Summary of the Novel
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are intent on having their five daughters marry above their middle-class station. A rich, single man, Charles Bingley rents an estate, Netherfield, nearby. Mrs. Bennet pushes her husband to immediately introduce himself and form an acquaintance. He obliges reluctantly. At a ball, all the Bennets are introduced to the Bingley party. Everyone likes the courteous Mr. Bingley, but his close friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is thought to be too arrogant and filled with unconcealed pride and vanity. He won’t dance with anyone outside of his own group or deign to speak with them. He states, within Elizabeth Bennet’s hearing, that “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Mr. Bingley’s affection for Jane develops quickly, to the concern of his sisters and Mr. Darcy. They can’t tolerate her lower status, and are embarrassed by her family’s manners and actions. Mr. Darcy, in spite of his better wisdom, becomes infatuated with Elizabeth. He is drawn to her uncensored wit and fine eyes. Miss Bingley’s jealous criticisms of her do nothing to lessen his admiration. Miss Bingley has made plans to entrap him for herself, but they seem blocked.
Caroline Bingley invites Jane to Netherfield. While she is en route, in the rain, Jane catches a severe cold. She is forced to stay at the estate and be treated by a local apothecary. Mrs. Bennet is delighted, because this puts Jane in proximity with Mr. Bingley and his wealth. Jane becomes more ill, and her sister Elizabeth goes to Netherfield to nurse her. The concern for her sister and strength of character appeal to Mr. Darcy, but he is afraid of his infatuation with someone who is economically inferior. The Bennet sisters’ departure after six days relieves nearly everyone.
Mr. Bennet’s estate, Longbourn, is entailed (by law bequeathed) to Mr. Collins, a clergyman and cousin. This is because he has no son; thus, his property will go after his death to Collins as the nearest male relative. Mr. Bennet receives an inane letter from Collins, apologizing for the entail, and hinting at the possibility of marriage with one of the Bennet daughters. He arranges for a fortnight stay at Longbourn, where his officious stupidity delights Mr. Bennet’s keen satiric sense, repels Elizabeth, and endears him to the vacuous Mrs. Bennet.
Mr. Bennet can’t wait for him to depart and soon tires of his praise of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He sends his cousin on an errand to Meryton with his daughters. There, they meet George Wickham, a handsome and personable military officer. Elizabeth is intrigued when Wickham and Darcy, who obviously know each other, meet on the street and both seem uncomfortable. At a ball, soon after, Wickham tells his life story to Elizabeth. He states that Darcy disobeyed his own father’s will out of resentment. (Wickham was a ward of Darcy’s father and had been promised revenue for a clergyman’s position.) Wickham’s story makes Darcy look cruel and self-indulgent. Elizabeth buys this account, because she has pre-determined, negative views of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance and pride.
Elizabeth becomes infatuated with the charming Wickham, as do her younger sisters. She resents his absence from the ball thrown by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. She attributes his lack of attendance to a dispute between Wickham and Darcy, because Wickham has persuaded her of Darcy’s bad character. She annoys Darcy by bringing up the subject, and is puzzled by his persistence in approaching her, as she does not know of his attraction. Elizabeth is mortified by her family’s behavior that evening. Mrs. Bennet loudly proclaims the merits of a match between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Mary, her sister, bores everyone with her mediocre piano playing. Mr. Collins, her cousin, gracelessly proposes marriage, and she is further embarrassed. He wants a marriage of convenience, and she wants no part of it. She tries to convince him that her refusal is earnest. The support of her father makes Collins see the truth.
The Bingley party leaves Netherfield for London, and Caroline Bingley writes to Jane to inform her that they won’t return until winter. She hints in her letter that Mr. Bingley intends to court Georgiana Darcy. This is a match that has been determined for years between the families.
Elizabeth rightly discerns that Bingley’s sisters and friend are trying to keep him from the Bennets. Her family is not prominent enough for their aspirations.
Mr. Collins, rejected by Elizabeth, is consoled by Charlotte Lucas, her best friend. To Elizabeth’s great surprise and astonishment, Charlotte plots to marry Mr. Collins, “from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.” She had always considered herself plain and almost an old maid, so she snaps at a chance to be a respectable lady of society. He proposes, they marry, and they leave for their residence near Rosings. Elizabeth later accepts Charlotte’s invitation to visit her in her new establishment. Elizabeth is gratified that Charlotte has taken charge, choosing not to react to her husband’s stupidity or her patron’s insolent behavior. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a tyrannical despot. She tells everybody what to do, and is not to be contradicted. She plans to unite the family estates by marrying her daughter to Mr. Darcy, who is due to arrive at Easter.
