Pride and Prejudice: Novel Summary: Chapters 17-20

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Chapter 17: The next day Elizabeth tells Jane all that Wickham has told her.  Jane feels that there must be some misunderstanding on some side, as it is impossible that any man of common humanity could treat his father's favorite in such a way.  Elizabeth still believes Wickham, and will wait until Darcy tells her different.  Mr. Bingley and his sisters come to invite the family to their ball at Netherfield, but do not stay long as to not have to converse much with Mrs. Bennet or the two younger sisters.  All are excited about the ball, and even Mary, who often does not participate in activities, says she will attend.  Elizabeth is especially excited, as she believes she will see Wickham there.  She is distressed when Mr. Collins asks her for the first two dances, as she had hoped to dance these with Wickham.
Chapter 18: It is not until Elizabeth is at the ball that she realizes that Wickham may not attend because of Darcy.  Indeed he is not there, and Mr. Denny says that he had to go to town on business.  The first two dances were "dances of mortification," as Collins was "awkward and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it." Elizabeth is then taken by surprise by Darcy, and before she realizes it, has agreed to dance the next two dances with him.  Elizabeth tries to talk to Darcy during the dancing, as she knows that he would prefer not too, and when the conversation turns to Wickham, Darcy again changes color.  He says that while Wickham is good at making friends, he is not good at keeping them.  Sir William then dances near the couple, and Darcy gets quite serious when Sir William makes an allusion to how congratulations may soon be in order for Bingley and Jane. Elizabeth is later embarrassed by her family's conduct, when her mother openly discusses the relationship between Bingley and Jane (in front of Darcy) and when Mary sings badly.  The Bennet family is the last to leave, and it is clear that the Bingley sisters wish they would go, and Bingley and Jane are again alone talking away from the group.
Chapter 19: The next day Mr. Collins finds Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Elizabeth in the drawing room, and asks for some time alone with Elizabeth.  Elizabeth anxiously asks the others not to leave, knowing what is coming, but then decides it is better to get it over with.  After Collins gives Elizabeth his reasons for wanting to marry, including that Lady Catherine advised it, he asks Elizabeth to marry him.  Elizabeth states that it is impossible for her to accept, as they would not make each other happy.  Collins, though, is not disappointed, as he believes that she is only declining in order to be modest and that he will only have to wait a bit and ask again.  No matter how much Elizabeth says that she will never accept, Collins believes that she eventually will. 
Chapter 20: Collins tells Mrs. Bennet that he is not concerned about Elizabeth's refusal, but Mrs. Bennet is.  She calls on Mr. Bennet to speak to Elizabeth and talk her into marrying Collins.  When Mrs. Bennet tells Elizabeth that she will never see her again if she refuses Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet says that he will never see her again if she accepts.  Elizabeth continues to refuse.  Charlotte Lucas soon comes for a visit, is told the news, and gets to know Mr. Collins.