The morning after his daughters return from Netherfield, Mr. Bennet informs his wife of an imminent visit from a Mr. William Collins, who will inherit Mr. Bennet’s property. Mr. Collins, the reader learns from a letter he sends to the Bennets, is a clergyman whom the wealthy noblewoman Lady Catherine de Bourgh has recently selected to serve her parish. His letter, as Mr. Bennet puts it, contains “a mixture of servility and self-importance,” and his personality is similar. He arrives at Longbourn and apologizes for being entitled to the Bennets’ property but spends much of his time admiring and complimenting the house that will one day be his.
At dinner, Mr. Collins lavishes praise on Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter, a lovely invalid who will one day inherit the de Bourgh fortune. After the meal, he is asked to read to the girls, but he refuses to read a novel and reads from a book of sermons instead. Lydia becomes so bored that she interrupts his reading with more gossip about the soldiers. Mr. Collins is offended and abandons the reading, choosing to play backgammon with Mr. Bennet.
Mr. Collins is in search of a wife and when Mrs. Bennet hints that Jane may soon be engaged, he fixes his attention on Elizabeth. The day after his arrival, he accompanies the sisters to the town of Meryton, where they encounter one of Lydia’s officer friends, Mr. Denny. Denny introduces his friend, Mr. Wickham, who has just joined the militia, and the young women find Wickham charming. While they converse, Darcy and Bingley happen by, and Elizabeth notices that Wickham and Darcy are extremely cold to each other.
Darcy and Bingley depart, and the company pays a visit to Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Bennet’s sister, who invites the Bennets and Mr. Collins to dine at her house the following night. The girls convince her to invite Wickham as well. They return home and Mr. Collins spends the evening telling Mrs. Bennet how greatly her sister’s good breeding impresses him.
At the Phillips’s dinner party, Wickham proves the center of attention and Mr. Collins fades into the background. Eventually, Wickham and Elizabeth find themselves in conversation, and she hears his story: he had planned on entering the ministry, rather than the militia, but was unable to do so because he lacked money. Darcy’s father, Wickham says, had intended to provide for him, but Darcy used a loophole in the will to keep the money for himself.
Elizabeth, who instinctively likes and trusts Wickham, accepts his story immediately. Later in the evening, while she is watching Mr. Collins, Wickham tells her that Darcy is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s nephew. He describes Lady Catherine as “dictatorial and insolent.” Elizabeth leaves the party thinking of nothing “but Mr. Wickham, and what he had told her, all the way home.” She decides that Darcy deserves nothing but contempt.