Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 18
A list-form summary of the events in this chapter, which could be entitled "The Netherfield ball":
1. Mr Wickham is a no-show.
2. "Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour"; therefore, she recovers her spirits while telling Charlotte Lucas about Messrs Wickham, Darcy and Collins.
3. Elizabeth dances the dance of mortification. Mr Collins, you see, has all the grace, skill and manners of, um, a graceless, skill-less, ill-mannered dance partner. You know the type. He'd rather apologize than try to get it right. Remember Darcy's quote from Chapter Six? Yeah, well Mr Collins can't dance.
4. Elizabeth agrees to dance with Darcy. She is caught off-guard, you see, while talking to Charlotte Lucas, and says yes before she remembers that she promised her mother never to dance with him back in Chapter Five.
5. Charlotte gives sound dating advice. She cautions Lizzie not to be an idiot, since Darcy is worth at least ten of Wickham. Charlotte's assessment is entirely based on social status and monetary issues at this point in the book.
6. Elizabeth tweaks Darcy for not chatting during the set. She not only starts the conversation, but she teases him about what subjects might be appropriate, then engages in an intellectual conversation (of sorts) about why conversation during the dance is a good thing. Mr Darcy's question, by the way, indicates that he favors conversation away from the dance floor, where one can speak more intimately (a word that here includes the meaning of "privately").
In an English country dance, it is quite common for partners to line up across from one another - usually at a distance of about five to six feet - far enough that both can take two small steps to meet up in the middle, at any rate. Depending on the dance, not all pairs are in motion at all times, and there can be quite a lot of standing around, during which time one may converse with one's partner - although not usually about anything particularly intimate, since neighboring couples can hear you. Even once all the couples have started to dance in a particular set, it's quite common for the dance to reverse, and in many cases this means that the couple(s) at the end of the line are standing out for one full figure of the dance - again, a perfect time for light conversation.
7. Elizabeth shocks Mr Darcy by alluding to Mr Wickham. Remember how this story was initially called First Impressions? Pay attention to this exchange, in which Darcy unbends so far as to comment that Mr Wickham makes a pleasant first impression, implying that Wickham doesn't wear well over time; Elizabeth (in effect) questions Darcy's character and understanding:
A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, but he said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself for her own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said,8. Sir William Lucas oversteps. How does Sir William transgress? Let me count the ways: (a) He speaks to Mr Darcy while Darcy is dancing with Elizabeth. It just wasn't the done thing - as Henry Tilney pointed out in Chapter Ten of Northanger Abbey when John Thorpe spoke with Catherine. (b) He fawns over Mr Darcy in an obsequious manner. Blech. (c) He strongly intimates that the entire neighborhood considers Jane as good as engaged to Mr Bingley, thereby engaging in speculation and gossip, simultaneously.
"Mr Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends -- whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject.
9. Darcy pays close attention to Bingley and Jane, observing how they interact with one another.
10. Having started, Darcy attempts to maintain conversation with Elizabeth, choosing "books", a topic which would ordinarily interest her. Sadly, her thoughts are bent toward Wickham, trying to square her observation of Darcy with what Wickham told her.
11. Elizabeth directly questions Darcy's character. She basically indicates that Wickham has told her about Darcy, and she's trying to figure out what to believe. Darcy legitimately takes umbrage at such a thing. They each leave the dance unhappy with the other, but Darcy rapidly forgives Elizabeth "or in Darcy's breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her", and he shifts the blame to Wickham. Elizabeth just stays out of sorts with Darcy.
12. Caroline Bingley warns Elizabeth that Wickham isn't to be trusted. It is tempting, of course, to dismiss Caroline's remarks, as Elizabeth does, because we know Caroline is a meddlesome bitch. And she is so very condescending in her comments, talking about Wickham's lower social status as if that were a crime, that it's easy to understand why Elizabeth and we readers get our back up, but I feel it incumbent to remind everyone that not all bitchy remarks are incorrect.
13. Jane confirms with Bingley that Wickham deserved to lose Darcy's regard, although Bingley is unaware of the particulars.
14. Things are looking good for Jane, who is delighted with Bingley and hopeful that perhaps he will make an offer for her.
15. Mr Collins is an embarrassment. He finds out that Darcy is related to Lady Catherine and rushes off to introduce himself to Mr Darcy. Which is simply not done. Darcy is his social superior in every way, and has the superior relationship claim to Lady Catherine as well. Mr Collins is inappropriate in doing so, and undoubtedly far more inappropriate in the contents of his address to Mr Darcy. As an added bonus, Mr Collins tells Lizzie off and puts her down when she tries to talk him out of it.
16. Mrs Bennet is an embarrassment. She is talking, loud and long, with Lady Lucas about how she fully expects Bingley to propose to Jane, not forbearing to mention such things as financial and social gain to the entire family. All of it overheard by Mr Darcy. As an added bonus, Mrs Bennet tells Lizzie off and puts her down when she tries to talk her mother out of it. As an extra added bonus, Mrs Bennet talks smack about Mr Darcy in front of his face, and where plenty of people can likely hear her.
"Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation", and truly, who could blame her?
17. Mary Bennet is an embarrassment. Although she practices music all the time, she plays and sings with no feeling and little beauty. Small wonder that "Elizabeth was in agonies."
18. Mr Bennet is an embarrassment. Interceding to prevent Mary from moving on to a third song is the right thing to do, but he ought to have approached Mary and pulled her away kindly. Instead, he says aloud (so that the whole room can pretty much hear) "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."
19. Mr Collins is (again) an embarrassment. He lectures the room on the duties of a parson, as he sees them, with a mortifying side dose of how he feels it incumbent on himself to scrape and grovel to Mr Darcy.
20. Lizzie refuses a second dance with Mr Collins. Sadly, having refused to dance with Mr Collins, she has put an end to all dancing for herself that evening. She couldn't say "I won't dance with you" without breaching societal expectations, so she has been forced to say that she no longer wishes to dance at all - and she's therefore stuck on the sidelines for the rest of the evening.
21. Mrs Bennet delays calling for their carriage, thereby delaying their departure, which leaves them all standing about stupid & awkward - Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins not knowing when to shut up, Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley blatantly disapproving of them, and only Jane & Bingley carrying on in a normal fashion.
22. Mr Bingley's off on a short jaunt to London.
23. Mrs Bennet is counting chickens before they're hatched. She fully expects Jane to marry Bingley - and soon - and Elizabeth to marry Mr Collins.
Two segments from the 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice spanning the ball:
Those of you in love with the music to which Mr Darcy and Elizabeth dance (and, I should add, to which Mr Knightley and Emma dance in the Jeremy Northam/Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma) is called "Mr Beveridge's Maggot", where a maggot is not fly larva, but is instead the name of a kind of dance tune that relies on repetition and embellishment. The word "maggot" or "magot" sometimes meant "fancy" (as in "flight of . . . "), you see.
Tomorrow: Chapter Nineteen
Back to Chapter Seventeen