Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: Ch. 3

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Chapter 3

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 neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. 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 towards 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 afterwards 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 townh the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour 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 Hertfordshireh; and she began to fear that he might be always 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 reportd 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 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 gentlemanlike; 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 yearh. 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 Derbyshireh could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenanceh, 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 earlyh, 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 proudesth, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour 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 hear 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."

X [h] in town

Places

London was at this time the only significant city in England, its population about one million. Manchester, the next largest, had somewhat over 100,000. After that the numbers declined sharply.

Towns in the industrial Midlands and the North are growing rapidly owing to the accelerating expansion of factories and mines, which draw people from the countryside who can no longer make a…

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X [h] Hertfordshire

A county (also known as Herts) due north of London, the town of Hertford being about eighteen miles from the heart of the city. 

X [d] a report

Our narrator is entirely reliable, but her sources are given to gossip. The number drops from twelve ladies to two, his sisters. Presumably the account of Bingley's worth is accurate.

X [h] ten thousand a year

Money

An extraordinarily high income, even if it's gross and not net. 

X [h] Derbyshire

Places

Derbyshire, in the Midlands, is just under 100 miles from Hertfordshire. Derbyshire also includes a portion of the Peak District, a hilly, sometimes mountainous area that adjoins the Penines, to the west of which is the Lake District, in the northwest corner of England. 

X [h] forbidding, disagreeable countenance

Writing & Reading

Public opinion is as fickle as gossip is erring. Darcy in a few moments goes from possessing a "noble mien" (a phrase that sounds less like Austen than that of the collective observers) to a "disagreeable countenance."

Yet Austen herself is saying that a person's manners (being natural, warm, lightly reserved, quick to find and express pleasure) go a long way to determining our sense of the person's physical attributes. That his "manners gave a disgust" is strong language.…

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X [h] closed so early

Amusements

Though the hour this ball ended is unstated, Austen in a letter mentions one that goes to 3am, and dawn was not uncommon—especially if the night were dark and the distance home some miles.

X [h] the proudest

Writing & Reading

The novel's title probably originates in Fanny Burney's Cecilia; or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782), the final chapter of which is titled "Pride and Prejudice." Austen liked Burney, whose fiction was a precursor to her own.

Fitzwilliam Darcy has been convicted of pride and sentenced. Public opinion and much private is difficult to change. Prejudice means pre-judgment or a preconceived opinion, and one so settled that it will not respond readily to reason or to proofs that the judgment is wrong. …

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