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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Arrived at the ball, Elizabeth looks in vain among the red coats of the officers for Wickham. Did Bingley not invite him out of consideration for Darcy? A fellow officer, however, tells Lydia that Wickham was called to town on business and stayed away an extra day to avoid a certain gentleman. Wickham had told Elizabeth that he had no intention of avoiding Darcy, yet that is just what he is doing.

Elizabeth gets through her dances with the awkward Collins as best she can. Then Darcy asks her to dance, and, too startled to think of an excuse, she accepts. They dance and talk. He is very agreeable, but turns silent the moment she mentions Wickham.



Sir William Lucas, Charlotte's father compliments them both on their dancing. He then refers to a coming desirable event and pointedly looks at Bingley and Jane, who stand talking, their heads close together.

Miss Bingley approaches Elizabeth and rather insolently warns her against taking an interest in Wickham, since he is low-born. She also understands that he has behaved badly to Darcy, although she does not know the details. In softer terms, Bingley has told Jane much the same thing, also by hearsay. Elizabeth judges that since the information comes by way of Mr. Darcy, she need not believe it.

For Elizabeth, the ball offers only increasing unpleasantness. Collins learns that Darcy is present and insists on presenting himself to Lady Catherine's nephew. His pompous speech, punctuated by bow after bow, leaves Darcy somewhat puzzled, but it makes Elizabeth blush with embarrassment. Then at supper Mrs. Bennet talks loudly of her expectation that Jane will soon be engaged to Bingley. Elizabeth sees Darcy across the table, listening. She tries to silence her mother but without success. Darcy looks toward Bingley and Jane, and his face is grave.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

The next day brings a scene of pure comedy. Mr. Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth, with all the elaborate explanations and compliments that he considers proper to such an occasion. Elizabeth declines politely. He brushes her rejection aside, observing that elegant young ladies are bound to refuse a first proposal, even a second or third. Elizabeth protests that no sensible woman would so mistreat a respectable man or so risk her happiness if she meant to accept him in the end. He does not listen, but persists in his belief that her refusal is ladylike modesty.

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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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