Chapter Eighteen, Part 1
Originally published 5/14/2006.
Chapter 18 is quite long, as it includes a dance. Austen, as with several of her main characters, must discuss a ball in great detail. I might divide this chapter into three sections.
Till Elizabeth entered the drawing-room at Netherfield, and looked in vain for Mr. Wickham among the cluster of red coats there assembled, a doubt of his being present had never occurred to her. The certainty of meeting him had not been checked by any of those recollections that might not unreasonably have alarmed her...
I am not quite sure of which recollections Lizzy is thinking here. Help?
...She had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart, trusting that it was not more than might be won in the course of the evening...
The chutzpah of the young. Mr. Wickham must not have a very large heart, if Lizzy could in fact win it in the course of an evening. Or perhaps Lizzy thinks she has conquered most of it, and it is only what is left of it she aims to win. Still, Austen is being rather sly here in pointing out the foible of a somewhat forward woman.
...But in an instant arose the dreadful suspicion of his being purposely omitted for Mr. Darcy's pleasure in the Bingleys' invitation to the officers; and though this was not exactly the case,...
Utter rubbish, as Wodehouse would say.
...the absolute fact of his absence was pronounced by his friend Denny, to whom Lydia eagerly applied,...
Of course Lydia would be eager.
...and who told them that Wickham had been obliged to go to town on business the day before, and was not yet returned; adding, with a significant smile, "I do not imagine his business would have called him away just now, if he had not wanted to avoid a certain gentleman here."
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the "certain gentleman" is Darcy. This event should have raised red flags in Lizzy's mind, but it does not. She is quite blind to any fault in Wickham. The fact that Wickham had said he was going to be there, or at least it was expected of him, and he was invited, but did not come, speaks volumes.
This part of his intelligence, though unheard by Lydia,...
Lydia was probably distracted.
...was caught by Elizabeth, and, as it assured her that Darcy was not less answerable for Wickham's absence than if her first surmise had been just, every feeling of displeasure against the former was so sharpened by immediate disappointment, that she could hardly reply with tolerable civility to the polite inquiries which he directly afterwards approached to make...
She is committing a fallacy in her thinking here. False cause sounds about right. Wickham is not present, therefore Lizzy assumes it is because of Darcy, or something Darcy did. At least, such is the result in her thinking. Now I must be careful to avoid false cause myself. Note the word "tolerable" here. She has been driven by her blindness to the exclusion of other principles of conduct, something else which should have risen a red flag in her mind.
...Attendance, forbearance, patience with Darcy, was injury to Wickham...
Ridiculous. The Bible says, "Love your enemies." Even if Darcy was her enemy, which we know he's not, the way to treat him is kindly, the same as all men.
...She was resolved against any sort of conversation with him, and turned away with a degree of ill-humour which she could not wholly surmount even in speaking to Mr. Bingley, whose blind partiality provoked her.
But we know, probably, that Mr. Bingley would overlook any sharpness on her part. Here is Lizzy, getting clue after clue that something's not right, and yet she refuses to take the hints.
But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of her own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; and having told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas,...
As Susan was kind enough to point out, this almost certainly includes all information on Darcy and Wickham.
...whom she had not seen for a week, she was soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of her cousin, and to point him out to her particular notice. The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy.
Here is an interesting thought: the consequences of our foibles can redound on others. It would be nice, no doubt, if the only consequences of our thoughtlessness came upon ourselves. If we are wise, we will try to make that happen as much as possible. But such is not always possible; especially when you aren't even aware of your own thoughtlessness (perhaps we are never aware of our own thoughtlessness by definition?), as is surely the case with Mr. Collins. In fact, Mr. Collins is so short-sighted that he never really realizes his problem.
She danced next with an officer, and had the refreshment of talking of Wickham, and of hearing that he was universally liked. When those dances were over, she returned to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him...
As was mentioned before in my post about the previous chapter, unless a lady had an extreme reason, she never refused to dance with a gentleman. Even if Lizzy had had her wits about her, she should have accepted him.
...He walked away again immediately, and she was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her:
"I dare say you will find him very agreeable."
"Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil."
The real evil to Lizzy here is probably her pride in being proven wrong. Lizzy is determined to find him disagreeable; any evidence to the contrary is therefore almost a personal affront to her.
When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times his consequence...
Is this mercenary? Or is it wise? Keep in mind that I think Charlotte does know the history here between Darcy and Wickham, as told by Wickham. So even knowing that Elizabeth dislikes Darcy, she is urging her not to give up the financial aspect and not to concentrate solely on love. It's probably good advice no matter what Lizzy's marital intentions are. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain by being pleasant and good-mannered to everyone, regardless of their just deserts.
...Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours' looks, their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes,...
None of the movies interpret "minutes" literally. The pause is much shorter, perhaps because we find it impossible to believe that people can actually be quiet in each others' company for that long. Silence seems unbearable to everyone. But it was not so in those days.
...she addressed him a second time with:-- "It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."
He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.
Very gallant, I'm sure.
"Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent."
"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"
"Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."
A woman of few words, I see. That is truly often the wise path. She obviously thinks Darcy is the same, a believe no doubt founded on good evidence.