Darcy continues to court Elizabeth. He seeks her companionship, but says little. One night, he declares his love and proposes. He is discourteous, and stresses his family’s superiority. Elizabeth is as angry as she is astonished. His seeming pride is unbearable to her, and she adamantly refuses his declaration and derides him. She accuses him of breaking up Jane and Bingley, and ruining young Mr. Wickham’s reputation. Darcy acknowledges both charges without seeming remorse or explanation, and leaves her with a cold, indifferent attitude.
The next morning, Darcy finds Elizabeth on one of her walks. He delivers a letter, which tries to answer her reproaches. Darcy intervened in Bingley’s romance because he wanted him to marry a wealthy person, and he was not convinced that Jane was truly in love with him. Jane’s placid manner never convinced him that there was any deep emotion between them. He went on to add that the Bennet family left a lot to be desired. Mrs. Bennet was vacuous, Mr. Bennet, indifferent and unequivocally negligent, and the two younger daughters were flirtatious and empty-headed. No criticism was leveled at either Jane or Elizabeth. He revealed that Wickham was a man without principle, and had presented his case falsely. Her former prejudice was now quite jarred, and she had to contemplate the probability of this being true.
Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner set off on a tour. One of their unofficial stops is at Derbyshire, which is her aunt’s and Darcy’s home county. Since they are in the vicinity of Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, Mrs. Gardiner wants to visit it. Elizabeth has apprehensions, but does not object when she learns the owner is away. She finds Pemberley extremely pleasant. The house is prestigious, and the gardens lavish. Elizabeth muses that if she had been more perceptive and indulgent, this place could have been hers. She hears the housekeeper’s glowing description of Darcy as being extremely good-natured and generous to the poor. Darcy unexpectedly appears, a day early, and both he and Elizabeth are embarrassed. Darcy is attentive and gracious and extremely cordial to the unpretentious aunt and uncle. Darcy insists upon Elizabeth meeting his sister, and they call the next day at the inn. The formidable Miss Darcy seems not proud, but shy. She barely is able to carry on a conversation without deference to her brother. There is much affinity between the two. It is not as obvious to Elizabeth that Darcy is still in love with her. The Gardiners see this, but await Elizabeth’s version. When Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth go to Pemberley for a requested return visit, Miss Bingley tries in vain to insult Elizabeth in her presence and behind her back. She fails completely to work her will on Darcy.
In the midst of her happiness, Elizabeth receives two letters from her sister Jane. They say that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. The pair left Brighton for London and are not presumably married. Elizabeth fears that her sister is permanently disgraced, and that her own re-discovered love for Darcy can never result in marriage. She and the Gardiners leave for home as fast as they can make preparations.
The eloped pair is elusive for several days. Mr. Bennet went after them, but returns home unfulfilled. Mr. Gardiner, who took the matter into his own hands, writes and states that they have been found. He adds that Lydia has agreed to a quick marriage. All of this has been arranged by Darcy. He works secretly to pay off Wickham’s gambling debts and ensure a suitable dowry. Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic about this development. Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, and Jane are sure that Mr. Gardiner must have paid out a tidy sum to get Lydia married officially and save the family name. Little do they realize that it was Darcy’s work.
Mr. Darcy confronted Wickham, bribed him and offered a commission in the army if he would marry Lydia. He did this because of his love for Elizabeth, and because of his sense of blame for Wickham’s irresponsibility.
Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn as a married couple. Elizabeth inadvertently learns of Darcy’s involvement in the marriage when Lydia passes on a confidence. She gets the complete story when she writes to Mrs. Gardiner.
Bingley returns to Netherfield and falls in love with Jane again. After a while, he proposes. She accepts. Mrs. Bennet’s joy is lessened by the appearance of Darcy, whom she has always distrusted.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives at Longbourn, after hearing a rumor that Darcy is enraptured with Elizabeth. She ridicules Elizabeth and demands her to reject a proposal from Darcy. Elizabeth’s answer is reserved. Lady Catherine speaks with Darcy. This only lets Darcy acknowledge that Elizabeth has had a change of heart, and he renews his proposal to her. This time it is met with a positive attitude.
Austen’s fiction reveals little awareness of the political and economic turmoil that pervaded Europe during her lifetime. Wars, such as the Napoleonic Wars, did not affect her middle-class upbringing. The lower classes were recruited, and the upper class purchased commissions and became gentleman officers who enjoyed social prestige.
