E Bradshaw con An Unwelcome Guest at the Netherfield Ball: A Pride & Prejudice Variation (English Edition)
“I found,” said he, “as the time drew near that I had better not meet with Mr Darcy; that to be in the same room, the same party with him for so many hours together, might be more than I could bear, and that scenes might arise unpleasant to more than myself.”
(Mr Wickham: Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 21)
In chapter 21 of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Mr Wickham makes a charming apology to Elizabeth Bennet over his prior absence from the Netherfield Ball. The reader later discovers the truth of this situation; that Mr Wickham was keen to avoid Mr Darcy that night – for it was entirely possible that he could have faced (entirely justifiable) retribution from Mr Darcy if he had attended. The reader – and Elizabeth – are unaware at that point in the novel of Mr Wickham’s true, deceitful nature – and, of course, no one in wider society is aware of Mr Wickham’s scandalous behaviour concerning Mr Darcy’s younger sister.
However, in this alternative narrative, the reader is shown how events could have varied in Pride and Prejudice if Mr Wickham had thrown caution to the wind and had instead attended the ball on that fateful evening. In this re-telling of the famous story, events start on the evening of the much anticipated Netherfield ball, and Elizabeth quietly frets to herself over the potential for her family to create a public scene. She knows very well that Mr Bingley’s conceited sisters hold her family in contempt, just as she is very aware of Mr Darcy’s obvious disapproval. She dreads the prospect of enduring her promised dances with Mr Collins, and is appalled at her mothers’ blatant matchmaking efforts.
However, with the one pivotal change – of Mr Wickham being unexpectedly present at the ball – Elizabeth’s night, and her prospects for an enjoyable evening, change completely. And as a consequence of his attendance at the ball, the events of the novel begin to differ from there onwards as well. The neighbourhood of Meryton is entirely scandalised when Elizabeth takes a dance with the gallant Mr Wickham – and Mr Darcy is beside himself with rage to see the woman he secretly admires dancing so merrily with his arch enemy.
‘Elizabeth looked up at Mr Wickham’s face as he spoke, and realised, as she followed the direction of his pointed gaze, that he had locked eyes with Mr Darcy across the space of the crowded ballroom. She had not noticed before that Mr Darcy was observing them; though it was clear that Mr Wickham had known exactly where Mr Darcy was within the room – as well as having been entirely aware that Mr Darcy had been watching the two of them. The air seemed to spark between the two men, and Elizabeth could not fail to notice the palpable tension which flowed in waves between them. She saw the scornful sneer that Mr Wickham shot towards his enemy – and Mr Darcy bristling in return.’
In fact, Mr Darcy is so unsettled by the sight of Elizabeth dancing with his enemy, and so jealous, that he acts immediately to separate them. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, this is only the first of a series of humiliating experiences that she is to face that evening – and the consequences of Mr Darcy’s actions are to cause a scandal which will unavoidably change her future.