It is, of course, generally accepted that a wealthy single man must be in search of a wife. As soon as such a man moves into a neighbourhood, each of the families that live there will, without any inquiry as to his own feelings on the subject, immediately consider him the rightful property of one of their daughters.
‘My dear Mr Bennet,’ said Mrs Bennet to her husband one day, ‘have you heard that Netherfield Park has been rented at last?’
Mr Bennet replied that he had not.
‘But it has,’ she repeated. ‘Mrs Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.’
Mr Bennet made no answer.
‘Do you not 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 quite enough encouragement.
‘Well, my dear, Mrs Long says that Netherfield has been taken by a rich young man from the north of England, that he came down on Monday to see the place and was so pleased with it that he agreed to take possession immediately, and that some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of the week.’
‘What is his name?’
‘Is he married or single?’
‘Oh, single, my dear! An unmarried man of large fortune — four or five thousand pounds a year. What a fine thing for our girls!’
‘And why is that? What difference does it make to them?’
‘My dear Mr Bennet,’ replied his wife, ‘how can you be so annoying? You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.’
‘Is that his intention in settling here?’
‘Intention? Nonsense, how can you talk like that! But it is 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 reason for that. You and the girls may go, or, even better, you may send them by themselves, because as you are as good-looking as any of them, Mr Bingley might like you the best of the party.’
‘My dear, you praise me too highly. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but when a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give up thinking of her own appearance. But you must go and see Mr Bingley when he comes.’
‘I cannot promise to do so.’
‘But consider your daughters. You must go, because it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.’
‘You are too anxious to do what is proper, surely. I dare say Mr Bingley will be very glad to see you, and I will send him a few words by you to inform him of my complete agreement to his marrying whichever of the girls he chooses, though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.’
‘I hope you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others, but you are always showing a preference for her.’
‘They have none of them much about them to admire,’ he replied. ‘They are all silly and empty-headed like other girls, but Lizzy is a little more intelligent than her sisters.’
‘Mr Bennet, how can you speak of your own daughters in such a way? You take pleasure in annoying me. You have no pity on my poor nerves.’
‘You are mistaken, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have been listening to news of them for the last 20 years.’
‘Ah! You do not know how I suffer.’
Mr Bennet was such a strange mixture of cleverness, sharp humour, silence and unexpected changes of mind, that the experience of 23 years had not been long enough to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to understand. She was a foolish woman. When she was anxious, she imagined herself to be ill. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its pleasure was visiting and news.