During Austen’s life, the countryside was fragmented into semi-isolated agricultural villages and provincial settlements. London, the only metropolis, was the center of commerce and the arts. Austen had exposure to all three of these areas, and her insights into this society are often reflected in her novels. She was born during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Great social unrest was spawned from miserable conditions in factories, and widespread unemployment resulted. The middle classes adopted a laissez-faire attitude. They soon developed methods to mobilize and discipline labor for factory employment. Parliamentary acts established the institutional basis for efficient city, government, and municipal services. Urban police, compulsory education, and government inspection of factories, schools, and poorhouses evolved.
English life was increasingly regulated by central rather than local authority. The working classes, with improved educational opportunities, were raised to a new level of respectability.
During the time that Napoleon was transforming Europe, Jane Austen composed a novel in which the most important events are the fact that a man changes his manners and a young lady changes her mind. Soldiers do appear, but in a secondary role, as fixations of young frivolous women. In one case this even presents an elopement.
List of Characters
Elizabeth Bennet—The proud and witty heroine of the story.
Fitzwilliam Darcy—The rich and arrogant man who is enamored with Elizabeth and eventually has her fall in love with him.
Mr. Bennet—The dry and somewhat negligent father of Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia.
Mrs. Bennet—The muddle-headed and unrealistic mother of Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia.
Jane Bennet—The eldest of the Bennet daughters, she is mild-mannered and restrained.
Mary Bennet—The frivolous and pompous third daughter.
Lydia Bennet—The youngest daughter, spoiled by her mother, flighty (an “airhead”).
Catherine (Kitty) Bennet—The man-crazy daughter. She is similar to Lydia, but sullen and moody.
George Wickham—The handsome, unprincipled officer who has a grudge against Darcy.
Charles Bingley—Darcy’s close friend, the suitor who falls in love with Jane.
Caroline Bingley—Charles’ cold and indulgent sister. She is enamored with Mr. Darcy.
Colonel Fitzwilliam—Darcy’s mild-mannered cousin. He is attracted to Elizabeth, but she rejects him.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh—Darcy’s pretentious, saucy aunt.
Miss de Bourgh—Lady Catherine’s unsavory daughter.
Mr. Collins—Mr. Bennet’s cousin. He will inherit Longbourn after Bennet’s death as Bennet has no son.
Georgiana Darcy—Darcy’s timid but well-meaning sister.
Sir William and Lady Lucas—The Bennets’ neighbors. Parents of Charlotte.
Charlotte Lucas—Elizabeth’s accommodating and intelligent friend. She marries Mr. Collins for money, much to Elizabeth’s dismay.
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst—Bingley’s conceited sister and his lazy brother-in-law.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner—Mrs. Bennet’s well-educated and intelligent brother and her sister-in-law.
Mrs. Annesley—Georgiana’s elderly governess.
Mrs. Reynolds—Darcy’s housekeeper at Pemberley who speaks highly of him.
Miss Jenkinson—Tutor of Miss de Bourgh.
Mrs. Forster—The wife of an army colonel and a friend of Lydia’s who invites her to Brighton.
Mrs. Hill—The Bennets’ housekeeper.
Estimated Reading Time
Fifteen hours should be allowed for the study of Pride and Prejudice. The chapters are grouped into sections. The chapters are short, but they should be read closely to capture nuances of plot and characterization. After reading each section, the student should answer all study questions to insure understanding and comprehension. The essay questions are guide-lines to be used, if needed.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Pride and Prejudice is the best known of Austen’s six novels and ranks among her finest work. As in Sense and Sensibility, its story centers on two sisters, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet. Jane falls in love early in the book with the amiable, wealthy Charles Bingley. Bingley returns her sentiments but is temporarily persuaded to abandon the romance at the urging of his friend, Mr. Darcy, who does not detect love in Jane’s discreet manner.
The book’s true center, however, is the complex relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. Both are intelligent and forthright, but their initial impressions blind them to the qualities in each other that will eventually form the basis for their love. Darcy is indeed...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The chief business of Mrs. Bennet’s life is to find suitable husbands for her five daughters. Consequently, she is elated when she hears that nearby Netherfield Park has been let to a Mr. Bingley, a gentleman from the north of England. Gossip reports him to be a rich and eligible young bachelor. Mr. Bingley’s first public appearance in the neighborhood is at a ball. With him are his two sisters, the husband of the older, and Mr. Darcy, Bingley’s friend.
Bingley is an immediate success in local society, and he and Jane, the oldest Bennet daughter, a pretty girl of sweet and gentle disposition, are attracted to each other at once. His friend, Darcy, however, seems cold and extremely proud and creates a bad...
