at Hunsford. After the ceremony, the couple departs for their new home.
Jane writes to Elizabeth about how Caroline Bingley has treated her rudely in London. At first, Charlotte pretended to be unaware of Jane's presence in the city. After Jane finally went to see Charlotte, Miss Bingley made Jane wait two weeks before returning the visit.
Elizabeth writes to Mrs. Gardiner about how Mr. Wickham has transferred his affection to Miss King, who has recently inherited 10,000 pounds. Elizabeth concludes that she must not have actually been in love with Wickham, since she does not feel any great resentment about his engagement to another woman.
Elizabeth initially dreaded her visit to the Collins home in Hunsford, but she changes her mind after spending the dull winter months at home. Elizabeth and Wickham part ways amicably, reinforcing her belief that he is a "model of the amiable and the pleasing." Soon thereafter, Elizabeth sets off for Hunsford along with Sir William Lucas and Maria Lucas (Charlotte's sister).
On their way to the parsonage, the travelers stop for a night in London to visit Jane and the Gardiners. Elizabeth is pleased to see that Jane is looking well, but learns from Mrs. Gardiner that the elder Bennet daughter does suffer from periods of depression. Mrs. Gardiner believes that Mr. Wickham is pursuing Miss King solely for her money, but Elizabeth defends him. Before the travelers leave the next day, the Gardiners invite Elizabeth to join them on a tour of the country later that summer. She happily accepts.
The next day, Elizabeth, Sir William, and Maria set out for Hunsford. Upon their arrival, Mr. Collins welcomes them with his usual verbose formality. Charlotte, now Mrs. Collins, appears to endure her husband's silliness quite well and takes pleasure in managing the house. Overall, Elizabeth observes that her friend is doing well.
Soon after their arrival, Maria exclaims that Miss de Bourgh is sitting outside the Collins's house in her carriage. Elizabeth observes the young woman through the window, noting Miss de Bourgh's sickly nature. She predicts that Miss de Bough's ill health will certainly cause Mr. Darcy trouble after their intended marriage. After the carriage drives away, Mr. Collins announces that the party has been honored with an invitation to dine at Rosings (the de Bourgh estate) the following evening.
For most of the next day, Mr. Collins babbles to his guests about the grandeur they will encounter at Rosings. While Maria and Sir William are extremely nervous about meeting Lady Catherine, Elizabeth remains unimpressed by "the mere stateliness of money and rank."
They finally go to Rosings and meet the mythical Lady Catherine, "a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features." Lady Catherine reminds her guests of their lower rank constantly through her manner and insinuations, while the thin and small Miss de Bourgh is much quieter. They also meet Mrs. Jenkinson, Miss de Bourgh's unremarkable companion, who lives with the family and spends most of her time fussing over the frail young woman.
There is very little discussion of substance at dinner. For the most part, Mr. Collins continues to spout his compliments about the food, which are then echoed by Sir William. After dinner, Lady Catherine decides to share her pompous opinion on every subject that she can think of. She advises Charlotte on everything, down to the smallest details of household management. Lady Catherine then barrages Elizabeth with impertinent questions about her family. Elizabeth answers with composure but makes sure to voice her own opinions. Lady Catherine notices Elizabeth's attitude and deems it impertinent. After dinner, the party sits down to play cards.
A week later, Sir William Lucas leaves Hunsford and returns to Hertforshire, but Elizabeth stays on. She passes her time pleasantly, conversing with Charlotte and taking long walks through the gardens. Elizabeth and the Collinses dine at Rosings twice a week, and all of these dinners are similar to the first.
After two more weeks at Hunsford, Elizabeth hears the news that Mr. Darcy is planning to visit Rosings. She actually looks forward to his visit as it will be nice to have a new face at the dinner parties and because she wants to observe how he acts with Miss de Bourgh, whom he is expected to marry. Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, visit Hunsford shortly after their arrival at Rosings. Elizabeth asks Mr. Darcy if he has seen Jane in London during the past few months, hoping he might betray some secret knowledge about what happened between Jane and the Bingleys. Darcy looks a bit confused at Elizabeth's question and simply answers that he has not seen Jane.
