Pride and Prejudice Chapter 14 - 17: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Mr. Collins continues to be irritating. He even has designs on Lizzy's hand in marriage! The Bennet sisters meet a new lieutenant who is super-hot, super-charming, and has a disturbing tale to tell about Mr. Darcy.

Chapter 14: A Horrid Houseguest

In chapter 14 of Pride and Prejudice, the Bennets are still doing the hard work of hosting Mr. Bennet's nephew, the pompous Mr. Collins. With all his self-conscious formality, he's a truly awful houseguest. It's possible - just - to feel sorry for him. He spent most of his youth under the thumb of a domineering father, so to some extent, his humble attitude is a survival tactic. He has less excuse for his self-importance and his failure to cultivate either knowledge or a social circle while away at university. Having received a generous income from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he is now annoyingly gushy about her generosity.

Mr. Collins refuses to read a novel

In describing the conversations of Mr. Collins and the Bennets (often one sided, as Mr. Collins talks a lot), Austen mimics his own pompous style. Over dinner, he even tells Mr. Bennet that he practices his conversation, particularly 'such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions.' After dinner, Mr. Collins literally recoils in horror when asked to read a novel aloud to the Bennets, and eventually picks out a volume of sermons instead. Lydia irrepressibly interrupts. He says he's not offended, but obviously is. (We've all known someone like that.)

Chapter 15: A Handsome Stranger

Mr. Wickham is introduced
Chapter 15 illustration

In chapter 15, we learn of Mr. Collins' ulterior motive in visiting their family. He has decided that he should marry one of the Bennet sisters since he's their father's heir. That way, at least one of the young women will have financial security. He's decided on Jane, since she's the prettiest. Mrs. Bennet is delighted to learn of Mr. Collins' plan... but tells him that Jane is practically engaged to Mr. Bingley. Far from being intimidated, Mr. Collins just switches over to Lizzy. When all of the Bennet sisters (except Mary) take advantage of good weather to walk into Meryton, Mr. Collins accompanies them.

While window shopping, the sisters make a new acquaintance. Captain Denny, Kitty and Lydia's favorite flirtation partner from the regiment, introduces the regiment's newest officer: Lieutenant Wickham. George Wickham is gorgeous, and it's obvious that absolutely everyone notices this. He has 'all the best part of beauty': a handsome face, a good body, and fine manners. Kitty and Lydia are instantly attracted... and Lizzy is not immune.

As everyone is making polite conversation (and checking each other out), Bingley and Darcy ride up, and come over to greet the Bennets. This mostly consists of Bingley and Jane being adorable. While they're chatting, Darcy has time to notice the rest of the group... and he freezes. Darcy being awkward is nothing new. Lizzy is surprised, however, to note that he goes white, Wickham flushes, and their greeting is the bare minimum demanded by social rules. Perhaps fortunately, the party breaks up shortly after this. The Bennets go on to their aunt's house, and she invites them - and Mr. Collins - to a supper party the next day.

Chapter 16: A Scandalous Secret

At the supper party, it becomes clear that Wickham's more than just a pretty face: in conversation he is amiable, clever, and agreeable. It is Lizzy whom he chooses to converse with, and she can't resist hinting about his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. Somewhat hesitantly, he acknowledges that he's known Mr. Darcy his whole life. On being asked whether she herself knows Darcy well, Lizzy says that four days cooped up in the same house with him was enough to last her a lifetime. Gradually, over the course of the evening, Wickham reveals his own connection with Mr. Darcy.

Wickham tells his story with some hesitation, but no embarrassment. His dad was property manager for Mr. Darcy's father. Mr. Darcy, Sr. was Wickham's godfather, and treated the two boys with similar affection. He promised Wickham a career in the church; there was a parish on the estate that could be granted to anyone the Darcys chose, providing a permanent income for its priest. After the elder Mr. Darcy died, his son, motivated by jealousy, refused to honor his wishes. So, Wickham concludes, here he is, trying to make a career in the army instead.

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