Pride and Prejudice Chapter 18 - 21: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Chapters 18-21 of Jane Austen's ''Pride and Prejudice'' are packed with action. The much-anticipated ball at Netherfield becomes a nightmare for Lizzy. The next day, things get worse: Mr. Collins asks her to marry him! Then, Mr. Bingley leaves for London... how serious is he really about Jane?

Chapter 18: The Netherfield Ball

In Chapter 18 of Pride and Prejudice, the ball hosted by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield Hall, the Bingley residence, is 'the' social event of this English district. All of the Bennet sisters are eager to go, Lizzy perhaps most of all. After her mutual flirtation with Wickham, she's confident that she can win him over completely at the dance. She's dressed to kill, but she's in for disappointment when Wickham fails to show up.

Not only is Mr. Wickham absent, but Mr. Collins insists on dancing with Lizzy twice. Then, while Lizzie is chatting with her best friend, Charlotte, Mr. Darcy asks her to dance; put on the spot, she accepts. Charlotte tries to comfort her and points out that she might actually enjoy herself. Lizzy is having none of it, stating that: 'To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! -- Do not wish me such an evil.'

Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy
1895 illustration

Lizzy's aware of the high-stakes privilege of being publicly partnered with Mr. Darcy, who is by far the most important man in the room. During the rest of the evening, almost every member of the Bennet family manages to be embarrassing, which calls our attention to Austen's book as a novel of manners, or a realistic portrayal of the conversational and social customs of a particular period. Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy, a huge social faux pas, or error in etiquette, since Darcy's social standing is so much higher than the clergyman's. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet talks loudly about how Jane's marriage to Bingley will throw her other daughters 'in the way of other rich men', a statement that leaves Lizzy blushing with mortification.

Chapters 19-20: Mr. Collins' Proposal

Mr. Collins Proposes
Hugh Thomson illustration

The morning after the ball, Mrs. Bennet contrives to leave Lizzie alone with Mr. Collins, who proceeds to make the worst marriage proposal ever. He states - at great length - that chief among his motives are a wish to gratify his patroness, Lady Catherine, and to make amends for inheriting Mr. Bennet's property. He refuses to take no for an answer and writes off Lizzy's polite refusal as typical of 'elegant females' who don't want to appear too eager. Increasingly desperate, Lizzy assures Mr. Collins that she is 'a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.'

In Chapter 20, Lizzy's parents get involved. Mr. Collins is sure both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet will approve of his proposal, and he's half right. When Mrs. Bennet learns that her daughter has refused him, she calls in the big guns, telling her husband to 'come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins.' After Lizzy frankly admits her refusal, Mrs. Bennet melodramatically declares that she'll never see Lizzy again if she doesn't accept Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet says he'll never see her again if she does!

Mrs. Bennet's scolding of Lizzy is overwrought but not irrational. In desperation, she points out to Lizzy that if she's too picky, she may never find a husband, which will leave her without any means of support when her father dies. Lizzy, however, stands firm. At last, the offended Mr. Collins withdraws his comic proposal, much to Lizzy's relief and Mrs. Bennet's chagrin.

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