Since Lady Catherine is no longer in need of company, she does not invite Elizabeth and the Collinses to dinner for a week. When she finally resumes her invitations, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth share a very enjoyable conversation. Lady Catherine interrupts them because she is annoyed about being excluded. Mr. Darcy seems a bit ashamed at his aunt's impertinence and ill-breeding, which comes across in her condescending attitude towards Elizabeth.
At Colonel Fitzwilliam's request, Elizabeth begins to play the piano. As she plays, Darcy walks away from Lady Catherine in order to watch her. At the piano, Elizabeth and Darcy have a very lively conversation, teasing each other playfully. However, Lady Catherine interrupts and Elizabeth immediately resumes playing. Lady Catherine criticizes Elizabeth's musical style, deeming her in need of practice. Throughout the evening, Elizabeth watches Mr. Darcy's reactions to Miss de Bourgh but observes no visible signs of affection.
The next morning, Darcy visits Hunsford while Elizabeth is home alone. He is clearly nervous and tells her that he expected the other women to be there. They converse for a while about several subjects, including his quick departure from Netherfield and Charlotte's marriage to Mr. Collins. When Darcy suggests that Charlotte is close to her family, Elizabeth corrects him, noting that they lack the income to travel frequently. Darcy advises Elizabeth to limit her attachments to home. His suggestion shocks her and he quickly changes the subject. Mr. Darcy leaves shortly after Charlotte and Maria return from their walk. Charlotte suggests that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth, but she firmly denies the possibility.
Both Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam frequently call on the ladies. Elizabeth believes that the Colonel admires her, and he also reminds her of Wickham. However, neither Elizabeth nor Charlotte understand why Darcy comes so often. Charlotte keeps suggesting that Darcy must be partial to Elizabeth, who continues to laugh at the idea.
Elizabeth frequently runs into Darcy during her walks in the park, even though she lies about her path in order to avoid him. Whenever they meet, he always stops to say hello and also walks her all the way back to the Collins's house. During one of their conversations, Darcy seems to imply that Elizabeth might stay at Rosings as a guest one day. Elizabeth assumes he is alluding to a potential marriage with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
On another walk, Elizabeth runs into Colonel Fitzwilliam. He comments that as a younger son, he will have to consider his financial needs when choosing a wife, leading Elizabeth to assume that Fitzwilliam is implicitly apologizing for not proposing to her. Colonel Fitzwilliam also tells Elizabeth that Darcy recently saved a good friend - probably Bingley - from an imprudent marriage. Later, Elizabeth reflects on the conversation and realizes that the Colonel was referring to Darcy dissuading Bingley from proposing to Jane. The idea gives Elizabeth a headache. She uses her illness as a convenient excuse to decline the dinner invitation to Rosings that night (where she would risk seeing Darcy).
The appearance of the Gardiners and Elizabeth's time in Hunsford serve to heighten the differences between Elizabeth and the rest of her immediate family. In the wake of Bingley's disappearance, Austen reveals Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's complete ineptitude as parents. Mrs. Bennet continues to aggravate Jane's broken heart by constantly bringing up Mr. Bingley. Mr. Bennet remains aloof as usual and simply comments to Elizabeth, "Your sister is crossed in love I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then." His sarcastic and unconcerned tone reveals his general neglect and shows how little sympathy he has for a woman's plight in a patriarchal society. Where Mrs. Bennet is overly obsessed with her daughters' marital success, Mr. Bennet cares far too little about their futures.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner provide a sharp contrast to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. When they visit Longbourn, they fulfill all the parental functions that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet fail to perform. Unlike Jane's own mother, Mrs. Gardiner is very sensitive to Jane's feelings and invites her to London to make her feel better. Furthermore, Mrs. Gardiner observes Elizabeth's flirtation with Mr. Wickham and gives her niece prudent advice about their relationship.
