Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 18 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: On the night of the ball Elizabeth, to her disappointment, finds that Wickham is not present. She is told that the latter has had to go to town on business. Elizabeth senses that Wickham has done so to avoid Darcy and she is accordingly short with the latter when he addresses her. Later in the evening, however, Elizabeth dances with him. During this dance they try to get the better of each other in conversational banter. While Elizabeth is still unimpressed by Darcy, there are signs that the latter is not a little attracted by the former.

      Miss. Bingley speaks to Elizabeth about Wickham and advises her not to believe what the latter has said about Darcy’s bad treatment. She informs Elizabeth that Wickham has treated Darcy shamefully. She sneers at Wickham for being only the son of old Mr. Darcy’s steward and Elizabeth tells her coldly that Mr. Wickham had not withheld that fact from her. Jane, meanwhile, has questioned Mr. Bingley about Wickham. Bingley does not know the facts but is convinced of Darcy’s honourable behaviour and that Wickham has received much more attention from Darcy than he deserved. Mr. Collins is delighted to discover that Darcy is the nephew of Lady Catherine and insists on introducing himself to Darcy although Elizabeth begs him not to do so. She watches him effusively addressing Darcy who eyes him with unrestrained wonder and answers him with an air of distant civility before moving away. During supper, much to Elizabeth’s distress, she hears her mother speaking openly to Lady Lucas of her expectation that Jane will soon be married to Mr. Bingley. Mr. Darcy, sitting opposite them, overhears, and Elizabeth does her best to check her mother’s confidence, but in vain. Elizabeth is covered with blushes of shame and vexation. After supper Elizabeth is further mortified by her younger sister Gary’s efforts to entertain the company by singing. Her voice is weak and her manner affected. Fortunately, Mr. Bennet catches Elizabeth’s agonized glances and bids Mary to let the other young ladies have a turn at entertaining. Then follows an excessively pompous and ludicrous “speech” from Mr. Collins. The rest of the evening is spoilt for her by the fact that Mr. Collins remains by her side and refuses to be introduced to any other young lady or to dance with anyone else.

      Critical Analysis: This chapter covers another ball one of the most important events in the first half of the novel; here the Bennet family is seen in the most unfavourable light. “To Elizabeth it appeared that had her family made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success.” Mary embarrasses Elizabeth by singing too long and boring the entire group. Then Mr. Collins who is a relation makes a dull speech and insists on being introduced to Darcy. Mrs. Bennet’s utter stupidity is revealed nowhere as clearly as in this chapter. She talks about the possibility of Jane’s marriage with Mr. Bingley and is overheard at the dining table by Darcy.

      The evening succeeds in driving Elizabeth and Darcy further apart. Her prejudice is unabated; she says of Darcy and Wickham, “I shall venture still to think of both gentlemen as I did before.” Ironically, her sympathy for Wickham is increased by the fact that her enemy, Caroline Bingley, defends Darcy so energetically.

      Towards the end of the ball, Darcy suddenly becomes aware of the great disadvantage to the Bingley family if Bingley marries Jane. So he thinks it expedient to remove Bingley from the scene and we are told that Bingley is going to London.

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