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The Bennets have modest means. Mr. Bennet has only an income of two thousand a year, which unfortunately will pass to a distant cousin on his death. Mrs. Bennet has inherited only four thousand pounds from her father, which does not offer substantial security to her daughters.
The young Bennet girls, especially Catherine and Lydia, frequently visit Meryton. It is a village in the vicinity of Longbourn where their maternal aunt, Mrs. Philips, resides. The arrival of a military regiment in the neighborhood is a source of great excitement for the young girls. Mrs. Philips’ accounts of the officers entertain Catherine and Lydia, and they talk endlessly about the soldiers. Their father is bothered by their perpetual talk of men and calls them the silliest girls in the country. Mrs. Bennet always defends them.
A note arrives for Jane from Caroline Bingley, asking her to dinner since her brother and Darcy are dining out. Jane leaves for Netherfield on horseback, and heavy rains prevent her from returning home. A letter arrives at the Bennets the next morning, stating that Jane is unwell, and, therefore, detained at Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet is thrilled rather than being upset on hearing this news. She views it as a favorable development of the matrimonial dream that she has for Jane. Elizabeth is genuinely worried about her sister and walks three miles to Netherfield to check on her. By the time she reaches the Bingley residence, Elizabeth is a mess. The ladies are appalled to see her dirty appearance. Darcy wonders why she has walked such a long distance in bad weather and all alone. At the same time he admires her brilliant complexion, which is aglow with the warmth of exercise.
When Elizabeth is taken to Jane, she finds her feverish. She has caught a violent cold and needs bed-rest. Elizabeth is grateful when she is invited to stay with her sister. A servant is dispatched to Longbourn to inform her parents and to bring clothes for Jane and Elizabeth.
Mrs. Bennet’s excessive concern of getting her daughters married is partially due to the financial circumstances of the Bennets, which are made clear in this chapter. If something happens to Mr. Bennet, the family will have no income and Mrs. Bennet’s inheritance from her father is meager.
The appearance of the military regiment in Meryton paves the way for the later introduction of Wickham. It also brings out the worst in the youngest Bennet daughters, who can talk of nothing but the handsome officers.
The family’s reaction to Jane’s sickness if very typical. Mrs. Bennet is delighted at the situation, for she sees it as an opportunity for Jane to spend some time with Bingley; she does not seem the least bit concerned about Jane’s health. By contrast, Elizabeth is extremely concerned and walks the long distance to Netherfield in bad weather to check on his sister. Her concern once again highlights that Elizabeth is driven by feeling and impulse.
The Bingley sisters are also contrasted to Elizabeth in this chapter. They pretend to care about Jane and fawn over her in a counterfeit manner. Also reflecting their shallowness is their ready to please attitude towards Darcy, which is quite lackluster when compared to Elizabeth’s emotions about Darcy.
This chapter is structurally important to the novel. Through Jane’s illness, the author brings together the four main characters, Darcy, Bingley, Elizabeth, and Jane, and develops their personalities.