(The entire section is 1813 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Volume One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Bennet: The sarcastic, indifferent father
Mrs. Bennet: The foolish and unrestrained mother
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are in their country home, and Mrs. Bennet informs her husband that a neighboring country estate has been rented by a young, wealthy, single gentleman named Bingley.
She insists that as soon as the young man settles in, Mr. Bennet must go visit him.
She already has made up her mind to snare him as the husband of one of her five eligible daughters.
Although Mr. Bennet teases his wife by saying all the daughters are silly and ignorant, he agrees to send Bingley a note telling him that, if he...
(The entire section is 341 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 2-3 Summary and Analysis
Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet: the second daughter. She is intelligent, pretty, and independent
Jane Bennet: the eldest daughter. She is kind and beautiful, but too good-hearted
Catherine (Kitty) Bennet: next to the youngest daughter. She’s “boy crazy” and frivolous
Mary Bennet: the inarticulate third daughter, accomplished in provincial arts
Lydia Bennet: the youngest daughter. She is giddy, but is Mrs. Bennet’s favorite
Charlotte Lucas: Elizabeth’s best friend. She is sensible and intelligent but very plain-looking
Sir William and Lady Lucas: the neighbors of the Bennets and Charlotte’s parents
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 4-8 Summary and Analysis
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst: Bingley’s “stuck-up” sister and his lazy brother-in-law
Caroline Bingley: Bingley’s selfish sister, who has aspirations of becoming Mrs. Darcy
Mr. and Mrs. Phillips: Mrs. Bennet’s sister and brother-in-law. They own a home in Meryton which Lydia and Kitty love to visit because of the nearby officers’ quarters
Chapter 4 describes the previous ball, and we are presented with the different reactions of Jane and Elizabeth. Then, in contrast, we learn the reactions of Darcy and Bingley. Elizabeth reproaches Jane for being “blind,” which is ironic because later she is the one who becomes blind to...
(The entire section is 746 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 9-12 Summary and Analysis
Chapter 9 reveals the difference between Elizabeth and her mother. Elizabeth always displays proper social upbringing, but her mother is oblivious to what is right and proper.
After Elizabeth sends for them by note, Mrs. Bennet and the two youngest girls come to visit Jane. The druggist arrives at about the same time, and announces that Jane is too ill to travel. Several heated conversations take place between Elizabeth and Darcy. Her honesty and opinions begin to infatuate him.
Chapters 10 and 11 convey how Misses Bingley and Hurst interact with the sisters Jane and Elizabeth during Jane’s recuperation. Both the Bingley sisters are sarcastic and back-biting when they are out...
(The entire section is 310 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 13-18 Summary and Analysis
William Collins: Mr. Bennet’s cousin, who will inherit Longbourn after Mr. Bennet’s death
Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Darcy’s rich aunt and Mr. Collins’ benefactor
Mr. George Wickham: the handsome, young soldier who has a grudge against Darcy
Mr. Bennet receives a letter from his cousin, the Reverend Collins, who will one day inherit Longbourn. Mr. Bennet makes fun of his writing style and pomposity, and makes snide remarks about him to his family. Collins is planning a fortnight visit with them. He informs Mr. Bennet that he is looking for a proper wife, now that he has been assigned a parish post. If he should happen to...
(The entire section is 712 words.)
Volume One, Chapters 19-23 Summary and Analysis
Collins requests an audience with Elizabeth after having told Mrs. Bennet that he means to propose. The proposal is clumsy and condescending. Elizabeth refuses to marry someone for a position or for convenience. She expresses her refusal vehemently.
In Chapter 20, she is backed by her father. Her mother says she will never be seen with her again unless she complies. The house is in an uproar when Charlotte Lucas arrives.
Bingley’s whole entourage leaves for London for an indefinite time, without even contacting the Bennets, as Jane learns in a letter. Mrs. Bennet’s idle boast at the ball of a match between Jane and Bingley determined Miss Bingley to prevent it, and she...
(The entire section is 367 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 1-3 Summary and Analysis
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner: Mrs. Bennet’s sophisticated brother and sister-in-law. Mrs. Gardiner is an intelligent and elegant young woman
When the section opens, Mr. Wickham is a frequent guest at the Bennet home, which casts an ever darker shadow over Darcy’s reputation.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Mrs. Bennet’s brother and sister-in-law, arrive at Longbourn for the Christmas holidays. They are so unlike Mrs. Bennet, with their cultured manners and refinement, that it is hard to realize they could be related. Mrs. Gardiner is much like Elizabeth, and the two carry on lively discussions. Most of these center around Jane’s plight, and she...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 4-8 Summary and Analysis
Maria Lucas: Charlotte’s younger sister
Colonel Fitzwilliam: a handsome, well-bred cousin of Darcy who becomes infatuated with Elizabeth
Mrs. Jenkinson: the tutoress of Miss de Bourgh
Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth discuss marriage, Wickham, and money. When they stop for a night in London, Elizabeth is happy that Jane looks better and is enjoying her change of scenery.
