Pride and Prejudice Summary

Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters, who must marry well in order to ensure their financial security.

  • Wealthy bachelors Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy arrive in Netherfield, much to the excitement of the Bennet daughters. While Bingley is charming and affable, Darcy is cold and prideful, and Elizabeth immediately dislikes him.
  • When Elizabeth unexpectedly encounters Mr. Darcy again, and he proposes marriage to her. Shocked and offended by his manners and behavior, Elizabeth rejects him.

  • Darcy writes Elizabeth a letter explaining his behavior, and she comes to realize she has severely misjudged his character.

Summary

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Last Updated on December 4, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1516

Introduction

In 1813, Jane Austen anonymously published her second—and arguably most popular—novel, Pride and Prejudice. Originally written years earlier as First Impressions, a manuscript she tried but failed to sell, the revised novel was met with instant success.

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Despite Pride and Prejudice’s 19th-century setting, its biting wit, sharp eye for the nuances of human relationships, and opposites-attract romance continues to resonate with contemporary readers. The novel has become a fixture in popular culture and has been adapted into countless films, plays, and television series. Even people who don’t know the details of the plot are probably familiar with the novel’s famous opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

The novel’s main characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, meet at a village ball, where they don’t interact directly but form negative opinions of each other. Darcy dismisses Elizabeth as shallow and uninteresting, while Elizabeth deems Darcy arrogant and rude. As each struggles with mismatched suitors, friendship woes, and family drama, their lives become more intertwined and their relationship shifts from one of mutual loathing to one of mutual respect and love—and they learn that first impressions aren’t always reliable.

Plot Summary

When rich bachelor Mr. Charles Bingley moves to the English town of Meryton, one longtime resident, Mrs. Bennet, plots how to get him to marry one of her five daughters—Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia—much to the annoyance of her inattentive husband, Mr. Bennet. Her eagerness is not unwarranted, however: single women of middle-class status like the Bennets were not allowed to inherit money or property at the time. If the Bennet sisters did not find suitable and financially-secure husbands, they would likely become poor spinsters.

The opportunity for the Bennet sisters to meet Mr. Bingley arrives in the form of a ball held in town. Bingley dances with Jane and suggests that his friend Mr. Darcy dance too. But Darcy refuses and insults most of the women in attendance, including Elizabeth, in the process. Gossip has spread about Mr. Darcy’s wealth, which is much greater than Mr. Bingley’s. At first, Mrs. Bennet and those at the ball respect him, but after seeing his manner and refusal to dance, they decide Mr. Darcy is too proud. After the dance, Jane expresses interest in Bingley, and Elizabeth encourages her to pursue him.

When Jane falls ill and is bedridden during a visit to Mr. Bingley's estate, Netherfield, Elizabeth joins her there. The Bennet family become subjects of gossip between Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, Charles’s sisters, who snobbishly find the less well-to-do family lacking in taste and depth of character. Mr. Darcy, however, has a change of heart about Elizabeth upon discovering her wit, sharp mind, and fine eyes. This angers Caroline Bingley, who wants Mr. Darcy for herself. Mrs. Bennet arrives to see Jane, boasting about Jane’s beauty, and gets in a disagreement with Mr. Darcy, which embarrasses Elizabeth.

After Jane recovers and she and her sister return home, their family receives a surprise visitor: Mr. Collins, who is Mr. Bennet’s cousin and the man who will inherit the Bennet house when Mr. Bennet dies. Mr. Collins regales his relatives (much to their dismay) with stories of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He confides in Mrs. Bennet that he intends to marry one of the Bennet daughters to keep the family house in their name.

During Mr. Collins’s stay, Elizabeth befriends Mr. Wickham, a militia officer who is stationed in town. They discuss Mr. Darcy, whom Mr. Wickham clearly dislikes. He confides in Elizabeth that Darcy’s father was also Wickham’s godfather and left Wickham money in his will when he died. Mr. Wickham claims Mr. Darcy cheated him out of this money, and this further taints Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy.

