IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a single man in
possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on
his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in
the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the
rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard
that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she
told me all about it."
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
"Do not you want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is
taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that
he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was
so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately;
that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his
servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."
"What is his name?"
"Is he married or single?"
"Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four
or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"
"How so? How can it affect them?"
"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome!
You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."
"Is that his design in settling here?"
"Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he
may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him
as soon as he comes."
"I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may
send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as
you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley might like you the
best of the party."
"My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty,
but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman
has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her
"In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of."
"But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes
into the neighbourhood."
"It is more than I engage for, I assure you."
"But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it
would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined
to go, merely on that account, for in general you know they visit no
newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to
visit him if you do not."
"You are over scrupulous surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very
glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of
my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls;
though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy."
"I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than
the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor
half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the
"They have none of them much to recommend them," replied he; "they
are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something
more of quickness than her sisters."
"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You
take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves."
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They
are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration
these twenty years at least."
"Ah! you do not know what I suffer."
"But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of
four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood."
"It will be no use to us if twenty such should come since you will
not visit them."
"Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all."
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour,
reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years
had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her
mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean
understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was
discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life
was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
Copyright © 1995 by Jane Austen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.