Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Plot Summary

The opening lines of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are among the most recognised of any nineteenth-century novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Mrs Bennet says these words to Mr Bennet after learning that a wealthy gentleman had recently moved to Netherfield Park, a nearby estate. The Bennets start their novel with an unusual problem: they had five unmarried daughters but no sons. Mr Collins, a family cousin, is entailed or restricted in inheritance from their estate. Mr Collins will receive the family lands upon Mr Bennet’s death, leaving the Bennet daughters without a home or money. As a result, it becomes critical that at least one of the daughters marries successfully in order to support and house their sisters (and mother, if she is still alive) if they are unable to marry.

Pride and Prejudice is unquestionably Jane Austen’s masterpiece, with narratives centred on four marriages: Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy, Lydia and Wickham, and Lucas and Collins, with the major focus on the development of Elizabeth and Darcy’s love. Mr Darcy’s first proposal was rejected by Elizabeth because of her prejudices about Darcy’s first impression and his disinheriting Wickham, as well as his confessed practice of separating her adored sister Jane and his best friend Bingley. While Darcy wrongly misinterpreted a marriage proposal as a confession of his superior views for the inferior, he later wrote a letter to her explaining the two things Elizabeth accuses him of, which leads to her forgiveness. And her later learning of Darcy’s significant role in restoring her family’s honour by bringing Wickham’s acceptance of marrying her sister Lydia to fruition after Lydia’s elopement with Wickham, as well as her being warmly accepted by Darcy with hospitality in his house Pemberley, leads her to love him. And when Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s unexpected arrival to demand that Elizabeth never accept her nephew Darcy’s love becomes an insult to her, Elizabeth states that it is impossible and eventually accepts Darcy’s love at his second proposal.

Major Character Analysis

Shortly after arriving alone, Bingley brings to Netherfield his two sisters, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst; his brother-in-law, Mr Hurst; and his wealthy and unmarried friend, Mr Darcy. Mrs Bennet begs Mr Bennet to summon Bingley so that she might introduce her girls to him. Mr Bennet first refuses to play any role in pairing any of his daughters with Bingley. He informs his wife that if she wants to see the newcomers at Netherfield, she should go to Bingley herself. Prudent etiquette forbids a lady from calling on a stranger, leaving Mrs Bennet helpless to start the process that she hopes will lead to a marriage between one of her daughters and Bingley. Following Mr Bennet’s declaration that he will not call on Bingley, Mrs Bennet fears that her daughters will never be able to meet with the eligible bachelor. Mr Bennet does, however, contact Bingley, thereby initiating the family’s relationship with him. He derives ironic delight from shocking Mrs Bennet with the news after leading her to assume he would not call on him.

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At a small ball, the Bennet sisters meet the Netherfield party for the first time. Bingley demonstrates to the locals that he is likeable and polite, earning him their respect. Darcy, while gorgeous and aristocratic in appearance, appears proud and uninterested in engaging in the evening’s events or even chatting with the other guests. Jane, the eldest daughter, is quickly captivated by Bingley, and he appears to be as taken to her. Jane is portrayed as gentle, selfless, and highly polite. Elizabeth is well-mannered as well, but she has a razor-sharp wit and refuses to be intimidated by anyone. Despite her tendency to be protective of Jane and her family, she understands the flaws in her parents and other sisters. Because there are not enough guys to dance during the gathering, Elizabeth is forced to sit. She overhears Bingley encouraging Darcy to dance and advising him to ask Elizabeth. Darcy responds curtly, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” Despite being offended, Elizabeth refuses to give Darcy’s remark any weight, instead of repeating the incident to all her friends and mocking his arrogant behaviour.

During family visits, balls, and dinners, Jane and Bingley’s bond deepens. His sisters pretend to admire Jane, but they are disgusted by her mother’s vulgarities, her younger sisters’ wild, loose manners, and their inferior economic status among the landed nobility. They have a lot of fun making fun of the Bennets behind Jane’s back. The way Kitty and Lydia chase after the young military officers stationed nearby is a special source of amusement.

Elizabeth Bennet is the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice and one of the most well-known female characters in English literature. She is the second daughter in the Bennet family and the most intelligent and quick-witted. Her admirable characteristics are numerous—she is gorgeous, bright, and converses as brilliantly as anyone in a novel defined by dialogue. Her integrity, virtue, and quick wit help her to rise above the nonsense and bad behaviour that plague her class-bound and frequently vindictive society. Nonetheless, her sharp tongue and hasty judgments frequently lead her astray; Pride and Prejudice is largely the narrative of how Jane (and her true love, Darcy) overcome all obstacles—including their own personal failings—to discover romantic happiness. Elizabeth must not only deal with a hopeless mother, a distant father, two misbehaving younger brothers, and several snobbish, antagonising ladies; she must also overcome her own incorrect ideas of Darcy, which led her to reject his marriage proposals at first. Fortunately, her charms are enough to keep him engaged while she navigates familial and social turbulence. She recognises the mistake of her original prejudice towards Darcy as she eventually comes to recognise the nobility of his character.