The Bennets attend a ball at Netherfield, where Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance. During the dance, the pair argue over Mr. Wickham’s character. Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy, whom Elizabeth finds out is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s nephew. Mrs. Bennet and Mary’s behavior embarrasses Elizabeth, who begins to wonder if her family is just as unsophisticated as Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters believe.

The next day, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She refuses him. Her mother is furious with her, but her father supports her choice. The family’s peace is again disturbed when Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley, saying that she and her brother have left Netherfield and that she hopes her brother will be able to woo Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Jane’s feelings for Mr. Bingley make this news hard for her to take, but Elizabeth encourages her not to lose hope. Elizabeth finds out that Mr. Collins has proposed to her good friend Charlotte Lucas and that Charlotte, who is older than Elizabeth and more desperate for a secure future, has accepted him.

Jane travels to London to stay with her aunt. There, she meets with Caroline, who seems cold and distant. Jane begins to believe that Caroline had something to do with Mr. Bingley’s sudden departure and loss of interest in her. She attempts to reunite with Mr. Bingley but is unable to. She wonders why he won’t visit her.

Elizabeth goes to London with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, and reunites with Jane. Elizabeth visits the newly married Charlotte, and Mr. Collins and joins them for dinner at Lady Catherine’s estate, where Lady Catherine finds faults with Elizabeth’s character and upbringing.

The group is soon joined by Mr. Darcy, whom Elizabeth runs into several times in the following days. She begins to think of him less harshly until she hears that he is to blame for Mr. Bingley's leaving Netherfield and deciding to end his growing relationship with Jane. Elizabeth is furious. When Mr. Darcy surprises her by proposing marriage and admitting he loves her, Elizabeth vehemently rejects him, admonishing him for his role in her sister’s sorrow and Mr. Wickham’s misfortune. Mr. Darcy attempts to redeem himself by writing Elizabeth a letter, explaining the motives behind his actions: he didn’t believe Jane loved Bingley, and Mr. Wickham made inappropriate advances toward Georgiana. Elizabeth begins to soften toward Darcy and feels ashamed that she ever considered Mr. Wickham a friend.

Elizabeth and Jane return home for a while. A friend of Lydia’s invites her to travel to a town called Brighton. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner invite Elizabeth to tour Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, with them, to which she reluctantly agrees. There, she runs into Mr. Darcy. Initially, their reunion is awkward, but then they warm up to each other and he introduces her to his sister. It seems important to him that Elizabeth gets to know Georgiana.

Things take a turn for the worse when Elizabeth receives a letter from Jane relaying that Lydia has run off with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth goes to tell her uncle but finds Mr. Darcy instead. She ends up confiding in him, and she and her relatives return to Meryton.

After much familial distress and many attempts to track down Lydia, the Bennets find out that Lydia and Mr. Wickham are going to get married. This news comes as a relief to the family, though they suspect Mr. Wickham has only agreed to the marriage because he expects to receive Lydia’s dowry. After the wedding, Lydia lets slip that Mr. Darcy was in attendance, which piques Elizabeth’s interest. She finds out that Mr. Darcy gave Mr. Wickham money so Mr. Wickham would marry Lydia and therefore not sully her reputation. Elizabeth is touched by Mr. Darcy’s kindness.

Mr. Bingley returns to Netherfield suddenly, with Mr. Darcy in tow. After visiting the Bennets several times, Bingley proposes to Jane, who happily accepts. He reveals that he never knew Jane was in London at the same time he was, which leads Jane and Elizabeth to suspect that Miss Bingley’s machinations had kept them apart.

A week later, the Bennets receive another surprise visitor: Lady Catherine. She says she heard a rumor about her nephew, Mr. Darcy, being fond of Elizabeth. She demands that Elizabeth not marry Mr. Darcy, because he is engaged to her daughter, Miss de Bourgh. Elizabeth refuses to make this promise, which infuriates Lady Catherine.

Darcy pays a visit to Elizabeth and asks her again if she will marry him, because he still loves her. This time she accepts, because she has grown to love him, too. At first her family doesn’t believe her—she had always hated him, after all—but they come around once they recognize the truth of Elizabeth’s feelings.

The novel ends with the happy marriages of Jane and Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet is perhaps the happiest of all: she feels accomplished for having married off three of her daughters.

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