Chapter IV

WHEN JANE AND Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him.

“He is just what a young man ought to be,” said she: “sensible, good-humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!”

“He is also handsome,” replied Elizabeth; “which a young man ought likewise to be if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete.”

“I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment.”

“Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

“Dear Lizzy!”

“Oh, you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life.”

“I would wish not to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candor is common enough; one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design—to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad—belongs to you alone. And so you like this man's sisters, too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his.”

“Certainly not, at first; but they are very pleasing women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house; and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbor in her.”

Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced. Their behavior at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgment, too, unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them. They were, in fact, very fine ladies; not deficient in good-humor when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable when they chose it; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome; had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town; had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds; were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank; and were, therefore, in every respect entitled to think well of themselves and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the North of England, circumstances more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.

Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred thousand pounds from his father, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it. Mr. Bingley intended it likewise, and sometimes made choice of his county; but, as he was now provided with a good house and the liberty of a manor, it was doubtful to many of those who best knew the easiness of his temper, whether he might not spend the remainder of his days at Netherfield, and leave the next generation to purchase.

His sisters were very anxious for his having an estate of his own; but though he was now established only as a tenant, Miss Bingley was by no means unwilling to preside at his table; nor was Mrs. Hurst, who had married a man of more fashion than fortune, less disposed to consider his house as her home when it suited her. Mr. Bingley had not been of age two years when he was tempted, by an accidental recommendation, to look at Netherfield House. He did look at it, and into it, for half an hour; was pleased with the situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what the owner said in its praise, and took it immediately.

Between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spite of a great opposition of character. Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, and ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy's regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgment the highest opinion. In understanding, Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious; and his manners, though well-bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared; Darcy was continually giving offense.

The manner in which they spoke of the Meryton assembly was sufficiently characteristic. Bingley had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life; everybody had been most kind and attentive to him; there had been no formality, no stiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and as to Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful. Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. Miss Bennet he acknowledged to be pretty; but she smiled too much.

Mrs. Hurst and her sister allowed it to be so; but still they admired her and liked her, and pronounced her to be a sweet girl, and one whom they should not object to know more of. Miss Bennet was therefore established as a sweet girl, and their brother felt authorized by such commendation to think of her as he chose.

