MR. BENNET WAS among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in the following manner. Observing his second daughter employed in trimming a hat, he suddenly addressed her with:
“I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy.”
“We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes,” said her mother, resentfully, “since we are not to visit.”
“But you forget, mamma,” said Elizabeth, “that we shall meet him at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long has promised to introduce him.”
“I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her.”
“No more have I,” said Mr. Bennet; “and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.”
Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply; but unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.
“Don't keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven's sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.”
“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father; “she times them ill.”
“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty, fretfully. “When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”
“Aye, so it is,” cried her mother, “and Mrs. Long does not come back till the day before; so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, for she will not know him herself.”
“Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr. Bingley to her.”
“Impossible, Mr. Bennet, impossible—when I am not acquainted with him myself; how can you be so teasing?”
“I honor your circumspection. A fortnight's acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight. But if we do not venture, somebody else will; and, after all, Mrs. Long and her nieces must stand their chance; and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself.”
The girls stared at their father. Mrs. Bennet said only, “Nonsense, nonsense!”
“What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?” cried he. “Do you consider the forms of introduction, and the stress that is laid on them, as nonsense? I cannot quite agree with you there. What say you, Mary? for you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books, and make extracts.”
Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.
“While Mary is adjusting her ideas,” he continued, “let us return to Mr. Bingley.”
“I am sick of Mr. Bingley,” cried his wife.
“I am sorry to hear that; but why did you not tell me so before? If I had known as much this morning, I certainly would not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.”
The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished—that of Mrs. Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest; though when the first tumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was what she had expected all the while.
“How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet! But I knew I should persuade you at last. I was sure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! and it is such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morning, and never said a word about it till now.”
“Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose,” said Mr. Bennet; and, as he spoke, he left the room, fatigued with the raptures of his wife.
“What an excellent father you have, girls!” said she, when the door was shut. “I do not know how you will ever make him amends for his kindness; or me either, for that matter. At our time of life, it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintance every day; but for your sakes we would do anything. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr. Bingley will dance with you at the next ball.”
“Oh,” said Lydia, stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I'm the tallest.”
The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon he would return Mr. Bennet's visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner.
In Austen’s day, there was a strict social hierarchy that determined how individuals would go about introducing themselves to one another. Since Mr. Bingley is a wealthy and upper-class man (even if he is not from a noble family), he is higher up on the social hierarchy than the Bennets. Therefore, it is important that they make a good impression—especially if they want him to marry one of their daughters. It would have been proper and decorous for one of the Bennets to facilitate the introduction between Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Long.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Mr. Bennet departs from his usual indifference and sarcasm. He reveals that he does in fact understand the importance of making Mr. Bingley’s acquaintance first, as well as being the ones who introduce him to others. That way, the Bennets will always be his original (and potentially closest) acquaintances, giving the Bennets an advantage over the Longs. This may be the reason Mr. Bennet was one of the first people to visit Mr. Bingley.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Mrs. Bennet’s quickness (at least when it comes to arranging marriages) poses an interesting implication: it is possible that she is actually capable of intelligence but has not had the opportunity to develop her other mental faculties. In Austen’s time, middle and upper class women were typically confined to their homes and not allowed to work or even pursue much of an education. Mrs. Bennet’s entire life has been centered on child-rearing and managing the house, so it makes sense that she has a strategy for marrying off her daughters.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Though Mrs. Bennet tends to be short-tempered, nervous, and perhaps not very intelligent, she appears to be very good at strategizing when it comes to finding husbands for her daughters. Mr. Bennet can amuse himself by drawing out the news that he has visited Mr. Bingley, but she carefully keeps track of the order of events and their possibilities.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Interestingly, neither Kitty nor Mrs. Bennet acknowledge Mr. Bennet’s sarcasm. Their lack of response does not necessarily mean that they do not know he is teasing them. They likely ignore Mr. Bennet because they do not take him seriously; this invites us to question or even criticize his casual and uninterested response to most situations.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Assemblies were public dances (balls) funded by subscription. This means that anyone who wanted to attend had to regularly pay a little bit of money in order to sponsor the assembly. Given that assemblies were public (anyone could go as long as they paid), they were not as respectable as the exclusive, private balls held by the wealthy. They were also held in public assembly rooms, as opposed to the ornate ballrooms of the upper class. Nevertheless, public assemblies were considered a major highlight of middle class social life.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
It is comical that Mr. Bennet was one of the first to wait on Mr. Bingley because his argument with Mrs. Bennet was based on his staunch refusal to make the visit. Mr. Bennet clearly enjoys teasing his wife; he always intended to make the visit, but made a point to assure Mrs. Bennet that he wouldn’t go. He is perhaps a little irritated by her “poor nerves,” since she tends to use them to get her way. He may also find her amusing because it is easy to get a rise out of her.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
“Ill” is being used to mean “poorly”; Mr. Bennet is saying that Kitty is bad at timing her coughs. This is another classic example of Mr. Bennet’s sarcasm: this time, he is teasing Mrs. Bennet for scolding Kitty as though Kitty is coughing intentionally.— Stephen Holliday
Mr. Bennet is teasing Mrs. Bennet because she is being hypocritical. She resents Mrs. Long because she’s sure Mrs. Long is trying to set up one of her nieces with Mr. Bingley. She calls Mrs. Long a “‘selfish, hypocritical woman’” even though she is being selfish and hypocritical herself. Mr. Bennet seems to recognize this hypocrisy and sarcastically says he is “‘glad’” that his wife isn’t about to turn to Mrs. Long for help.— Stephen Holliday
In Austen’s day, it was common for middle and upper-class women to trim (add decorations to) hats in order to keep them in fashion—and avoid having to spend money on a new hat every season. Aside from being economical, trimming hats was a distinctly lady-like pastime, one of several feminine “accomplishments” that Austen highlights in Pride and Prejudice.— Stephen Holliday