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?"
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."
This is not, perhaps, the best reason for staying silent. A better one is simply to avoid saying something foolish that will hardly edify your neighbor. This statement Lizzy makes, I think, is untrue of Lizzy. She is not unsocial, at least not to my mind. But my mind, dear readers, is a modern one, unavoidably affected by modern notions. Perhaps in those days Lizzy's quietness at times might be viewed in general as unsocial.
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," said he. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
Darcy: right in both. However, is it really polite to outright contradict someone like that? Lizzy says she's unsocial, etc. Darcy says, "No, you're not." Perhaps the "I am sure" is the 1800's equivalent of, "This is the way I see it." Hence it might be understood that Darcy is giving his opinion, and self-consciously his opinion.
"I must not decide on my own performance."
Lizzy, at any rate, does not appear to take offense. Question: is her statement here humble? I think ostensibly, that is her outward goal: to appear gracious and humble before Darcy. But is it really true that we cannot judge our own performance on such things as character estimation? Modesty does not consist of saying that our own good performance was actually bad. Instead, it calls a good thing a good thing, a bad thing bad, and in terms of our own good works, forgets them as soon as we might forget them in someone else (sooner, actually). In that light, her statement seems more false modesty than real modesty. It is true, however, that continually talking of yourself is pride.
He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did not very often walk to Meryton? She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, "When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."
A temptation it was. Surely there can be no pure motive for bringing up Mr. Wickham. Or, at least, I think the stronger motive was the evil one of "getting his goat." She may ostensibly want merely to hear his side of the story. But the way she phrased it was much more antagonistic than necessary.
The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, but he said not a word,...
He doesn't trust himself at this point, so he shuts his trap. (I always thought "trap" was an appropriate name for your mouth. It gets you in so much trouble.) This was probably very wise indeed.
...and Elizabeth, though blaming herself for her own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said, "Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends-- whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."
While this is certainly not very complimentary to Wickham, I'm not at all sure that Darcy is engaging in gossip here. Lizzy brought the subject up first; Darcy is intimately connected with the situation; Lizzy is also involved. Reader opinions solicited, please.
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."
A somewhat polite thing said impolitely, I think.
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject...
I have always read this as Darcy being somewhat desirous of changing the subject, but not desperate.
...At that moment, Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy:-- but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me."
This whole speech is indeed good breeding, and being civil to all the world. Perhaps mentioning Jane and Bingley was not the wisest thing ever. Young people do not always like to be presumed upon (you know, the whole "Susan loves John" thing). But in the main, a good speech, if official.
The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Sir William's allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together...
Thus does Austen set up Darcy's later statement in the letter, "At that ball, while I had the honour of dancing with you, I was first made acquainted, by Sir William Lucas's accidental information, that Bingley's attentions to your sister had given rise to a general expectation of their marriage... From that moment I observed my friend's behavior attentively..." We know what Darcy is thinking: Bingley needs watching now, since he appears to have gotten himself in deeper than he ever has before.
...Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to his partner, and said, "Sir William's interruption has made me forget what we were talking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine."
Lizzy teasing a bit, and perhaps also belying her earlier statement about being taciturn.
"What think you of books?" said he, smiling.
He gets the tease.
"Books-- oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."
Lizzy just doesn't want to talk about books. However, Darcy's statement plainly implies that he is a man after my own heart.
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions."
Not a bad thought, surely. But he probably should've taken Lizzy's earlier hint. She has to resort to an outright statement, as follows:
"No-- I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."
"The present always occupies you in such scenes-- does it?" said he, with a look of doubt.
This seems an appropriate place to comment, though what I have to say also applies to Lizzy's reply immediately below. C. S. Lewis had much to say on time, in terms of where our thoughts should dwell. Lewis came to the conclusion that the present ought to occupy our minds the most, for it borders on infinity the best. The past? You can easily get into the rut of thinking ages past were superior to this one. The future? Unnatural fears and hopes can eat you alive. The present, what we are doing (to quote Yoda), is often more important. Don't forget the disciples who were gazing intently into heaven, and along came the angel and basically said, "Get back to work." So Darcy may have been wrong in thinking that it is not good to dwell overmuch on the present to the exclusion of the past and the future.
"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, "I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."
Everyman's Library has a question mark at the end of this last sentence. Yours? I don't think it matters very much. Even with a period, Lizzy is obviously looking for a reply, which Darcy gives.
"I am," said he, with a firm voice.
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"
Lizzy. This is the first time the word "prejudice" has appeared in the book, aside from the title. I think its use here is instructive: prejudice is something which, on the one hand, makes us over-sensitive to find it in others; and second, makes us under-sensitive to find it in ourselves. Lizzy probably thinks Darcy has been prejudiced, though we know he hasn't. He does not quite see clearly with regard to Jane, it is true. But he is not prejudiced against her the same way Lizzy is prejudiced against him.
"I hope not."
"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.
Lizzy. I'm not quite sure but what this sentence is superfluous on the part of Lizzy. Hasn't she just been asking to make sure Darcy hasn't been judging properly at first?
I'll break here.