The Netherfield Ball
The ball at Netherfield is a very important moment, as first and foremost, Darcy and Elizabeth dance – finally! It is a crucial moment because it shows you that because Darcy has singled Elizabeth out from all the other woman present, so he must be in some way inclined towards her and find her more than just “tolerable”...
Dancing during the Regency era was a very important social event as it was at a ball that the ladies would hope to find a husband and vice versa, or in some cases, their mothers would hope to find their daughters a husband, wealthy if possible! The woman could also ‘show off’ how well they could dance *cough Caroline cough*, and their ability to dance and how well they were dressed reflected on how wealthy and respectable they were considered to be. Also, during a dance it was the only time where a man and a woman would be allowed physical contact and free conversation – no chaperon! It was the gentleman’s duty to dance with as many women as possible which is why Darcy’s behaviour at the Meryton ball unacceptable, in society’s eyes (and in Mrs Bennet’s!), “He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.” If the lady was asked for her hand, she would be obliged to accept it, except Lizzy doesn’t like to be ruled by society, so refuses Darcy the first time!
Elizabeth has just had the mortification of dancing two embarrassing dances with Collins “when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprise that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him.” This is an important development in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship as at the Meryton dance, Darcy had declared Elizabeth not handsome enough to dance with, and then at another assembly, Elizabeth had refused to dance with him because of her prejudice towards him – well you know what they say, third time lucky! So she agrees to dance with him, yet if I remember correctly, she had stated after the Meryton ball “never to dance with him”... I think Lizzy accepting him is surprising as she is so against Darcy and very strong-willed so dancing with one of her greatest enemies isn’t what you would have expected Lizzy’s reaction to be, surely she could have come up with a witty turn down? Or maybe she did, deep down, actually want to dance with him ;) or maybe, she was just so surprised that she went speechless! Charlotte Lucas tries to console her friend by telling her “you will find him very agreeable” but in reply Lizzy explains “That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate!” as Lizzy is ‘determined’ to hate Darcy! Charlotte also advises Lizzy “not be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times his consequences” as it is clear that Lizzy is quite keen on Wickham, and Charlotte doesn’t want her friend to embarrass herself by behaving unacceptably which she could easily because of her emotional state and feelings against Darcy. When they take up their places to dance it says “and reading in her neighbours’ looks, their equal amazement in beholding it” because as well as her amazement in dancing opposite Darcy, the others in the ballroom seemed equally as surprised because they all, just as Lizzy, considered him to be a proud, unsociable man!
Lizzy is by this point very much against Darcy and it is clear that she wants to avoid pleasing him and if possible, insult and tease him in her witty way! She had thought that because they remained silent for the first few minutes of the dance, it was to remain that way but then she thought “it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk,” as she knew that from previous observations, Darcy didn’t like talking to people he didn’t know or was barely acquainted with – actually quite a clever move! This is an example of Lizzy mischievous side, which she has plenty of!
After failing to make Darcy continue a conversation from a general remark about the dance, she then reminds Darcy of the importance of being able to carry out a conversation by saying to him “It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples” which is a very brave and forward statement from Lizzy as she is almost telling Darcy how he should behave! (ohhhhh!) His reply to this of his willingness to say whatever Lizzy wished him to say seems very obliging and unlike Darcy showing you that he could be trying to please her and therefore he could be quite interested in her! Lizzy then explains how that answer will service but adds “Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones” which is not really Lizzy’s opinion but more what Lizzy thinks is Darcy’s opinion! After stating that they had said enough and should now remain silent, Darcy continues the conversation with “Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?” I think this is either Darcy wishing to talk to Lizzy more and discover more about her, or just Darcy not knowing what else to say! Or, perhaps, it could even be that although he is a man of high social status, he may not really know how he is supposed to act during a dance due to his dislike of the amusement and therefore his lack of practice – just a thought! In her reply, she mentions how “It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together;” as it was a dance that would provide the opportunity of talking to your partner alone and for a considerable amount of time. This shows us that Lizzy is well aware of the purpose of dancing and all the correct etiquette even if she does not always wish to follow the rules – she really is against society’s rules! Lizzy’s comment on their character “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 except to say something that will amaze the whole room” is clearly sarcastic! And Darcy recognises her sarcasm and tells her that it's a very inaccurate picture of her character and he's not sure it describes him correctly either, although Lizzy thinks it does. We can see that Darcy is beginning to realise her dislike of him as he says “You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly”. Therefore, we know that Lizzy is making her opinion very clear to him and not conducting herself the way she should! But I'm sure that is what makes the conversation fun for Lizzy!
