Key Plot Points
Overview: Pride and Prejudice concerns itself with the welfare of the Bennet family, members of the English landed gentry at the turn of the 19th century. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five daughters and no sons. Mr. Bennet’s estate provides them with a comfortable income and a moderate degree of status, but the terms of the estate dictate that when Mr. Bennet dies his property will go to the closest male relative, a cousin little known to them, leaving the daughters with no inheritance.
The plot hinges on the predicament of the Bennet daughters. Without any financial assets of their own, their future well-being depends entirely on whom they can find to marry. The protagonist is Elizabeth Bennet, the second of the five daughters and the cleverest of the group. The central plot line concerns her relationship with a prospective suitor, Mr. Darcy. (His first name, Fitzwilliam, is mentioned only twice in the novel, while Elizabeth is identified almost exclusively by her first name. That’s how they’ll be addressed here as well.)
The First Encounter of Elizabeth and Darcy (Volume 1, Chapter 3): As the novel opens, the young, wealthy, and eligible Charles Bingley has taken up residence at the Netherfield Park estate, located a few miles from the Bennets in Hertfordshire. To the delight of Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, Bingley attends a ball put on in the neighboring town of Meryton. He brings with him Darcy, a friend staying with him at Netherfield. Darcy is as handsome as Bingley and twice as rich, making him a figure of interest to the Bennets, but they’re put off by his aloof, arrogant character. He refuses to dance with any of the local women. Within earshot of Elizabeth he tells Bingley she is “not handsome enough to tempt me,” and that he would never dance with someone like her who has failed to draw the attention of the other men at the party.
This scene proves crucial to the development of the plot. It is the most flagrant demonstration of Darcy’s pride, and in turn it establishes Elizabeth’s prejudice against him, which will put them at odds for most of the novel. The ball is also where Bingley and Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, first capture each other’s attention. Their courtship is one of the novel’s primary subplots.
Wickham Tells Elizabeth about the Injustice Done to Him by Darcy (Volume 1, Chapter 16): A militia has been stationed for the winter at Meryton. Among its number is George Wickham, a handsome and charming young officer who draws the admiration of the Bennet sisters, and who shows a particular affinity for Elizabeth. While playing cards at the home of the Bennets’ aunt and uncle, Wickham explains to Elizabeth that he is the godson of Darcy’s father, who before his death had arranged for Wickham to take a position as a parish clergyman—thus guaranteeing him a steady income for life. When the position becomes open, it falls to Darcy to fill it; he disregards his late father’s wishes and appoints someone else, throwing Wickham’s life into disarray. This act of malice is attributed to Darcy’s jealousy over the close relationship between his father and Wickham.
This part of the story bolsters Elizabeth’s contempt for Darcy, and as the novel progresses it will serve as the primary justification for her prejudice against him. It’s also the closest look readers get at Wickham, who will prove to be the novel’s most dissolute character.
Darcy Proposes to Elizabeth; She Turns Him Down; He Responds with a Letter (Volume 2, Chapters 11 and 12): Elizabeth and Darcy have crossed paths several times over the fall in Hertfordshire. As they’ve matched wits in conversation, there are hints of Darcy’s growing attraction to her, and Elizabeth’s grudging respect for him, though his alleged mistreatment of Wickham still cements her fundamental dislike. In the spring, Elizabeth goes to Kent to visit her friend Charlotte, who has married Mr. Collins , a buffoonish clergyman (and, as the cousin of Mr....
(The entire section is 1,198 words.)