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Pride and Prejudice

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English Literature

When Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice anonymously in 1813, she had no idea it would become a classic, loved years after its conception. But why is the book so famous today? Pride and Prejudice tells a tale of love against all odds, with charming, realistic characters that many can relate to, even today. The story explores how people’s pride and prejudices can affect their search for love.

Pride and Prejudice is so well-loved that it has been adapted many times for modern audiences. Perhaps the most notable is the 2005 adaptation with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. Nominated four times for the Oscars in 2006, it is a fan favourite. Also worthy of a mention is the 1995 TV series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. The series was voted ‘the best ever Pride and Prejudice adaptation’ by fans on the British Period Dramas website.1

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice book summary

The main story of the novel follows the daughters of Mrs Bennet in their search for suitable husbands. Elizabeth Bennet is the main character, but the story is told in the third-person omniscient narrative in Austen’s distinct style, namely free indirect speech.

The story is told in the third-person omniscient, which means we can see the thoughts of the characters (as we would in a first-person narrative).

Free indirect speech is a style of narration that combines third-person and first-person narration elements. The style allows the character’s inner, first-person perspective thoughts to be presented in third-person narration.

The story opens at the Bennet family home in Longbourn, England. Mrs Bennet is frantic to make sure her daughters marry into wealthy families because they face financial ruin otherwise. Mr Bennet doesn’t seem as concerned as Mrs Bennet.

At the time, women did not inherit wealth from their parents. Only a son or male next of kin was guaranteed financial security from their family. Women had to marry into wealth.

Mr and Mrs Bennet have five daughters (arranged from oldest to youngest in the following list):

  • Jane
  • Elizabeth (Lizzy/Eliza)
  • Mary
  • Catherine (Kitty)
  • Lydia

Eligible bachelors Mr Bingley and his friend Mr Darcy come to town, which stirs excitement among the young women eager to marry. The characters attend a ball in Meryton. This is a highly anticipated social event and an opportunity for romantic connections to be formed.

At the Meryton ball, Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet dance together and are immediately smitten with each other. Mr Darcy, however, is cold and reserved and does not dance. When Mr Bingley suggests Mr Darcy should dance with Elizabeth, he turns his nose up at her, calling her ‘tolerable’ but not good looking enough to tempt him. Elizabeth overhears this and (unsurprisingly) takes a disliking to Mr Darcy.

After the ball, life resumes as normal until Jane receives a letter inviting her to Netherfield Hall (where the Bingleys and Mr Darcy are staying). She has been invited by Caroline Bingley (Mr Bingley’s sister) so that they can get to know each other better.

Essentially, she is screening Jane to see if she is a suitable marriage partner for her brother. Ever the scheming mother, Mrs Bennet insists that Jane rides horseback to Netherfield Hall without the protection of a carriage. Her plan works, and it rains on Jane’s journey there. Jane inevitably falls sick and has to stay longer at Netherfield Hall. Here, Mr Bingley nurses her back to health.

When the Bennets receive word from Netherfield Hall that Jane is sick, Elizabeth insists on visiting her sister to check on her well-being. She walks there on foot and arrives soaked by the rain in a muddy dress, much to Caroline Bingley’s disapproval. The situation is not helped by the attention Mr Darcy is giving to Elizabeth – despite his earlier words, he finds himself liking her more and more. This is because Caroline has her eyes on Mr Darcy and wants him for herself. After a while, Jane regains her health, and the two sisters return home to Longbourn.

Upon their arrival home, Mr Collins pays a visit and asks for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, which she vehemently refuses. Mr Collins is the Bennet sisters’ cousin and, as the closest male relative, stands to inherit the Bennet estate. Marrying him would be objectively reasonable as it would keep the money in the family.

While this is happening, the military comes to town, and some soldiers befriend the girls. One of the officers, George Wickham, tells Elizabeth that he used to live with Mr Darcy, but they fell out because Mr Darcy did not give him the inheritance promised to him when Darcy’s father died. This further clouds Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr Darcy.

After Elizabeth’s refusal, Mr Collins then marries Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas. When Elizabeth asks her why, she says she has limited financial options and is worried about her age.

Mr Darcy and the Bingleys leave Netherfield Hall to return to London. Jane is upset when she no longer hears from Mr Bingley and even more so when Caroline Bingley is rude to her.

Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte. Mr Collins and Charlotte have a patron called Lady Catherine de Bough. Elizabeth accompanies them to visit her, and Elizabeth finds that Mr Darcy is there, too. Coincidentally, Lady Catherine is his aunt. Randomly, Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, much to her horror. Here, Elizabeth tells Mr Darcy that she dislikes him and also calls him out for denying Wickham his inheritance.

Darcy has to leave but explains the actual situation to Elizabeth in a letter, saying he did not believe Jane really liked Mr Bingley, and so he only discouraged Bingley from Jane to protect his friend. He also tells Elizabeth that Wickham is lying about the inheritance situation. He blocked Wickham’s inheritance because he tried to run away with Darcy’s very young sister. Elizabeth is shocked by what she reads and feels very badly about what she has said.