Elizabeth, Charlotte’s father, and her sister, Maria, visit the parsonage for a fortnight, as they had planned earlier.
At the parsonage, Mr. Collins effusively praises his patroness, and tries to show Elizabeth what she missed by her...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 9-12 Summary and Analysis
Darcy arrives at the door and finds only Elizabeth at home. They talk briefly. Charlotte suggests later to Elizabeth that he is in love with her. Elizabeth does not accept this as probable, and Charlotte sees it her way.
Elizabeth then meets Darcy more than once on walks through the estate's grounds.
Fitzwilliam admires Elizabeth, but because he is the younger son who will not inherit an estate, the match is improbable. In conversation, he lets slip that Darcy saved a friend from an inconvenient match. This news makes Elizabeth angry because she supposes the woman in question to be Jane. She stays away from the evening activities at Rosings, out of spite.
(The entire section is 584 words.)
Volume Two, Chapters 13-19 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Forster: the wife of an army colonel, and a friend of Lydia’s, who invites her to Brighton
While Elizabeth is taking her morning walk, Darcy arrives, gives her a letter, and abruptly leaves. The contents of the letter admit that he kept Bingley from Jane as Elizabeth had charged, but that he did so because Jane’s calm nature did not show a deep emotional tie. The second part of the letter goes on to list the improper behavior of members of her family. At first reading, Elizabeth is full of resentment and anger, but she soon realizes that his criticism may be harsh but valid. The third part of the letter details the relationship with Wickham,...
(The entire section is 721 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 1−5 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Reynolds: Darcy’s housekeeper at Pemberley who speaks highly of him
Georgiana Darcy: Darcy’s shy but impeccably−mannered sister
Mrs. Annesley: Georgiana’s elderly governess
On a leisurely journey, the Gardiners and Elizabeth stop in Derbyshire to view Darcy’s beautiful estate, Pemberley.
The estate is elegant and tasteful, and the housekeeper is overly enthusiastic with praise of her master’s fine manners and honest nature. She mentions that he is often thought of as proud, but she will have none of that, having never seen an occasion where he has evidenced this. Darcy’s letter has made a great...
(The entire section is 960 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 6−10 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Hill: the Bennets’ housekeeper
Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner have little luck in London. They can’t find the pair, but almost everywhere they go they find more evidence of Wickham’s low character. He is a gambler and has left a trail of debts behind him. Mr. Bennet returns home and leaves the search to Mr. Gardiner. He confesses that Elizabeth was correct when she warned him about allowing Lydia to go to Brighton. He promises to be more strict with Kitty.
Wickham and Lydia are found. They did not get married, but Mr. Gardiner bribes Wickham to do the right thing by offering to pay his debts and provide them with a yearly stipend....
(The entire section is 745 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 11−15 Summary and Analysis
Bingley and Darcy arrive at Netherfield. Elizabeth is afraid her mother’s behavior will repel them. Mrs. Bennet’s rudeness to Darcy embarrasses Elizabeth, who owes him more than can be repaid. Darcy is very reserved.
Jane and Bingley come together again at a dinner at Longbourn. Jane tries to convince Elizabeth that they are only on friendly terms. Elizabeth is troubled by Darcy’s reserve. Darcy returns to London, and Bingley proposes to Jane. This is an unexpected event, and Elizabeth speculates about Darcy’s involvement in this recent change of affairs. Jane, however, is enthralled.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes to Longbourn to try to break up what she suspects is a...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
Volume Three, Chapters 16−19 Summary and Analysis
Lady de Bourgh is furious, and she goes to see her nephew. She tries to convince him that his feelings toward Elizabeth are unacceptable. She gives him a full account of how Elizabeth treated her, which Lady de Bourgh felt was insufficiently deferential.
Darcy returns to the Bennets after this visit, and they take a long walk together (more than three miles). In their discussion, Darcy begs her for the truth of how she feels. He states his feelings are the same as they were when he first proposed. Elizabeth admits that her feelings have undergone such a radical change that she now loves him. They become sure of each other at last, and they comment on their troubled relationship. Darcy...
(The entire section is 629 words.)