Book Summary: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Book Summary: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Type of work: Study of manners

Setting: Rural England; early 19th century

Principal characters

Mr Bennet, father of five daughters
Mrs Bennet, his opinionated wife
Elizabeth, their intelligent middle daughter, and Mr Bennet’s favorite child
Jane, Elizabeth’s beautiful older sister
Lydia, the Bennet’s impetuous youngest daughter
Mr Bingley, Jane’s rich and amiable suitor
Mr Darcy, Bingley’s arrogant and wealthy friend
Reverend Collins, a conceited bore
Mr Wickman, an army officer

Pride and Prejudice Book Summary

Mrs Bennet was delighted that Netherfield, a nearby estate, was again rented, and felt especially pleased upon hearing that its new occupant, Mr Bingley, was single and rich. “What a fine thing for our girls!” she beamed. She begged her husband to go make the acquaintance of their new neighbor, and, after some teasing, Mr Bennet did pay Bingley a call.

Mr Bingley soon returned the visit but did not manage to meet any of the beautiful young women he had heard so much about. His interest piqued, he soon invited the entire Bennet family to dine. Everyone at the dinner party was impressed with Bingley’s fine appearance and gracious manners.

However, his close friend, Mr Darcy, though handsome and well-to-do, was not viewed so favorably. “His manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity.” His pride ruled and ruined his conversation – particularly for Elizabeth. When Bingley suggested that Darcy ask Elizabeth to dance, Elizabeth indignantly overheard Mr Darcy reply that she was “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

However, Bingley and Jane Bennet soon were drawn to one another, even though Mr Bingley’s two haughty sisters saw Jane as much beneath their brother. They pretended great fondness for Jane, but Elizabeth easily perceived their hypocrisy. The following day, as the Bennet women sat and discussed the prior evening’s party, all were in agreement as to both Bingley’s charm and Darcy’s coarseness. “I could easily forgive his pride,” Elizabeth huffed, “if he had not mortified mine.”

In a matter of days, the ladies of Netherfield and those of the Bennet’s Longbourne estate had exchanged visits. “By Jane this attention was received with great pleasure; but Elizabeth still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody … and could not like them.” Bingley’s sisters took an equal dislike to Elizabeth.

One morning Jane received an invitation from the Bingley girls to spend the day. Mrs Bennet viewed this as an opportunity for Jane and Mr Bingley to get better acquainted. “It seems likely to rain,” she said hopefully, “and then you must spend the night.” Elizabeth, on the following day, received a note from Jane explaining that she had contracted a fever.

When Elizabeth arrived at Netherfield after a muddy three-mile walk, she was quite a sight, “with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.” The Bingley sisters giggled, but Mr Darcy seemed concerned to see her in that state. Privately, he found her charming, though, of course, still inferior due to her family connections. Elizabeth immediately set about attending to her sister’s needs.

The two girls were compelled to remain a few days at Netherfield. One evening Elizabeth sat quietly reading a book in the home’s front room. She was quick to notice that one of Bingley’s sisters seemed quite fond of Mr Darcy. As Darcy sat writing a letter, this girl insisted on complimenting him “either on his handwriting, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter.”

Mr Darcy strained to ignore her comments, which greatly amused Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Mr Darcy also bantered back and forth, with Elizabeth usually coming out on top. With Jane recovered from her illness, the Bennet women returned home. And soon the Bennets had a visitor of their own.

The Reverend Collins had written his distant cousin at Longbourne to request the pleasure of a brief visit, and Mr Bennet was inclined to honor the request. At first, Mrs Bennet was unhappy with the prospect of Collins’s visit; since the Bennets had no male children, Collins stood next in line to inherit their estate, and she felt certain that he was coming to lord it over his cousins.

But when the letter went on to explain that the Reverend’s intent was to seek a suitable wife among the daughters, Mrs Bennet’s attitude quickly changed. Mr Collins arrived. However, his advances toward the Bennet girls lacked both grace and wit. When Collins saw that Jane, his first choice, had no interest in him, he turned his eye toward Elizabeth, who did not fail to detect the ease with which he changed his affections.

During this period the Bennets were invited to their uncle’s estate for a party. One guest, a Mr Wickman, a new officer from the nearby army post, was adored by all the girls. When he walked into the room, every female eye turned. Elizabeth felt fortunate that the officer chose to sit by her.