The action then moves back to Longbourn. The military is leaving, and the younger Bennet sisters are hysterical about this because they fancy the soldiers. Mr Bennet permits Lydia to visit family in Brighton, which is uncoincidentally where Wickham is stationed. If alarm bells aren’t ringing in your head yet, they should be because Wickham elopes with young Lydia, unbeknownst to the Bennet family.

At the same time, Elizabeth goes on a trip with family friends and ends up at Pemberly, Mr Darcy’s house. She thinks he isn’t there, but he comes home from his trip early. They talk again, and she sees a more open, gentle side to him this time. She also meets his little sister. A letter then comes from home informing her of Lydia’s elopement with Wickham, and she is horrified.

Everyone searches for Lydia to no avail until one day, a letter arrives stating that the couple has been found. The two have married as Wickham has been offered money to do so. It is unclear who offered him the money as Mr Bennet himself did not. Elizabeth then learns it was Mr Darcy who paid, and this makes her pine after him because she now sees his kindness and generosity.

Mr Bingley returns to Longbourn and proposes to Jane, who accepts. The news overjoys the Bennet family and Mr Darcy (who is also there). Lady Catherine, Darcy’s aunt, visits and corners Elizabeth, insulting her and telling her to back away from Mr Darcy because she has heard rumours that Mr Darcy intends to propose to Elizabeth (Lady Catherine views Elizabeth as being of inferior social standing).

Lady Catherine tries to get Elizabeth to promise she will refuse Darcy’s proposal. This confuses Elizabeth because she hasn’t heard the same rumours as Lady Catherine – she had assumed Mr Darcy no longer had feelings for her. Either way and despite being shocked by Lady Catherine’s rudeness, she refuses because she still holds a flame for Darcy.

Elizabeth and Darcy go on a walk, where he lays his feelings bare. He proposes, and Elizabeth accepts.

Pride and Prejudice characters

Let’s look at the beloved (and famous) characters Austen created in the book.

Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth is the protagonist in Pride and Prejudice. She likes to read and has a fiery personality. She has cynical views on the societal pressure for women to marry, which is feminist in its own right. She is the second eldest Bennet sister. Her love interest is Mr Darcy.

Jane Bennet

As the oldest Bennet sister, there is immense pressure on her to marry. She is the prettiest sister and expects to marry Mr Bingley. She is quiet and reserved with a pleasant disposition.

Mrs Bennet

A product of her time, Mrs Bennet is every bit the worried mother, wanting the best for her children. In her worry, she neglects social etiquette, and those around her can sense the desperation.

Mr Bennet

As the more relaxed parent, Mr Bennet shares a special connection with Elizabeth. They share a sense of humour, and when Elizabeth refuses Mr Collins’ proposal, he supports her decision, much to Mrs Bennet’s outrage.

Lydia Bennet

The youngest of the Bennet sisters, Lydia is excitable and flighty. In the stage of young adolescence where boys are new and intriguing, she would do anything to get their attention, often ending in embarrassment. She runs away with George Wickham.

Catherine Bennet (Kitty)

Like her younger sister Lydia, Kitty is boy crazy and shares in Lydia’s shenanigans. She flirts with the officers and embarrasses herself at balls, just like Lydia does, but she doesn’t catch anyone’s eye.

Mary Bennet

The classic middle child, Mary is the overlooked Bennet sister. She is not childish and flighty like her two younger sisters, and she isn’t being pursued by anyone. As a result, Mary desires attention.

Mr Darcy

Cold and reserved, Mr Darcy is the heir to a sizeable fortune. He comes to Longbourn with his friend Mr Bingley but is unenticed by the women there. As the book develops, his love interest is Elizabeth Bennet.

Mr Bingley

Friendly and open, Mr Bingley is also a wealthy heir. His love interest is Jane Bennet.

Miss Caroline Bingley

Snobby and unfriendly, Miss Bingley is the sister of Mr Bingley. She has her eyes on Mr Darcy, but these feelings are not reciprocated.

Mr Collins

Eager and pious, Mr Collins is a distant cousin to the Bennet sisters. He is a clergyman and also stands to inherit the Bennet estate. He marries Charlotte Lucas.

Charlotte Lucas

Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte, is a minor character in the novel. She marries Mr Collins to secure her financial future.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

As the patron of Mr Collins, Lady Catherine is a wealthy woman. She is proud of her social standing and likes to use it to put others down. She is also the aunt of Mr Darcy.

Mr Wickham

A charming yet deceptive man, Mr Wickham is a soldier. He has a history with Mr Darcy and ends up marrying Lydia Bennet.

Pride and Prejudice quotes

Let’s look at some of Austen’s most memorable quotes from Pride and Prejudice.

