Chapters 8 and 9 – The Bennett’s come to Netherfield
The jealous Caroline Bingley sees a real opportunity in bringing down
Elizabeth in front of Darcy.
She thinks that Elizabeth’s unladylike behavior in tramping across three miles of countryside and arriving at Netherfield in a disheveled state will enable her to poke fun at Elizabeth. The women observe the mud on Elizabeth’s clothes, and her wild hair, but all Darcy sees is that the walk has made her complexion alive and fresh, and he is impressed by her devotion to her sister.
Elizabeth spends most of her time with Jane, but she does eat with the
others, and in the evening converses with them in the drawing room. Caroline’s attempts to discredit Elizabeth are clearly failing, so she widens her scorn to include all the Bennett family, planting the seed
in Darcy’s mind as to what they would be like as his in-laws.
During one conversation the discussion deals with the accomplishments of women. Caroline’s angle is that walking three miles in poor weather in the countryside is not one of these accomplishments. In contrast, what she can do are accomplishments, i.e. “paint tables, cover screens, and net purses.” Darcy disagrees with Caroline’s view on the acceptable accomplishments of women, “I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen in the whole range of my acquaintance that are really accomplished.” (A snide at Caroline.) He is clearly impressed by Elizabeth’s performance and although she has knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and languages, as does many of her contemporaries; she has something extra and unusual.
When Elizabeth leaves the room, again Caroline tries to bring her
down. She says, “She is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own ''' it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”
Darcy responds, “There is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.” (A further dig at Caroline.) Her poisoned tongue will not sway him.
Soon Jane is well enough to leave her bed, and she joins in with the social
gatherings in the evenings.
The Bennett family visits to check on Jane’s progress, and Caroline sees a
further opportunity to discredit the whole family.
Elizabeth becomes increasingly embarrassed by their behavior. Mrs. Bennett fawns over Bingley while making no pretence about her feelings towards Darcy. Lydia, who is only 15, is far too familiar with Bingley, reminding him to give a Ball at Netherfield, which he agrees to do when Jane fully recovers.
It is important that the reader has a clear view on
what the typical Regency woman in these social circles behaved like. By and large, they were frail creatures and were almost like ornaments to their husbands and prospective partners. They busied
themselves with frivolous pastimes that would augment their domestic lives. Elizabeth, although proficient in the expected skills, broke this mould.
Through her reading, she had broadened her mind and had definite opinions, which she did not hesitate to voice in company. She is in stark contrast to her older sister. The frailty of women is demonstrated by the ease with which Jane contracts a cold, due to exposure to inclement weather.
Women were expected to always be immaculately presented, especially in
company, and for Elizabeth to arrive at Netherfield unannounced and in a disheveled state, clearly would have been unthinkable, and this shocked the Bingley’s, but intrigued Darcy.
It is clear that Caroline will go to extreme lengths in order to win Darcy
over to her.
During one of the evening social gatherings, Darcy is immersed in a book and Caroline realizes the only way to obtain his attention is to walk round the room with Elizabeth. Darcy is in a dilemma for although he attempts to engage in conversation with Elizabeth, she remains cold towards him. He says to Elizabeth concerning poetry, “I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love.” Elizabeth responds, “Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet would starve it entirely away.” Elizabeth makes it plain to Darcy that she has little regard for him. This must frustrate Caroline, because try as she may, she cannot get Darcy interested in her, and she knows that Elizabeth only has to flash her eyes, and Darcy will come running.
The arrival of the Bennett family is Caroline’s last chance to disillusion
Darcy about Elizabeth and the entire Bennett family, and they do all in their power to help her in her plan.
Mrs. Bennett talks incessantly and is gushing towards Bingley, whilst being positively rude to Darcy. Lydia is far too forward for her tender years. Austen describes her as “a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen with a fine complexion and good-humored countenance, a favorite with her mother.” This is because she has a similar nature to her mother, unlike Jane and Elizabeth, who have their father’s more redeeming characteristics. As for the other two sisters, Kitty is similar to Lydia in her behavior, but Mary is the odd-one-out of the five sisters, which will be illustrated later.