As they chatted, Wickman divulged that the infamous Mr Darcy had once cheated him out of an inheritance left by his godfather, Darcy’s father. “This is quite shocking! … He deserves to be publicly disgraced,” murmured Elizabeth. “Almost all his actions may be traced to pride,” continued Wickman. “And pride has often been his best friend.” Now, while Elizabeth had set her eye on Mr Wickman, Reverend Collins had set his eye on Elizabeth.

One evening he made his desires known, listing his reasons for seeking marriage – the foremost being that his patroness, Lady Catherine, who employed him as the local pastor, had ordered him to find a wife. Elizabeth promptly rejected him, and although he did not quite believe her, still he hurriedly turned to ask the hand of a neighbor girl, Charlotte Lucas. They were soon married.

After this, the Bennets heard some distressing news: the Bingley family had returned to London. At first depressed, Jane welcomed an invitation to go to London to stay with an aunt and uncle – and to renew her acquaintance with Mr Bingley. Elizabeth likewise was invited to visit the new bride and groom, Mr and Mrs Collins, and was amused to discover that Mr Darcy would shortly be paying a visit.

Reunited with Darcy, Elizabeth observed that he “looked just as he had been used to look” – reserved, formal, and conceited. One morning Elizabeth was left alone in the Collins’s house when Darcy knocked on the door. She coldly but politely invited him in, and, once again, they began to argue, their conversation punctuated by long periods of silence.

Suddenly Mr Darcy stated his purpose for calling: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” He explained that, in spite of her family’s low social position, he wanted her to be his wife. “Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression.” She flatly refused him: Besides insulting her and her family, he had cheated Mr Wickman from his inheritance. Darcy hastily exited. But before he left to return to his Pembury estate, he delivered a letter to Elizabeth, answering her charges.

He assured her that Wickman had received more than his fair share from the will and that he personally had gone to great lengths to help the unprincipled wretch. But Wickman had become disgruntled when Darcy thwarted his intended elopement with Darcy’s younger sister. Elizabeth’s long-held prejudice toward her adversary began to melt. Elizabeth returned home shortly thereafter. Jane was there to meet her, and Elizabeth was disappointed to hear that her sister had been unable to see Mr Bingley while in London.

Soon it was springtime, and the youngest Bennet daughter, Lydia, was invited to visit the military home at Brighton. Elizabeth was asked once more to vacation with her aunt and uncle – near Pembury. “Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pembury Woods with some perturbation.”

She felt both relief and disappointment when she discovered that Darcy was away, indefinitely. But, as fate would have it, Darcy was called home early, and the two old antagonists once more confronted each other. This time, though, “their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each was overspread with the deepest blush.” Unfortunately, their day was cut short. Elizabeth received the distressing news that Lydia had run off to Scotland with one of the military officers – Wickman! This Elizabeth could not believe.

Darcy, too, though not surprised, was concerned. Home again, Elizabeth learned that the couple had disappeared, apparently without the benefit of matrimony. Such a scandal could destroy Lydia’s reputation. But Darcy, discovering their whereabouts, quietly convinced Wickman to marry the young girl and offered the man a vocation.

Following Lydia’s wedding, the inhabitants of Longbourne received further good news: Mr Bingley and his friends were again at Netherfield. Elizabeth was sure that Bingley had returned at Darcy’s request. Not long after, Mr Bingley and Jane became engaged. During one of their frequent walks, Darcy asked Elizabeth if his letter had lessened her dislike of him.

When Elizabeth explained “how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed,” he repeated his proposal of marriage – and this time Elizabeth was happy to accept. Mr Bennet was perturbed: “Lizzy, what are you doing? Have not you always hated this man?”

He was mollified when Elizabeth revealed that it was the “arrogant” Darcy who had arranged Lydia’s marriage and saved her reputation. “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters.” With Elizabeth’s engagement to Darcy, prejudice had dissolved, pride had been humbled. Love had prevailed.

Pride and Prejudice Reviews

Jane Austen’s intricate novel exhibits dry, subtle humor. She paints her genteel and refined characters with a fine brush, allowing them to ennoble or lower themselves with their own actions and words. A symmetrical plot provides insight into both the foibles and the warmth of human nature.

Pride and Prejudice is a perceptive examination of the relationship between the classes in Britain – with middle class, upwardly mobile aspirations to progress rubbing against upper class efforts to keep them “in their place.” Austen’s adroit depiction of the plight of women in pre-Victorian Europe also shows her superlative insight into her own world. And this insight is skilfully mirrored through one of the most intriguing and admired heroines of English novels, Elizabeth Bennet.

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