Pride and Prejudice Summary

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

At first glance, Pride and Prejudice is simply a novel about a journey toward love. However, there is really much more to the novel than simply this. While a classic tale of the trials and tribulations of falling in love, Pride and Prejudice also has quite a lot to say about social classes and women during Regency England.

The novel centers largely around the Bennet family including Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, and their five daughters-Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. At the beginning of the novel, Mrs. Bennet-whose life centers around finding husbands for her daughters- is in a fluster because a new neighbor has moved into the nearby Netherfield estate. She insists that Mr. Bennet go talk to this new neighbor, a Mr. Bingley, because she hopes he will marry one of her daughters. Though it may seem trivial, the need for a husband was actually a real concern for women during Regency England. After Mr. Bennet's death, the Bennet daughters will be left with very little. It is important that they get married so they will not face a life of poverty. Mrs. Bennet is overly aware of this fact.

Eventually, the Bennets do become acquainted with Mr. Bingley. They go to several balls where he is also in attendance. His two sisters-Mrs. Hurst and Miss Caroline Bingley-are staying at Netherfield with him, and they attend these events as well. Mr. Bingley also brings along his friend, Mr. Darcy who happens to be very rich. In general, everyone in town finds Mr. Bingley extremely agreeable. However, Mr. Darcy, who is largely silent and dances with no one, is immediately labeled as proud and unlikeable. In particular, he slights Elizabeth Bennet by calling her "barely tolerable" while she is within earshot.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bingley and Jane harbor a growing affection for each other. Mrs. Bennet hopes-quite publically-that they will be married. However, Elizabeth's friend, Charlotte, is concerned that Bingley might think Jane indifferent to him because she is shy and not always forthright with her feelings. She thinks Jane should hurry up and marry Bingley before he loses interest. For Charlotte, marriage is a matter of security, and love is merely a secondary benefit, if it happens at all.

Soon, Mr. Collins comes to visit the Bennets at their estate. A distant cousin, Mr. Collins will inherit Longbourne when Mr. Bennet dies because is the nearest male relative. The Bennet sisters find him socially awkward, irritating, and rather a nuisance. Perhaps most annoyingly, he talks constantly about his patroness, Lady Catherine, whom no one has every heard of nor cares anything about. However, Mr. Collins has come with the intention of wedding one of the Bennet daughters, though he really only tells this to Mrs. Bennet. He initially targets Jane but, when he learns that she is being courted already, he decides to pursue Elizabeth instead.

Meanwhile, the Bennet daughters have become acquainted with a militiaman, a certain Mr. Wickham. Kitty and Lydia frequent Meryton, where a regiment is stationed, and they flirt shamelessly, encouraged all the more by their mother. Wickham is one of their acquaintances. Soon enough, Elizabeth becomes rather charmed by him. She is appalled to hear that he has a history with Mr. Darcy. Wickham claims that he and Darcy grew up together. Wickham was supposed to receive an inheritance from Mr. Darcy's father but, according to Wickham, Darcy cheated him out of the money. Elizabeth believes him immediately because she has always thought herself a rather good judge of character. The story fuels her already growing dislike of Mr. Darcy.

Shortly after a ball during which Elizabeth shares an unpleasant dance with Mr. Darcy, she receives an equally unpleasant marriage proposal from Mr. Collins. He lists several reasons for marriage and, interestingly enough, none of the reasons is love. Completely, surprised, Elizabeth tries to refuse. However, Mr. Collins insists that she must be toying with him, as he believes this is the norm with young ladies. However, she persists in her refusal. Mr. Collins even goes so far as to tell her she may never receive another marriage proposal and that she should accept. Still, Elizabeth refuses.

Naturally, Mrs. Bennet is furious because she viewed this as an opportunity for her daughters to stay at Longbourne. Not long after Elizabeth's refusal, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte, with no other prospects of marriage and with the looming prospect of become an old maid, agrees to marry him. Elizabeth is surprised, though the reader should not be based on their earlier conversation about love and marriage.

Soon, more surprising news arrives. Bingley, despite his clear interest in Jane, has gone away to London. Jane hears about it through a letter from Caroline Bingley. Elizabeth suspects that Caroline had something to do with his going away. Though heartbroken, Jane pretends not to be.

An aunt and uncle to the Bennet girls-the Gardiners-soon come by for a visit. Sensing Jane's upset state, they offer to take her away to London for a vacation. Jane agrees. Meanwhile, Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte at her new home with Mr. Collins.

Charlotte, though she clearly doesn't love her husband, seems happy enough in her new home. Elizabeth gets the chance to meet Lady Catherine, and finds her overbearing, proud, and entirely too judgmental. Surprisingly, Elizabeth also encounters Mr. Darcy while visiting Lady Catherine, as he is Lady Catherine's nephew. Mr. Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, is also visiting. Elizabeth spends some time with the both of them, and is surprised to learn from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy had recently bragged to him about saving one of his friends from an imprudent marriage. Elizabeth knows, immediately, that Darcy was referring to Jane and Bingley. Her dislike of him grows stronger than ever.