These chapters also provide more insight into the differences and similarities between Jane and Elizabeth. Jane refuses to think ill of Caroline Bingley or Mr. Darcy despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Elizabeth, on the hand, maintains a cynical detachment and claims to be unaffected by prejudice. However, Jane keenly observes that Elizabeth's tendency to judge people is a detriment to her happiness. Elizabeth has so much pride in her discerning eye that she refuses to see any fault in her initial judgments. For example, Elizabeth insists that Mrs. Gardiner is too judgmental of Wickham, unaware that her own affection for Wickham has prevented her from seeing his true nature.
Later, Elizabeth excuses Wickham for seeking a bride who can provide financial comfort, previously having criticized Charlotte for a similar (and less pernicious) decision. Wickham shows himself to be truly mercenary in transferring his affections from Elizabeth to Ms. King, who has just come into an inheritance. While Elizabeth is hardly heartbroken to hear the news, it is distressing that Wickham did court Elizabeth even though he had no intention of marrying her. In Austen's time, sexual attachments before marriage could ruin a woman's reputation for life. In this way, Wickham's behavior proves him to be a dangerous man.
In this section, Austen suggests that prejudice can inhibit happiness. The clearest manifestation of Elizabeth's blindness is her treatment of Mr. Darcy. Austen masterfully employs dramatic irony here. Since Elizabeth does not realize that Darcy loves her, the narration does not make his feelings explicit. Nevertheless, the reader is able to infer Darcy's intentions, a tactic that draws attention to Elizabeth's prejudice. Elizabeth actually laughs at Charlotte's theory that Darcy favors her, even though she is puzzled about his frequent visits to Hunsford. She also cannot understand why she keeps running into Darcy on her walks. Elizabeth cannot even recognize that she is enjoying herself during one of her spirited conversations with Darcy.
Austen continues to reveal her complex opinions about the interplay between class and marriage. Colonel Fitzwilliam is straightforward about his pragmatic requirements for marriage. While he clearly admires Elizabeth, he makes it clear that he could never marry her because of his financial concerns. As a second son, Fitzwilliam has something in common with women in this time - the laws of inheritance prohibit him from obtaining financial freedom. Austen paints a society that is structured to encourage people to marry for money (or at the very least, social connections), yet her novel contains a strong critique of this systematic approach to partnership. However, Fitzwilliam and Charlotte are neither foolish nor villainous. Instead of being satirical, these characters are sympathetic. Therefore, Austen continues to acknowledge class distinction, even though she finds it to be less important than individual behavior.
Meanwhile, Lady Catherine is an extremely arrogant, egotistical, and obnoxious woman, despite her fine breeding and wealth. During dinner, Lady Catherine constantly reminds her guests of their inferior rank. She only allows others to speak if they are praising her (like Mr. Collins and Sir William Lucas). After dinner, Lady Catherine shares her "opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner as proved that she was not used to have her judgment controverted." Her advice sounds more like a series of commands, and her impertinent questioning of Elizabeth reveals her utter lack of respect for the Bennet family.
Austen draws an unexpected parallel between Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet. Each woman views the world from an equally limited perspective. Lady Catherine does make a good point in criticizing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet because they have not educated their daughters. Mrs. Bennet herself is not educated enough to instruct her daughters and has never hired a governess to address the deficit. While Mr. Bennet might value education more highly than his wife does, his neglect seems to extend to this area as well. However, Lady Catherine lacks education in certain proprieties herself. Darcy is embarrassed by his aunt's behavior in the same way Elizabeth was embarrassed by her mother at the Netherfield ball. While Austen acknowledges that class, education, and breeding are all important, it is a person's character is what truly defines him or her. Ultimately, this belief is what brings Darcy and Elizabeth together.
Finally, readers should note Austen's use of the epistolary form in these chapters. Elizabeth and Jane correspond through letters, which keeps the reader informed of both girls' activities while they are apart (in their own words). Jane shares details about her life in London and expresses her continued optimism about Caroline Bingley. Epistolary novels were popular in Austen's day. She pays homage to this form in her earliest novel, Northanger Abbey. In addition, Austen cited Frances Burney's Evelina or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, an epistolary novel written by a woman, as one of her greatest literary influences.