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Free Study Guide-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen-Free Plot Summary
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Chapter 18

Summary

On the night of the ball, Elizabeth is despondent because Wickham is not present. Mr. Denny informs her that Wickham has been called to town. Elizabeth, however, suspects that he has chosen not to attend in order to avoid Darcy. She, therefore, decides to ignore Darcy. When she is compelled to dance with Darcy later in the evening, Elizabeth deliberately mentions Wickham. Darcy is disconcerted and speaks in a constrained manner. Elizabeth verbally attacks him, but Darcy remains quiet.

Miss Bingley speaks disdainfully about Wickham and advises Elizabeth not to believe his false story about Darcy. She criticizes Wickham, stating he is the son of a dependent of Darcy’s house. Elizabeth is put off by Miss Bingley and seeks her elder sister. Jane informs her that she has spoken to Mr. Bingley about Wickham. Bingley is ignorant about the facts surrounding the inheritance left by Darcy’s father, but he vouches for Darcy’s stainless reputation.

Mr. Collins sticks to Elizabeth throughout the evening and refuses to be introduced to any other lady, totally exasperating Elizabeth. He is ecstatic to learn that Darcy is Lady Catherine’s nephew. Elizabeth watches him speak gushingly to Darcy, who responds to him with an air of distant civility. During supper, Mrs. Bennet speaks profusely to Lady Lucas of her expectation that Mr. Bingley will soon marry Jane. Mr. Darcy overhears them, and Elizabeth tries vainly to check her mother’s unrestrained confidences. After supper, Mary tries to entertain the party by singing. She has a faltering voice, and her manner is pretentious. Elizabeth, who is already embarrassed by her mother’s indiscreet behavior, is further mortified by her sister’s attempts at singing. Thankfully, Mr. Bennet catches Elizabeth’s agonizing glances and bids Mary to let the other ladies sing. Mr. Collins then gives a pompous and contrived speech, which adds to the disasters of the evening.

Notes

The confrontation between Darcy and Elizabeth once again highlights Elizabeth’s prejudice. She is resolved not to be drawn into conversation with Darcy, but his proposal to dance takes her so much by surprise that she agrees to it. During the dance, they are initially very silent. Elizabeth finally forces a conversation which rattles with ironic dissonance. Elizabeth, hinting that she is referring to Wickham, asks Darcy if he ever reverses his judgement about the character of a person. She then remarks that "it is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first." The irony of her words is obvious, for she has misjudged Darcy.


Although Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy, she is intrigued by his character, which she views as complex; he is very unlike Bingley, who is more simple and easy to understand. Darcy is equally intrigued with Elizabeth and worries about her judging him incorrectly; but social decorum prevents him from openly contradicting her or telling her the truth about Wickham. It is ironic that Elizabeth fails to notice the difference between Darcy and Wickham. Wickham never misses a chance to besmirch Darcy, but Darcy is too much of a gentleman to say a word against Wickham.

The hierarchical structure of old English society and the snobberies of rank are evident in this chapter. Elizabeth’s family appears gauche and unacceptable among the high-brow Bingleys and their friends. Mary Bennet embarrasses her sister and bores the company by her endless singing. Mrs. Bennet speaks loudly and rudely about Darcy when he is within earshot; she also loudly confides in Lady Lucas about her speculation that Bingley will soon marry Jane. Both Darcy and Bingley are repulsed by the vulgar Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters. Elizabeth is aware of her family’s disgraceful demeanor, but fails to comprehend how this will later jeopardize Jane’s chances with Bingley,

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