She is more surprised then ever, then, when Darcy suddenly shows up at Mr. Collins' home and proposes to her. Though his proposal is heartfelt and he mentions his deep feelings for her, Elizabeth can't help but be offended by his proposal as well. He tells her that he hesitated to propose because he objected to her family's low status. Elizabeth refuses his offer, telling him she is upset because he separated Bingley and Jane. She also tells him that she knows about his past with Wickham. With that, Darcy leaves.

He meets her the next day while she is on a walk, and gives her a letter. The letter explains everything. He admits to separating Jane and Bingley; however, he says he only did it because he thought Jane was indifferent, and he didn't want Bingley's heart broken. As to her claims about Wickham, Darcy disproves all of them. He tells Elizabeth that he had indeed given Wickham the inheritance he was promised, but that Wickham gambled it all away. On top of that, Wickham even tried to elope with Darcy's then fifteen year-old sister, just to get her money.

Elizabeth is humiliated to learn to truth, and she realizes she was very wrong Darcy and Wickham. For the first time, she realizes that her prejudice against Darcy completely got in the way of seeing him for who he really is.

Elizabeth returns home, seeing that Kitty and Lydia are as silly as ever. In particular, Lydia receives an invitation from a friend of hers, Mrs. Forster, to stay in Brighton where the militia will be stationed. Elizabeth tells her father this is a bad idea, and that it will only encourage Lydia's flirtation and immature behavior. However, Mr. Bennet insists it will be an opportunity for her to grow up a little bit. So, Lydia departs.

At the same time, Elizabeth agrees to travel with the Gardiners and do some sightseeing. Ironically enough, they end up visiting Pemberley-Mr. Darcy's estate. Mr. Darcy is not supposed to be home; however, he shows up out of the blue and Elizabeth is completely embarrassed to be seen at his home. Darcy is a completely gentleman to her, despite this. Elizabeth also hears from his servants how much they respect him, and she begins to see him in a new light.

Just as she is beginning to wonder if she might have a future with Darcy after all, Elizabeth receives terrible news from home. Lydia has run away with Wickham. As a result, Lydia is in danger of ruining both her own reputation and that of her family. Her family's only hope is to find Lydia and make sure she marries Wickham. After telling Darcy what has happened, Elizabeth rushes home.

Her father and Mr. Gardiner search for Lydia for several days. Mr. Bennet returns home, and a letter from Mr. Gardiner arrives soon after, explaining that Lydia has been found. Wickham has agreed to marry her. The Bennet suspect that Mr. Gardiner paid Wickham a handsome sum to marry her because Lydia has very little to offer to an already poor soldier.

Following this, Lydia returns home, oblivious to the fact that she has done anything wrong at all. She accidentally reveals that Darcy was at her wedding. After writing to Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth finds out that it was Darcy who paid Lydia to marry Wickham. Elizabeth is stunned and grateful that he would do such a thing, and she finds herself harboring a growing affection to him.

Unexpectedly, Bingley soon returns to Netherfield and, with him, Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth is disappointed that she doesn't get a chance to talk to Darcy about all that has happened. However, Bingley proposes to Jane after a few days, apologizing for leaving so suddenly before.

A few days later, Elizabeth receives an unexpected visit from Lady Catherine, who has come to follow up on a rumor she has heard that Elizabeth is engaged to Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine demands to know if this is true and, when she learns it is not, tries to force Elizabeth into promising it will never be true. Elizabeth refuses to bend to her will but is hopeful because such a rumor could mean that Darcy still has an interest in her.

Indeed, a few days later, Darcy reappears. He and Elizabeth talk about all that has happened, and he asks if her feelings have changed toward him at all. She says they have, and they agree to be married.

The evolution of both Elizabeth and Darcy's characters is a major focus in the novel. At first, Darcy appears overly proud because of his high-ranking social status. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is prejudice against him because of his wealth and rank. It is because of this prejudice that Elizabeth makes false assumptions about Darcy. And it is Darcy's pride that offends Elizabeth so greatly. However, as the novel progresses, Elizabeth realizes she was wrong in her prejudice against Darcy and that he is actually a selfless, kind-hearted individual. Similarly, Darcy realizes his faults and his overly proud nature in judging the Bennet family. Once these two characters see each other's true natures, only then do they realize what true love really is and, thus, achieve happiness together.

Additionally, the novel has quite a big to say about women's issues during Regency England. Austen clearly points out the problems with a society in which women must chose to marry for love or for the sake of a convenient lifestyle. The characters who are happiest at the end are those who have chosen love over money, which seems to suggest that Austen is in favor of love. However, characters like Charlotte Lucas also point out that this is not always a feasible option for women. Sadly, Charlotte must endure a life with an irksome Mr. Collins as a husband. Though the reader might be disappointed in her, they must also realize Charlotte's only other option would be life as a spinster and a burden to her parents. Clearly, Austen is a bit critical of Charlotte's situation. This is also apparent in the overbearing character of Mrs. Bennet, and her singular obsession with marrying off her daughters. Again, by showing the ridiculousness of Mrs. Bennet's behavior, Austen shows that there should be more to women than just hoping for a profitable marriage.

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