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|Mr. Darcy’s Gravity at the Netherfield Ball
Written by Kathryn Ann
(4/22/2010 3:36 p.m.)
Mr. Darcy observes the Bennet family exposing themselves at the ball. Elizabeth was convinced of “his silent contempt.”
In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to check the rapidity of her mother's words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in a less audible whisper; for, to her inexpressible vexation, she could perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Mr. Darcy, who sat opposite to them. Her mother only scolded her for being nonsensical.
"What is Mr. Darcy to me, pray, that I should be afraid of him? I am sure we owe him no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing he may not like to hear."
"For heaven's sake, madam, speak lower. -- What advantage can it be to you to offend Mr. Darcy? You will never recommend yourself to his friend by so doing."
Nothing that she could say, however, had any influence. Her mother would talk of her views in the same intelligible tone. Elizabeth blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation. She could not help frequently glancing her eye at Mr. Darcy, though every glance convinced her of what she dreaded; for though he was not always looking at her mother, she was convinced that his attention was invariably fixed by her. The expression of his face changed gradually from indignant contempt to a composed and steady gravity. – Chapter 18
Darcy also refuses to share in the Bingley sisters’ “derision” during Mary’s pretentious performance and instead “continued . . . impenetrably grave,” as pointed out by David Monaghan in the essay “Pride and Prejudice: Structure and Social Vision.”* Monaghan says: Gravity is a term used in the eighteenth century to define emotions of the most serious and dignified kind. For Darcy to register such feelings thus provides clear evidence that his attitude to the Bennets is shaped not only by vanity but also by a keen sensitivity to the moral implications of their actual behavior. Elizabeth’s prejudice, however, is too strong to allow her to see what is revealed in Darcy’s face…”
Perhaps it was not prejudice but her vexation and embarrassment over her family’s display that kept Elizabeth from giving Darcy credit for no more than contempt, but whatever the case, perhaps Darcy showed greater understanding than she in this instance.
*In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, edited by Harold Bloom, 1987.
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