Chapter 3 of Pride and Prejudice describes the night of the Meryton assembly, where we (and Elizabeth) first meet Mr. Darcy as a member of the Bingley party from Netherfield. But what was Elizabeth thinking and feeling afterward, especially concerning Mr. Darcy, who had insulted her? Here is that missing scene:
October 15, 1811
The Bennet ladies had only just settled into their carriage to commence their short journey home from the assembly when Lydia, obviously very well pleased with herself, burst forth with, “What a ball! I declare, it was as if the whole affair was organized specifically for my enjoyment. Did you notice? I was never without a partner, not for a single dance!”
“Nor was I!” said Kitty, not wanting to be left behind. “Poor Mary, though. How could you bear it? Not to be asked even once! How mortifying I should have found it.” Kitty looked round at Lydia, who then joined her in laughing at Mary’s expense.
Mary, sitting on the opposite seat between Jane and Elizabeth, was not unused to enduring this sort of treatment at the hands of her younger sisters. And yet she found it impossible in this case to turn a deaf ear. “This is one more proof of how unlike we are,” she rejoined with considerable distain. “Not being asked merely saved me the inconvenience of declining, for I am sure I saw no one there whom I cared to stand up with. Rollicking about with such frivolous young men as you two found to dance with, partners with no grace and nothing intelligent to say for themselves – well, it would have been a punishment to me to spend even five minutes in so irrational a manner. I had much rather sit quietly by listening to the music.”
Kitty and Lydia began to loudly remonstrate against these remarks until their mother, even more loudly, put an end to it saying, “Girls, girls, enough of that! Your high spirits are understandable for you both spent the evening doing exactly as you wished. And we must give Mary her due, you know, for tonight she was mentioned with favor to Miss Bingley as being quite ‘the most accomplished young lady in the neighborhood.’ So, you see, she has her claims as well. But Jane’s being so admired by Mr. Bingley; now that is the real triumph!” Mrs. Bennet then turned to her eldest. “I daresay the man is half in love with you already, and who could blame him? Anybody could see that you were by far the prettiest girl in the room.”
“Mama!” Jane protested. “You embarrass me.”
“I know you are too modest to say so, but it was as plain as the nose on his face how he admired you. A very fine beginning! Yes, on the whole, I am well satisfied with tonight’s success – well satisfied indeed!”
Elizabeth kept her thoughts to herself. She trusted there would be time later for a private conference with Jane, where they could both give uninhibited voice to their ideas about the amiable Mr. Bingley… and about his less-than-amiable friend and sisters. Jane liked Mr. Bingley a good deal. That much was already clear from how she behaved at the assembly and from the shy smile that even now remained on her lips. With her reserve, the clues were subtle, but very little escaped Elizabeth’s notice, especially where her dearest sister’s happiness was concerned.
As for herself, Elizabeth was surprised to find that she concurred with her mother for once; the evening had been entirely satisfactory. Although she could not boast, as Jane might, of being almost in love by what had passed that night, she had other sources of pleasure. She had seen Jane sincerely admired. She had enjoyed the agreeable exercise of dancing with several good-natured young men. And she had talked and laughed to her heart’s content, much of it thanks to the odious Mr. Darcy.
His slighting of herself in her hearing had stung for a moment; that could not be denied. Only tolerable indeed! But it cost her no more than that one moment’s distress. Elizabeth, who was not formed for discontent, quickly turned the incident to her favor, deciding it had been a matter of good fortune instead, one which had begun paying handsome dividends almost immediately. Had not it already proved a fine source of humor and a spur for her lively wit as she told the story with great spirit to her friends? Moreover, she intended to make the most of it for as long as possible. After all, one did not every day stumble across such a perfect cause for jesting, such a fine example of the ridiculous as Mr. Darcy had kindly provided her.
She should be sorry to insult an innocent person for the sake of a joke, but Mr. Darcy was hardly innocent. His own words and actions had condemned him in everybody’s eyes, and, at the same time, made excellent fodder for Elizabeth’s sportive tongue. Likewise, the gentleman had saved her the effort of ever being civil to him, and she could henceforth abuse him as much as she liked without any temptation to regret.
As the carriage started up the gravel sweep to Longbourn House, Elizabeth reflected that it was a mercy her mother had been equally put off by Mr. Darcy’s disagreeable manners. Else, with her eldest daughter firmly in Mr. Bingley’s sights, Mrs. Bennet would surely be throwing her second eldest at his very eligible friend every chance she got. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s rudeness may have been the only thing to have saved him from being likewise accosted by every enterprising mother of an unmarried girl in the vicinity, once the size of his fortune had been generally circulated.
Mr. Darcy might be rich and even tolerably good looking, which Elizabeth would allow only if pressed, but she flattered herself that she would never be taken in by such superficial attractions. A handsome face could not hide a heart of stone, after all, nor could any amount of money excuse bad behavior. No, Mr. Darcy was almost certainly the last man on earth who could ever interest her in a romantic way. As a source of amusement, however, he might be worth knowing.
Once they were all inside, Mrs. Bennet took great satisfaction in regaling her husband with a detailed description of all that had transpired at the assembly, finishing with an account of Mr. Darcys insolence, slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect.
“But I assure you,” she added in closing, “that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set downs. I quite detest the man.”
Elizabeth deemed her mother’s assessment of Mr. Darcy’s character remarkably accurate, especially coming from one whom she did not ordinarily consider an astute judge of such things. Of course, it stood to reason that even a person usually wrong must be accidentally right on occasion. The law of averages would insist it was so. That must be the explanation. Still, Elizabeth felt a vague uneasiness that her mother’s and her own opinions should so perfectly coincide – and twice in one day, too! How very odd. Such a thing had not happened last in a month of Sundays. What could it all mean?