Pride and Prejudice: Part II (Chapters 11 ~20)
Gloom settles over the Bennet sisters and the readers with the introduction of two men and a proposal from one.
After Jane’s recovery, Mr. Bingley gives at Netherfield a ball, just as he promised. But before the Bennets can enjoy it, the arrival of their relative, Mr. Collins, who is set to inherit the Longbourn estate after Mr. Bennet’s death, prevents the happiness of some. Mrs. Bennet couldn’t be happier for Mr. Collins intends to choose one of his fair cousins as his wife, and has set his eyes on Lizzy (after being dissuaded from Jane, who, Mrs. Bennet thinks, will marry Mr. Bingley very soon), her least favorite child.
Before I go on with the plot and the introduction of the antagonist, let me tell you how unpleasant I think Mr. Collins is.
He, a clergyman and protégé of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (incidentally also Darcy’s aunt), seems to think he is a humble man with all good attributions of a gentleman. I for one found the fact that he compliments himself for making nice complements to others (the majority of which goes to Lady Catherine) disgustingly vain and self-centered. Mr. Bennet thinks this is funny; I do not. I am exasperated by his hidden air of superiority, as shown at the Netherfield ball when he tells Elizabeth: “… in this case [whether he should introduce himself to Mr. Darcy (Lady Catherine’s nephew), who has no idea who Collins is] … I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 18) In short, because Lizzy is a young woman with no profound education unlike himself, her judgment on proper etiquette is ignored (because it was considered rude to introduce oneself to a stranger without a conduit doing the work). Well, turns out Lizzy was right in thinking Mr. Darcy will turn away in contempt after a while.
Also at the Netherfield ball, Collins starts to give a lengthy speech about what hard works a clergyman – thus talking about himself – has to fulfill and so on. How can a person be so full of himself that all he can talk about his own life and the generosity of his patron?
The list of his unpleasantries goes on: When Mr. Collins proposes to Lizzy, he’s secure in her answer, thinking that his well-established life and income will be enough to woo over his cousin, who will have a meager (read: practically non-existent) income after her mother’s death. He talks about his reasons – Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s insistent wish that he marry; his noble intention to do his cousins as little harm as possible in inheriting the estate by marrying one of them; his own increased happiness. But nowhere in his pages long speech do I find a promise of making her happy. It’s all about him, him, him. She’s more like an adornment, an armcandy. So yeah, I don’t like his character at all. But his negative assets were well displayed and described.
Chapter 15 sees to introducing George Wickham with the following words: “… [T]he attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man […] of most gentlemanlike appearance … All were struck with the stranger’s air, all wondered who he could be; … His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address.”
To the dismay of most readers, I daresay, Elizabeth takes up instant liking to this young man who seems at odds with Mr. Darcy. By this point, Lizzy has already made up her mind regarding Darcy, so when Wickham dishes up a tale about Darcy wronging him, she is ready to believe him. At one point, she raises the question “How strange! … I wonder that the very pride of this Mr. Darcy has not made him just to you! If from no better motive, that he should not have been too proud to be dishonest – for dishonesty I must call it.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 16) Say what you will, Elizabeth knows how Darcy’s mind works by now. Mr. Wickham smoothly replies with “… But we are none of us consistent, and in his behaviour to me there were stronger impulses even than pride.” We all know that Wickham is a liar – not the first-time reader who has never heard of the story before but even then, perhaps he or she has heard of the couple ‘Elizabeth and Darcy’, so he cannot be such a bad person as Wickham describes, right? Yet Wickham disguises his lies so well with enough truth mixed in, so that it all appears to be just as he says. And our stubborn Elizabeth wholeheartedly believes him, and will do so for some more time. (I have to confess, though, Wickham’s tale does sound quite believable, under the circumstances.) She is already prejudiced against Mr. Darcy; and due to her ill opinion of Caroline Bingley, an advice of caution goes wasted.
I’d like to dedicate my last line to Mrs. Bennet, who, of all people, says bitterly while referring to herself: “Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.”