Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story charts the emotional development of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who learns the error of making hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential. The comedy of the writing lies in the depiction of manners, education, marriage, and money during the British Regency period.
The novel opens with Mrs. Bennet trying to persuade Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley, a rich and eligible bachelor who has arrived in the neighborhood. After some verbal sparring with Mr. Bennet baiting his wife, it transpires that this visit has already taken place at Netherfield, Mr. Bingley’s rented house. The visit is followed by an invitation to a ball at the local assembly rooms that the whole neighborhood will attend.
At the ball, Mr. Bingley is open and cheerful, popular with all the guests, and appears to be very attracted to the beautiful Miss Jane Bennet. His friend, Mr. Darcy, is reputed to be twice as wealthy; however, he is haughty and aloof. He declines to dance with Elizabeth, suggesting that she is not pretty enough to tempt him. She finds this amusing and jokes about the statement with her friends. Mr. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, later invites Jane to visit.
When Jane visits Miss Bingley, she is caught in a rain shower on the way and comes down with a serious cold. Elizabeth visits the ill Jane at Netherfield. There Darcy begins to be attracted to Elizabeth, while Miss Bingley becomes jealous since she has designs on Darcy herself.
Mr. Collins, a cousin of Mr. Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, visits the Bennet family. He is a pompous and obsequious clergyman, who expects each of the Bennet girls to wish to marry him due to his inheritance. He quickly decides to propose to Elizabeth when he is led to believe Jane is taken but is refused.
Elizabeth and her family meet the dashing and charming George Wickham, who singles out Elizabeth and tells her a story of the hardship that Mr. Darcy has caused him by depriving him of a living (position as clergyman in a prosperous parish with good revenue that, once granted, is for life) promised to him by Mr. Darcy’s late father. Elizabeth’s dislike of Mr. Darcy is confirmed.
At a ball at Netherfield, Elizabeth reluctantly dances with Mr. Darcy. Other than Jane and Elizabeth, several members of the Bennet family show a distinct lack of decorum. Mrs. Bennet hints loudly that she fully expects Jane and Bingley to become engaged and the younger Bennet sisters otherwise expose the family to ridicule.
Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, who rejects him, to the fury of her mother and the relief of her father. Shortly thereafter, they receive news that the Bingleys are suddenly leaving for London, with no intention to return. After his humiliating rejection by Elizabeth, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas, a sensible young woman and Elizabeth’s friend. Charlotte is slightly older and is grateful to receive a proposal that will guarantee her a comfortable home. Elizabeth is aghast at such pragmatism in matters of love. Heartbroken, Jane goes to visit her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner at an unfashionable address in London. Miss Bingley clearly does not want to continue the friendship and Jane is upset though very composed.
In the spring, Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are invited to Rosings Park, the imposing home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, patroness of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy’s extremely wealthy aunt. She expects Mr. Darcy to marry her daughter. Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are also visiting at Rosings Park. Colonel Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth how Mr. Darcy managed to save a friend from a bad match. Elizabeth realizes the story must refer to Jane and is horrified that Darcy has interfered and caused her sister so much pain. Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Elizabeth and proposes to her. She rejects him angrily, stating that she could not love a man who has caused her sister such unhappiness and further accuses him of treating Mr. Wickham unjustly. The latter accusation seems to anger Mr. Darcy, and he accuses her family of lacking propriety and suggests he has been kinder to Bingley than himself. They part, barely speaking.
Later, Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter, explaining that Mr. Wickham had refused the living he claimed he was deprived of and was given money for it instead. Wickham proceeded to waste the money and, then impoverished, demanded the living again. After being refused, he tried to elope with Darcy’s 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, for her great dowry. Darcy also writes that he believed Jane, because of her reserved behavior, did not love Mr. Bingley. Darcy apologizes for hurting Jane and Elizabeth begins to change her opinion of Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth tells her father that Darcy was responsible for uniting Lydia and Wickham, one of the two earliest illustrations of Pride and Prejudice. The clothing styles reflect the time the illustration was engraved (the 1830s), not the time in which the novel was written or set.
Some months later, Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner visit Darcy’s estate in Derbyshire, Pemberley. On a tour there, Elizabeth hears the housekeeper describe him as being kind and generous. When Mr. Darcy returns unexpectedly, he is overwhelmingly kind and later invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners to meet his sister and go fishing. Elizabeth is surprised and delighted by the kindness to herself and her aunt and uncle. She then suddenly receives news from Longbourn that her sister Lydia had eloped with Mr. Wickham. She tells Mr. Darcy immediately and departs in haste, believing she will never see him again, since Lydia’s disgrace has ruined the family’s good name.
After an agonizing wait, Mr. Wickham is somehow persuaded to marry Lydia. With some degree of decency restored, Lydia visits her family and tells Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was at her wedding. Mrs. Gardiner informs Elizabeth that it is Mr. Darcy who has made the match at great expense and hints that he may have “another motive” for doing so.
At this point, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield. Shortly thereafter, Bingley proposes to Jane and is accepted. Lady Catherine, having heard rumors that Elizabeth intends to marry Darcy, visits Elizabeth and demands that she promise not to accept his proposal. Elizabeth makes no such promise and Lady Catherine leaves, outraged by Elizabeth’s perceived insolence. Darcy, heartened by Elizabeth’s refusal to promise that she wouldn’t accept such a proposal, again proposes to Elizabeth and is accepted. He visits Longbourn to ask Mr. Bennet for his permission. Elizabeth wants her father to understand that she is not marrying for money, and it is only after she speaks of Mr. Darcy’s true worth that he is happy about the wedding.