For most of the nineteenth century, English novels were published in three volumes, and Pride and Prejudice is one of the first to employ this format. The narrative therefore falls neatly into three parts.
In part 1, we are quickly introduced to all the major characters: Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, their five daughters, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley (the latter by word-of-mouth) all appear in the first few pages. The reader is also introduced to their essential characteristics with great speed and economy. Mrs. Bennett's foolishness and vulgarity and her husband's caprice and dry humor are evident by the end of the first chapter. Almost as quickly, we discover Jane's sweet temper, Elizabeth's sharp wit and independence, and Lydia's irresponsibility, all of which are to drive the plot. The relationship between Bingley and Jane is firmly established as is the antagonism between Darcy and Elizabeth. This section ends with the abrupt conclusion of Bingley's relationship with Jane and the departure of his party from Netherfield.
In part 2, Elizabeth re-encounters Darcy when visiting Mr. and Mrs. Collins. He proposes and she turns him down angrily. Gradually, however, she comes to realize that she has misjudged him.
In part 3, after the reflective tone of the end of part 2—with Elizabeth brooding upon her mistaken refusal of Darcy's proposal—there is sudden drama as Lydia's elopement with Wickham is discovered. Darcy proves still further how mistaken Elizabeth was through his efforts to resolve the imbroglio between Lydia and Wickham as well as to reunite Jane with Bingley. The climax is reached when Elizabeth and Darcy are finally united.
This structure has the simplicity of the classical three-part love story:
1. Boy meets girl.
2. Boy loses girl as complications ensue.
3. The complications are resolved. Boy and girl are reunited.