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Darcy is Elizabeth’s male counterpart. He is Fitzwilliam Darcy, the son of a wealthy, well-established family and the master of the great estate of Pemberley. Because the narrator provides Elizabeth’s point of view on events more frequently than Darcy’s, Elizabeth appears to be a more sympathetic figure. However, the reader eventually understands that Darcy is her ideal match. He, too, is intelligent and frank, but he has a propensity to judge too quickly and harshly, and his high birth and riches make him unduly arrogant and mindful of his social status. Indeed, his haughtiness causes him to mess up his courtship at first. When he proposes to her, he focuses on how unsuitable a match she is rather than her charms, beauty, or anything else nice. His humility grows as a result of her rejection of his advances. Darcy exhibits his persistent commitment to Elizabeth, despite his dislike for her humble connections, when he saves Lydia and the entire Bennet family from disgrace, and when he continues to pursue Elizabeth against the wishes of his pompous aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Darcy demonstrates himself worthy of Elizabeth, and she comes to regret her earlier, excessively harsh assessment of him.

Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley, one as Elizabeth’s attractive elder sister and the other as Darcy’s wealthy best friend, engage in a courtship that is essential to the novel. They initially meet at a ball in Meryton and immediately fall in love. They are mentioned as a possible pairing throughout the book, well before anyone thinks Darcy and Elizabeth will marry. Despite their importance to the plot, they are hazy characters, sketched by Austen rather than meticulously painted. Indeed, they are so similar in temperament and behaviour that they may be regarded as one: both are cheerful, sociable, and good-natured, always ready to imagine the best of others; they lack utterly Elizabeth and Darcy’s prickly egotism. Jane’s soft temperament contrasts with her sister’s fiery, combative personality, while Bingley’s eager sociability contrasts with Darcy’s stiff pride. Their main features are goodwill and compatibility, and the contrast between their romance and Darcy and Elizabeth’s is striking. Jane and Bingley show the reader pure love that is unhindered by pride or prejudice, however in their simple kindness, they also show that such love is moderately dull.

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Mr Bennet is the patriarch of the Bennet family; he is Mrs Bennet’s husband and the father of Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, Kitty, and Mary. He is a man who is irritated by his ludicrous wife and demanding daughters. He reacts by retreating from his family and adopting a disconnected demeanour peppered with snarky quips. Because Elizabeth and he are the two most intelligent Bennets, he is closest to her. His dry wit and self-possession in the face of his wife’s hysterics make him an appealing figure at first, but the reader eventually loses regard for him as it becomes evident that the cost of his detachment is significant. He is a weak parent who is estranged from his family and fails his family at vital times. His naïve indulgence of Lydia’s immature behaviour, in particular, nearly leads to public shame when she elopes with Wickham. Furthermore, upon her abduction, he is essentially ineffective. It is up to Mr Gardiner and Darcy to find Lydia and make things right. Mr Bennet would sooner withdraw from the world than deal with it.

Mrs Bennet is an astonishingly tedious figure. She is a mom obsessed with the desire to see her daughters married and appears to care about nothing else in the world. Ironically, her single-minded pursuit of this objective backfires, as her lack of social graces alienates the exact individuals she tries trying to impress (Darcy and Bingley). Austen repeatedly uses her to emphasise the need for marriage for young ladies. Mrs Bennet also serves as a middle-class foil to upper-class snobs like Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley, proving that folly can be found at all levels of society. In the end, however, Mrs Bennet proves such an unpleasant creature, devoid of any redeeming qualities, that some readers have accused Austen of being unfair in portraying her—as if Austen, like Mr Bennet, took perverse delight in mocking a lady already reviled as a result of her ill-breeding.

Conclusion

Pride and Prejudice is filled with character-driven themes centred on the literary concept of “comedy of manners.” A comedy of manners is a literary piece that deals with young lovers wanting to marry, and usually includes multiple instances of humorous commentary from the main characters, which can take the form of anything from subtle flirtation to open warfare, as in the case of Darcy and Elizabeth. Pride and Prejudice is primarily focused with the pairing of various couples and the troubles that arise as a result of each of those couples.

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