Chapter III

NOT ALL THAT Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley. They attacked him in various ways; with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all; and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbor, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favorable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful. To be fond of dancing was a certain step toward falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained.

“If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”

In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet's visit, and sat about ten minutes with him in his library. He had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard much; but he saw only the father. The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining, from an upper window, that he wore a blue coat and rode a black horse.

An invitation to dinner was soon afterward dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and consequently unable to accept the honor of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might always be flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies; but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing that, instead of twelve, he had brought only six with him from London—his five sisters and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly-room, it consisted of only five altogether: Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.

Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentleman-like; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend, Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report, which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.

Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again! Among the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behavior was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.

“Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”

“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”

“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

“Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you!”

“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own, and coldly said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained, with no very cordial feelings toward him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.

The evening, altogether, passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane's pleasure. Mary had heard herself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplished girl in the neighborhood; and Catherine and Lydia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had yet learned to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. They found Mr. Bennet still up. With a book, he was regardless of time, and on the present occasion he had a good deal of curiosity as to the event of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. He had rather hoped that all his wife's views on the stranger would be disappointed; but he soon found that he had a very different story to hear.

“Oh, my dear Mr. Bennet,” as she entered the room, “we have had a most delightful evening, and a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it. Everybody said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that, my dear—he actually danced with her twice, and she was the only creature in the room that he asked the second time. First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her, but, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. So he inquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger—”

“If he had had any compassion for me,” cried her husband, impatiently, “he would not have danced half so much! For God's sake, say no more of his partners. Oh that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!”

“Oh! my dear,” continued Mrs. Bennet, “I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! and his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst's gown—”

Here she was interrupted again. Mr. Bennet protested against any description of finery. She was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit, and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Mr. Darcy.

“But I can assure you,” she added, “that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man!”

