Pride and Prejudice follows the lives of the five Bennet sisters and their parents, especially focusing on the second eldest daughter Elizabeth. Though weary of her mother's desperation to place each of her daughters in good marriages, Elizabeth finds herself drawn to Mr. Darcy, a proud and wealthy gentleman who is attracted to Elizabeth because of her intelligence and wit. Amidst the drama of their friends' and families' lives, both must overcome preconceived notions and expectations in this story that explores class, love, and social change.
The next day, Elizabeth tells Jane about her conversation with Wickham. Jane refuses to think ill of either Wickham or Darcy, and assumes that they must in some way be "mutually deceived." Mr. Bingley and his sisters announce a ball at Netherfield. When Elizabeth asks Mr. Collins if he plans to attend, he state that he does and asks her for the first two dances. Elizabeth had wanted to reserve those dances for Mr. Wickham, but instead gracefully accepts the offer from Mr. Collins. Elizabeth begins to realize that is Mr. Collins' choice for a wife. She ignores his hints, hoping that he will not ask her.In chapter eighteen, at the Netherfield Ball, Elizabeth is disappointed that Wickham is not there. She assumes his absence is the fault of Mr. Darcy. After telling Charlotte Lucas that she is disappointed, Elizabeth suffers through her two dances with Mr. Collins. Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth for a dance; Elizabeth is surprised but accepts. During the dance Elizabeth carries on a sarcastic conversation, making fun of Darcy's character. She tells him of her new acquaintance with Wickham and insinuates that Darcy has not behaved well toward Wickham. The subject is changed after an interruption from Sir William. Elizabeth admits that she is unable to figure out Darcy's character because she has such contradictory accounts. Darcy forgives her questioning and blames Wickham.
Miss Bingley tries to warn Elizabeth not to trust Wickham and assures her that Darcy has done nothing wrong. Elizabeth reacts rudely to Miss Bingley. Jane tells Elizabeth that Mr. Bingley believes Darcy's behavior is above reproach and that Wickham is not of good character. Elizabeth dismisses Bingley's opinion because she believes it was received from Darcy.
Mr. Collins discovers that Darcy is Lady Catherine's nephew and decides to introduce himself. Elizabeth warns that it would be inappropriate to do so because of Mr. Darcy's superior social status. Darcy is surprised at Mr. Collins, replies to him with civility, and then walks away.
Jane has a good time with Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth enjoys her sister's happiness. Mrs. Bennet is also happy to see how well Jane and Mr. Bingley are getting along. During dinner Mrs. Bennet speaks loudly about the possible engagement, much to Elizabeth's great embarrassment.
After dinner Mary accepts an invitation to play and sing at the piano, though she does not sing or play well. After Mary's second piece, Elizabeth pleads to her father to tell Mary to stop. Mr. Collins makes a speech about the importance of music. Elizabeth feels embarrassed by her family's conduct throughout the evening. At the end of the ball, Mrs. Bennet invites Bingley to dinner at Longbourn. He promises to come as soon as he returns form a trip to London.
The next day, Elizabeth tells Jane the story Wickham related to her about Mr. Darcy. Jane cautions Elizabeth to not believe Mr. Wickham so readily, since she does not know him. Elizabeth declares that if Darcy is innocent, then he should declare it himself. Elizabeth then says that Wickham, to her, looks honest. There is to be a ball at Netherfield, given by Mr. Bingley. Mr. Collins is invited to the ball.
In chapter eighteen, at the Netherfield ball, Elizabeth looks for Wickham but does not find him there. Elizabeth resolves not to speak to Mr. Darcy at the ball. However, she is forced to dance with Mr. Collins for the first two dances of the ball. Mr. Collins is a terrible dance partner, "awkward and solemn," and often apologizing for having stepped on her feet. Mr. Darcy then asks Elizabeth to dance. There is at first an awkward silence between the two of them. Elizabeth begins to speak of Mr. Wickham, and compares his good manners as a contrast to Mr. Darcy's supposed bad manners. Mr. Darcy becomes red and wishes only to change the subject. Elizabeth continues on, and the two shared a heated discussion about the subject of Mr. Wickham while they dance, yet Mr. Darcy never says a word about what occurred between the two of them, though Elizabeth hints at it throughout.