There is then a few more minutes silence until Darcy enquires whether “she and her sisters did not very often walk to Meryton” which shows you that Darcy is trying his best to please Lizzy by obliging her with conversation, and to prove he can conduct a conversation ;) This, unfortunately, was too much of a temptation to resist for Lizzy of bringing up her new acquaintance in Wickham. Uh oh! “The effect was immediate.” It is clear that this subject is very distressing for Darcy and Lizzy's gratified that it seems to upset him – which is mean! ;) Darcy explains that Mr. Wickham has qualities that enable him to make friends but not to retain them, referring to the lost friendship between him and Wickham. To this remark, Lizzy answers “He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship”. Again, sarcastic as Lizzy does not like having Darcy as an acquaintance and she probably thinks that Wickham is better off not having Darcy as a friend either! It says how Darcy “seemed desirous to change the subject” – bless him! You have to feel for Darcy!
It is at this point when they are interrupted by Sir William Lucas who comments on how “such very superior dancing is not often seen”. He then explains his wish “to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Miss Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place.” In this remark he is alluding to the hope of a forth coming wedding between Jane and Bingley – Mrs Bennet is not the only one to have noticed the attachment! Also, the use of the word ‘desirable’ is showing how advantageous the connection would be! This remark is what brings the possible event to the attention of Darcy and is one of the major reasons for splitting them up shortly after. It says how “Sir William’s allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly,” as Darcy can’t hide his prejudice toward a marriage between Jane and Bingley.
This interruption is greatly received by Darcy in that he hoped it would allow them to change the subject of their conversation away from Wickham and he tries to make this clear by declaring that “Sir William’s interruption has made me forget what we were talking of.” But Lizzy hasn’t forgotten! Yet, she replies that they weren’t really talking of anything and had “tried two or three subjects already without success and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine”. Their relationship here seems very dysfunctional and they seem to be quite awkward in each other’s company, especially on Darcy’s side, which would have been worsened by the mention of Wickham. However, Darcy tries again to change the mood of their conversation and make them less unhappy in each other’s company by bringing up the subject of books, because Darcy knows her to be a reader from the time at Netherfield. This doesn’t really go down well with Lizzy as she says that they can’t possibly read the same books, to which Darcy says “We can compare our different opinions”. But, poor Darcy, Lizzy doesn’t think a ballroom is a place to discuss books because her head is “always full of something else.” – namely Wickham. Lizzy wants to question and abuse Darcy further on this subject and tries to broach it from a different angle. “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” and “and never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?” are two question which induce Darcy to ask “to what these questions tend?” She explains that she is unable to figure out his character because she has heard such contradictory accounts of him. He then answers “I can readily believe it”, poor Darcy is aware of the varying opinions of his character, and as we have seen from an early conversation between them, he knows that he has flaws in his character. Darcy is trying to get out of this interrogation as “there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either” as he does not wish to be embarrassed, but also possibly he does not want Lizzy to be embarrassed either – aww! This is again quite considerate on his part. She says she may not have another opportunity of taking his likeness as she doesn’t think she will see him again! Nor does she really want to see him again!
On this remark, before Lizzy could tease him anymore on his flaws, they parted “and on each side dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree” as Darcy was not so displeased as Lizzy was and even after all the incivility she had shown towards him, he still forgave her because of his feelings towards her and “directed all his anger against another” – Wickham. He blamed Wickham for Lizzy impoliteness towards him and forgave her for questioning him on the subject. This shows you how Darcy really must like Lizzy if he is willing to forgive her that easily!
Austen uses mainly dialogue with little narration during this scene which helps to create the atmosphere between Darcy and Lizzy and it also makes you feel part of their conversation!
This is clearly a very important section. It shows how Darcy’s feelings toward Lizzy are changing and how Lizzy is becoming more and more prejudice against Darcy (unfortunately, based on what turns out to be false accusations.) I think Darcy’s willingness to forgive Lizzy for her appalling behaviour during the dance, and asking her for her hand in the first place would slightly improve your opinion of Darcy, even though your made to follow Lizzy’s view and believe the story of his background with Wickham. It may also provoke some thoughts as to whether Wickham’s story is completely reliable, especially as Lizzy is shortly after cautioned by Caroline that he is not to be trusted, and by Jane that he might not be a respectable young. Clever scene Austen!
Your affectionate friend,