Footnotes

  1. Mr. Bingley apparently depends on his sisters’ approval when he’s making certain major-life decisions. Austen is reversing the power dynamic between men and women: In a patriarchal society like England’s, it does not matter what the Bingley sisters think. In Pride and Prejudice, however, they seem to have a lot of social sway—especially in the marriage market.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Mr. Bingley’s affection for Mr. Darcy gives us a hint that Mr. Darcy isn’t as unpleasant as he seems to be at first. However, Mr. Darcy’s reasons for being friends with Mr. Bingley (according to the narrator) suggest that he likes that Mr. Bingley is easy to influence.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Mr. Bingley’s sisters want him to buy Netherfield and become an established member of the landed gentry. They may be self-conscious about their family’s nouveau riche status; no matter how rich they are, they are technically of a lower class than families like the Bennets who have been part of the landed gentry for centuries. Jane is actually of a higher class than Mr. Bingley, but her family’s general foolishness (her mother’s frequently inappropriate behavior and her father’s refusal to take anything seriously) put any match between them in jeopardy.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Mr. Bingley does not seem to care about buying an estate and establishing himself as a member of the landed gentry. Even though the Bingleys are wealthy, they are not technically aristocrats; they would have to purchase an estate like Netherfield and establish themselves in the neighborhood. Mr. Bingley’s nonchalance suggests that social mobility, which enables non-noble families like the Bingleys to acquire wealth and status through trade, is eroding the traditional hierarchy. It does not seem to matter whether or not a family of status is actually noble.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. “Liberty of manor” refers to the right to shoot game (wildlife), predominantly pheasants. Shooting and hunting were very popular among the middle and upper classes, and hunting season began around August 12 (the end of the London social season). Mr. Bingley has apparently come to Netherfield to hunt.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Mr. Bingley’s inherited income, which amounts to 4,000–5,000 pounds per year, is half of Mr. Darcy’s and twice that of Mr. Bennet’s. He has more than enough money to maintain a fully-staffed country estate, as well as a house in London.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. In Austen’s time, social status was a common preoccupation of the middle class. Aristocrats like Mr. Darcy were far more secure in their positions as the dominant leaders of society; people like the Bingleys, however, often tried to prove their superiority by putting others down. Original readers of *Pride and Prejudice* would have likely found Austen’s portrayal of the snobby middle class to be quite humorous.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The Bingley sisters seem to forget that their family’s wealth came from manufacturing. They look down on others, especially the Bennets, who are actually of a higher class (even though they are not as wealthy) because they are part of the landed gentry.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Twenty thousand pounds breaks down to about 800–1,000 pounds a year, which is roughly $35,000–45,000 in today’s dollars. Compared to the Bennet sisters’ paltry 1,000 pounds (in a lump sum), the Bingley sisters are far more likely to find wealthy husbands.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. A seminary is a place of education (college, university, or some other school) for people destined for a particular vocation. In Austen’s world, private seminaries were institutions for female education. Women did not usually receive a formal education; instead, they accrued “accomplishments” like painting,dancing, and piano-playing. The Bingley sisters received a formal education, however, and it appears to have made them arrogant and superficial. Austen clearly questions whether formal female education is worthwhile.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. In Austen’s time, middle- or upper-class women commonly oversaw day-to-day household operations. The woman in charge of the house, often called the “mistress of the house,” did not perform menial tasks like cooking and housekeeping; instead, she managed the servants that performed these duties. She also managed household finances. Unmarried women sometimes managed the houses of their closest unmarried male relation, as Miss Bingley does for Mr. Bingley.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Elizabeth, who has not had much direct interaction with the Bingley sisters, is quick to level judgment against them. Her criticism of their manners during the assembly is a sort of prejudice: she relies on first impressions and appearances to form judgments even though she may not have the entire story.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. “Affectation of candor” means pretending to be open (honest), kind, and sweet. While there is a lot of pretending going on in Pride and Prejudice, Jane is genuine: she means everything she says, and her sweetness is not an act. Being genuine, however, isn’t always a good thing: people might take advantage of you if they know you are truly kind and honest.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Elizabeth is indirectly pointing out Jane’s “reverse prejudice”: Jane believes the best in everyone without having a good reason for doing so. This is just as dangerous as believing the worst in people without justification. Jane is putting herself at risk; if she is not cautious, she can be taken advantage of.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Elizabeth’s witty comments about Mr. Bingley’s preference for Jane reveal her gift for picking up on the ulterior motives. Elizabeth is often in a prime position to identify these motives because, in addition to being generally clever, she rarely receives the attention that Jane does.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Though Elizabeth thinks that Mr. Bingley asked Jane for a second dance because Jane is (in Elizabeth’s opinion) superior to all other women, she also hints that his preference has everything to do with Jane’s physical beauty. While Jane is busy praising Mr. Bingley for personal attributes like good humor and sensibility, Elizabeth suspects that his supposed gallantry stems from nothing more than physical attraction.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. Jane focuses on Mr. Bingley’s personal qualities instead of his wealth or good looks. She seems blind to superficial attributes, unlike most people in the novel; however, she also tends to ignore character flaws. Jane is more naive than objective.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Jane’s caution is not about playing hard to get. In Austen’s time, it was highly improper for women to display interest in men. A woman was expected to conceal her sexual or romantic feelings, and her male love interest was supposed to initiate courtship. Much of Jane’s behavior seems restrained when it comes to expressing her regard for Mr. Bingley.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Having a “judgment too unassailed by any attention to herself” suggests that Elizabeth’s judgment may fluctuate if someone (like the Bingley sisters, who are, “in fact, very fine ladies”) paid attention to her. Elizabeth’s opinion of the Bingley sisters remains unassailed because they did not speak to her.

    — Jamie Wheeler