After dancing with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth speaks with Caroline Bingley about Wickham. Miss Bingley makes an unkind remark about Wickham being the son of Darcy's steward. Miss Bingley tries to warn Elizabeth not to trust Wickham and assures her that Darcy has done nothing wrong. Elizabeth reacts rudely to Miss Bingley and defends Wickham. Elizabeth rejoins Jane and asks what she has found out about Wickham from Mr. Bingley. Jane tells Elizabeth that Mr. Bingley believes Darcy's behavior is above reproach and that Wickham is not of good character. Elizabeth dismisses Bingley's opinion because she believes it was received from Darcy. Jane replies that Mr. Bingley does not know the history of Wickham and Darcy, and that she has nothing new to add.
Mr. Collins then speaks to Elizabeth about Mr. Darcy being the nephew of Lady Catherine and that he intends to speak to him. Elizabeth tries to talk Mr. Collins out of his plan because the two of them have not been properly introduced and that it is Mr. Darcy who should begin the introduction since he is of superior rank in society. However, Mr. Collins cannot be talked out of it. After his first introductory speech, Mr. Darcy looks at Mr. Collins with "civility" but after the second long-winded speech, Mr. Darcy simply bows and moves away without speaking.
Jane has a good time with Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth enjoys her sister's happiness. Mrs. Bennet is also happy to see how well Jane and Mr. Bingley are getting along. Elizabeth then finds her mother talking openly and loudly to Lady Lucas about the possibility of Jane marrying Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth tries to keep her mother from speaking so openly on the subject, but her mother cannot be stopped and then begins talking about the rudeness of Mr. Darcy, loudly enough for him to hear. Elizabeth begs her mother to not talk so loudly, that Mr. Darcy can hear her, but Mrs. Bennet continues to talk and declares that she owes Mr. Darcy "no civility."
After supper, there is talk of music and a suggestion that a lady play. Elizabeth's younger sister Mary, who cannot sing or play very well, jumps up at the mention and begins to play and sing, both very poorly. Elizabeth can see the Bingley sisters talking and pointing, and begs her father to intervene. When Mary is finished playing, Mr. Bennet stops her and tells her to let the other ladies have a chance.
For the rest of the night, Mr. Collins was by Elizabeth's side. Mrs. Bennet manages to keep the carriage from picking them up until everyone else has left, then asks Mr. Bingley to dinner at Longbourn.
These chapters are important in that the Bennet family's behavior is shown in a most comical manner. Their faults are so obvious at the Netherfield ball that the reader is left with no doubt as to why Darcy feels he must keep himself from his growing attachment to Elizabeth. From Mr. Collins' long-winded speech, to Mary's embarrassing singing, her mother's loud and obnoxious behavior, there is no doubt that the Bennets would not be the best in-laws.
Yet in spite of this, Elizabeth's prejudice toward Mr. Darcy is highlighted even further in this chapter as she refuses to believe even Mr. Bingley's account of Mr. Darcy's character. In spite of the fact that Mr. Darcy is nice to her, and even invites her to dance, Elizabeth is barely civil to him and brings up his supposed bad behavior toward Wickham. Elizabeth tells Darcy, in vaguely veiled language, that she believes Darcy has acted unjustly toward Wickham.
Mr. Darcy, in spite of Elizabeth's sarcasm and insinuations, seems to have a growing attachment to Elizabeth that Elizabeth herself seems unaware of. Darcy's attachment to Elizabeth is so strong that he is willing to excuse her insolence with regard to Wickham, blaming her sarcasm and disbelief on Wickham's deception rather than Elizabeth's prejudice and rash judgment.
The Netherfield ball provides the reader with a picture of the social formalities of early 19th century with Mr. Collins' breach of etiquette. Elizabeth is extremely aware of these social conventions, and is continually embarrassed by her family's bad manners and lack of propriety. Elizabeth is further mortified by Mrs. Bennet's indiscreet conversation about hopes for a marriage between Jane and Bingley.