Footnotes

  1. Mr. Darcy snobbishly refuses to dance with any woman who is not of his own party—especially the Bennet girls. Elizabeth seems unworthy for three different reasons: her social status (which is lower than his), her beauty, and her apparent unpopularity. She is not as highly sought-after as her beautiful sister, so Mr. Darcy sees no reason to "give consequence" to her.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The “Boulanger” was a dance that originated in France. Most of the dances during Pride and Prejudice’s time were lively and very active; they involved jumping, skipping, and kicking. The “Boulanger” would have lasted between 20 and 30 minutes.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. “Longbourn” is the fictional village where the Bennets live. Its name suggests the Bennets’ long lineage; their family has lived in the area for many generations. Austen may also be hinting at the Bingleys’ nouveau riche status: they are newly rich (they don’t come from an old, noble family) and are new to the area. The Bingleys and Bennets are almost complete opposites.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Dances lasted around 30 minutes and there were usually two per “set.” Women who did not dance were required to sit quietly until a gentleman (who had been properly introduced) asked for a dance. Young ladies were especially anxious to dance because being without a partner for too long suggested poor chances of marriage.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Mr. Bingley offers to host a private ball, which differs from an assembly because the Bingleys can be selective about invitations. This not only makes the event quite exclusive, but it shows how unusual Mr. Bingley’s behavior is: he is inviting common people to an event they would not normally attend. Mr. Bingley’s conduct suggests that, while he is wealthy, he is not truly of an aristocratic class. Someone like Mr. Darcy, who comes from an ancient noble family, would know better. Still, Mr. Bingley’s apparent unawareness of social differences is one of the qualities people like most about him.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. “Amiable” seems to mean more than just “pleasant” and “friendly.” For Austen, it encompasses more comprehensive character traits like trustworthiness and good-heartedness. Mr. Bingley’s amiability extends beyond mere actions (which can be artificial): he is truly a gentleman.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. “Darcy,” which derives from the Norman French “d’Arcy,” is the name of several ancient baronages that had died out by the time Pride and Prejudice was written. The name—as well as the character of Mr. Darcy—is meant to be associated with the ancient aristocracy and contrasted with newly-monied families like the Bingleys.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Mr. Darcy’s character sharply contrasts with Mr. Bingley’s. Instead of having “easy, unaffected manners,” he is arrogant and generally rude. Austen invites us to consider what it means to be a gentleman: is it being a wealthy aristocrat or being genuinely gracious and kind-hearted? Mr. Bingley seems like a real gentleman, while Mr. Darcy only has the appearance of one.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. One of the reasons people dislike Mr. Darcy is because he refuses to be “introduced” to any other lady. This means he doesn’t want to dance with anyone else—he probably thinks he is better than everyone because he is the highest-ranked person in the room. However, there are already too few men available to dance with all of the ladies. This makes Darcy’s rudeness even more offensive.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Hertfordshire is a county located in the south of England. Most of the action in Pride and Prejudice takes place there. Austen possibly chose Hertfordshire because of its proximity to London. Every year, during the “London Season” (which usually took place after Easter), wealthy families would leave their country estates for the most fashionable neighborhoods of London. One of the highlights of the London Season involved what was essentially a massive marriage market: young ladies would “come out” to high society and try to find a wealthy husband—a central goal in the novel.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Repaying visits was a very important part of social decorum, especially among middle and upper-class families. Mr. Bingley is obligated to return Mr. Bennet’s visit as soon as possible because Mr. Bennet visited him first; it would have been horribly rude to not return the gesture.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Mrs. Bennet’s wish to see one of her daughters marry Mr. Bingley is comically unrealistic. A man of wealth and status would have been unlikely to marry a woman from a poor (or at least not solidly well-off) family. Mrs. Bennet’s somewhat ridiculous ambitions suggest that Austen is developing a satirical rendition of the classic Marriage Plot.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with marrying off her daughters is a classic example of the Marriage Plot—a popular storyline in 19th-century British novels. The Marriage Plot, as the name suggests, always ends in marriage and also involves a strong emphasis on the pursuit of marriage.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Lady Lucas’s report of Mr. Bingley departs from the third-person narrator’s voice without sacrificing objectivity. We still have an outside narrator telling us what she said, but it’s as though she is the one telling us; therefore, we have a simultaneously objective and exclusive account of events. This literary device (free indirect discourse) not only makes the narrator more varied and interesting, but also more efficient. Austen can quickly develop minor characters like Lady Lucas without spending time on lengthy dialogues, which is the only other way we would have access to a single character’s thoughts in a third-person narrative.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. This section is an example of “free indirect discourse,” which blends third and first-person points of view so the narrative is more colloquial than usual. Third-person point of view is told by an outside narrator, so it’s more objective but offers limited access to characters’ thoughts and feelings. First-person point of view is narrated by a single character, so it’s more exclusive (we have access to thoughts that a third-person narrator likely can’t give us) but not nearly as objective. Free indirect discourse gives us the best of both worlds: exclusive access to characters’ thoughts while still remaining objective.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Intelligence means “information” here. Mrs. Bennet and her daughters must rely on Lady Lucas for a description of Mr. Bingley because Mr. Bennet refuses to describe him. Lady Lucas’s report may not be trustworthy because she could be trying to secure Mr. Bingley for one of her own daughters.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Mr. Darcy’s incivility suggests that he is aware of the impropriety of his presence at a public assembly. Wealthy aristocrats rarely mixed with common people. Mr. Darcy seems acutely aware that he and the Bingleys belong at a private ball, not a public assembly.

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. “Ten thousand a year” amounts to approximately $1,000,000 per year in today’s (US) dollars. Mr. Darcy is among the 400 wealthiest families in England (at the time) and is the wealthiest man at the assembly.

    — Stephen Holliday
  19. The definition of “gentleman” had been actively reworked by the time Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. The title used to refer to men who came from old, wealthy, and aristocratic families. However, rich and entitled gentlemen started earning a reputation for being rude, arrogant, lazy, and greedy. People thought that a real “gentleman” should be gracious, humble, hardworking, and charitable. This meant that riches and status had nothing to do with it: a man could technically be a true gentleman regardless of social status.

    — Stephen Holliday
  20. Mr. Bingley’s manners are unpretentious and sincere, as opposed to artificial and showy. He comes off as a genuine gentleman, partly because of his manners and partly because he is openly “mixing” with common people even though he is of a higher class. He doesn’t look down on anyone and always behaves graciously.

    — Stephen Holliday
  21. The Bennet sisters are concerned that there will be too much competition, both for Mr. Bingley and other eligible suitors. Young, single women tried to have dance partners at all times because being without a partner suggested that the woman was unsuitable for marriage. If there were too many ladies at an assembly, many of them might be left without partners.

    — Stephen Holliday
  22. According to the *Austen Papers, 1704-1856 *(1942), the Boulanger may have been called the *Baker's Wife *in England.

    — Stephen Holliday