Chapter 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

This is the famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice. It establishes the general premise of the novel as the pursuit of marriage and the search for a suitable marriage partner. However, it is interesting because it subverts the plot of the novel: a single man with a good fortune is not always in want of a wife. In Pride and Prejudice, the women are more interested in marriage than the men are.

Do you think the story can be summarised instead like this: ’a single woman must be in want of a husband in possession of a good fortune’?

Chapter 3

She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me ...

This is what Mr Darcy says when Mr Bingley suggests he consider Elizabeth as a prospective partner. It is characteristic of his initial haughtiness and coldness. Unfortunately for Mr Darcy, Elizabeth overhears his words and dislikes him.

Chapter 9

‘I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,’ said Darcy.

‘Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.’

Here we see evidence of the bickering type of flirting between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy references Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, calling ‘poetry ... the food of love’, which Elizabeth spiritedly dismisses. There is no real malice in their argument. This quote is an example of the pride that both characters exhibit.

Between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, who do you think shows the most pride? And who do you think is more prejudiced?

Chapter 10

Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.

The importance of social standing in choosing a marriage partner is evident here. It is expected that Darcy marries someone of similar social standing, and Darcy initially shares this view. Regardless of how ‘bewitched’ he is by Elizabeth, his social prejudices towards her perceived ‘inferiority’ stop him from thinking of her as a suitable wife.

Chapter 25

I never saw a more promising inclination; He was growing quite inattentive to other people, and wholly engrossed by her...Is not general incivility the very essence of love?

As Elizabeth speaks to her Aunt Gardiner about Mr Bingley’s love for Jane, it is interesting that she mentions incivility as the essence of love. Even though she is talking about the accidental rudeness Mr Bingley shows to those around him due to his infatuation with Jane, the same quote can be applied to Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are generally uncivil towards each other, but their bickering actually conceals their growing love for each other. Austen uses irony here to reveal something to the reader that Elizabeth Bennet is still unaware of, i.e. that she loves Mr Darcy.

Do you think Elizabeth and Mr Darcy make a suitable pair? Should they have got married? Why or why not?

Pride and Prejudice - Key takeaways

  • Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice anonymously in 1813.
  • The story is about a woman’s search for a suitable marriage partner. It follows the five Bennet sisters in their search for love. It is also a story that explores how people’s pride and prejudices can affect their search for love.
  • The protagonist is Elizabeth Bennet, and her love interest is Mr Darcy.
  • Jane Bennet is a supporting character, and her love interest is Mr Bingley.

References

  1. Top 10 Best Ever “Pride and Prejudice” Adaptations Revealed - as Voted by You!’, British Period Dramas, 2020.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice is famous because it is a relatable story that transcends the time it was written and in which it was set. The characters Jane Austen created are believable and have relatable motivations.

The main story of Pride and Prejudice follows the daughters of Mrs Bennet in their search for suitable husbands. 

The novel Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously in 1813.

Elizabeth Bennet is the main character in Pride and Prejudice.

Final Pride and Prejudice Quiz

Question

When was Pride and Prejudice written?

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Answer

1813

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Question

What is free indirect speech?

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Answer

A narration style that combines elements of both third person narration and first person narration. 

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Question

What is the family name of the main character?

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Answer

Bennet

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Question

Why does Elizabeth dislike Mr Darcy initially?

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Answer

She overhears him talking to Mr Bingley, calling her "tolerable; but not handsome enough" to tempt him.

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Question

Which Bennet sister is Mr Bingley's love interest?

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Answer

Jane

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Question

Which Bennet sister runs away with Mr Wickham?

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Answer

Lydia

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Question

Which parent is most concerned with finding husbands for their daughters?

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Answer

Mrs Bennet

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Question

Does Jane ride horseback or in a carriage on her way to Netherfield Hall? And why?

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Answer

Horseback. Her mother wants her to fall sick and stay for a prolonged time with the Bingleys.

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Question

Who stands to inherit the Bennet estate?

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Answer

Mr Colins, a distant cousin of the Bennet sisters

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Question

To which Bennet sister does Mr Colins propose to?

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Answer

Elizabeth Bennet

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Question

What is the real reason Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham do not get along?

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Answer

Mr Darcy and Wickham grew up together. When Darcy's father died, Mr Darcy did not let Wickham receive his inheritance. Mr Wickham had tried to run away with Mr Darcy's very young sister.

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Question

Why does Lady Catherine insult Elizabeth?

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Answer

She has heard rumours that Mr Darcy is going to propose to Elizabeth. She disapproves.

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Who offers Mr Wickham money to marry Lydia Bennet?

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Answer

Mr Darcy.

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Question

Are the Bennet sisters successful in finding good husbands at the end of the novel?

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Answer

Yes. Jane marries Mr Bingley, Elizabeth marries Mr Darcy. 

Lydia marries Mr Wickham (although whether he is good is disputable).

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Question

Where does Mr Darcy propose to Elizabeth Bennet?

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Answer

On a walk 

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