164 pages 5 hours read

Pride and Prejudice

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1813

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Summary and Study Guide


Published anonymously in 1813 by English author Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is an example of a “novel of manners,” which presents a realistic picture of society through the customs and manners of everyday life. By depicting complex relationships between landowners and tradesmen, those with old money and the nouveaux riche, and men and women, Pride and Prejudice offers a glimpse into the social structures of early 19th-century England. The novel’s primary focus is marriage, specifically in its capacity as the most practical way for women of small fortune to ensure their financial security. It touches on how property laws make women dependent on male relations and on the narrow standards for women’s behavior. It also comments on the complicated social hierarchy revolving around land ownership and etiquette. Many characters in Pride and Prejudice seek to make themselves appear socially superior and to ingratiate themselves to the wealthy; the novel, however, argues that true good breeding entails integrity, kindness, and humility.

Plot Summary

Mrs. Bennet hopes Mr. Bingley, a wealthy young bachelor who has just moved to a large nearby estate called Netherfield, will marry one of her five daughters. The Bennet family meets Bingley and his party at a ball in the town of Meryton. Bingley is amiable and friendly, and he and Jane, the oldest daughter, form an instant attachment. His sisters, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, are haughty and superior. Mr. Darcy, a friend of Mr. Bingley’s, refuses to dance with anyone outside his party. At one point, Elizabeth, the second daughter of the Bennet family, overhears Darcy sneering that she is not attractive enough for him.

Jane and Bingley’s affection grows over time. Meanwhile, Darcy becomes begrudgingly attracted to Elizabeth. When Jane falls ill while visiting the Bingley sisters at Netherfield and is forced to stay several nights, Elizabeth is invited to stay with Jane. The Bingley sisters mock Elizabeth and Jane behind their backs, joking about the inferior social status of their relatives. Each night, Darcy and Elizabeth engage in witty banter, verbally sparing over a variety of topics. With every conversation, Darcy is more and more entranced by her intelligence. His attraction to Elizabeth frustrates Miss Bingley, who wants to marry him herself.

As he has no sons, Mr. Bennet’s estate, Longbourn, has been entailed to his cousin, Mr. Collins, who will inherit it after Mr. Bennet’s death. Mr. Collins, an obtuse, pompous clergyman, visits Longbourn, to meet the family. Mrs. Bennet is thrilled when she learns that Mr. Collins intends to marry one of her daughters because it will ensure Longbourn remain in her family.

The Bennet daughters enjoy going to Meryton, where a regiment of officers is stationed. There, they meet the handsome Mr. Wickham, who charms Elizabeth. Elizabeth is incensed by Wickham’s report that his father was Darcy’s father’s steward and that Darcy defied his father’s will by preventing Wickham from receiving a living in the clergy.

At a ball held at Netherfield, Elizabeth is surprised when Darcy asks her to dance. When she confronts him about having injured Wickham, Darcy suggests Wickham’s character isn’t what it appears. Throughout the night, her family’s brash behavior mortifies Elizabeth. The next day, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, and she vehemently declines, infuriating Mrs. Bennet.

Jane receives a letter from Miss Bingley stating that the whole party has left Netherfield for London and that she hopes Bingley will marry Darcy’s sister. Jane is disappointed, stating she must have misunderstood Bingley’s feelings; Elizabeth is livid, believing Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst think Jane isn’t good enough for their brother.

When Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas, accepts a proposal from Mr. Collins, Elizabeth is disappointed in Charlotte for settling in a marriage that could never make her happy. Charlotte, a plain woman of small fortune, assures her she seeks only financial security in marriage. After Charlotte and Mr. Collins marry, Elizabeth visits them at Hunsford. Mr. Collins is delighted to introduce Elizabeth to his haughty patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who happens to be Darcy’s aunt. Soon, Darcy arrives with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. During his stay, Darcy goes to great lengths to see Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is infuriated when Colonel Fitzwilliam reveals that Darcy intervened in Bingley and Jane’s romance. Later that day, Darcy visits Elizabeth, confesses his love, spells out his objections to her family, and asks for her hand in marriage. Disgusted, she rejects him, citing his insults to her family, his role in Jane’s unhappiness, and his ill treatment of Wickham. Stunned and angry, he leaves.

The next day, Darcy gives her a letter, in which he explains that he interfered in Bingley and Jane’s relationship because he believed Jane’s affection didn’t match Bingley’s. He also relates that Wickham turned down the living in the clergy and squandered his money, then attempted to elope with Darcy’s young sister. Elizabeth realizes Darcy is telling the truth and that she’s exhibited the same prejudice she’s accused him of.

Back home, Lydia, the flirtatious youngest Bennet daughter, goes with friends to Brighton, where the officers are now stationed. Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, take a trip to Derbyshire, where Darcy’s estate, Pemberley, is situated. At Pemberley, they meet Darcy’s housekeeper, who shares stories of his kindness and generosity. Reeling from this information, they explore the beautiful grounds until they encounter Darcy himself, who has come home earlier than expected. Elizabeth notices that his manner is gentler: he’s kind to her aunt and uncle, and he asks to introduce her to his sister. Darcy, his sister, and Bingley visit the next morning. Elizabeth likes Miss Darcy instantly and is happy that Bingley still loves Jane. She finds herself feeling more and more warmly toward Darcy.

When Elizabeth receives a letter from Jane informing her that Lydia has run away with Wickham, she is forced to confess the news to Darcy. She returns home, lamenting that he could never love her now. Mr. Gardiner goes to London to find Lydia and Wickham; the family hopes to make the couple marry to avoid the shame of them living together out of wedlock. After the wedding, Elizabeth learns Darcy paid Wickham’s large debts to convince him to marry Lydia. She is overwhelmed by his kindness and hopes he did it for her.

Bingley and Darcy return to Netherfield, and Bingley proposes to Jane. One day, Elizabeth is surprised to receive a visit from Lady Catherine, who says she’s heard that Elizabeth is going to marry Darcy and demands that she promise never to do so. Elizabeth refuses to make this promise. When Elizabeth next sees Darcy at Longbourn, she thanks him for helping Lydia, and the two confess their love. Darcy explains how he’d taken her criticism to heart and how his hope was revived when Lady Catherine told him Elizabeth had refused to promise she wouldn’t marry him.

Once married, Elizabeth is glad to move to Pemberley, especially once Jane and Bingley move to an estate nearby. Lydia frequently appeals to Jane and Elizabeth for money. Miss Darcy lives at Pemberley, and she and Elizabeth become good friends. Elizabeth enjoys visits from Mr. Bennet and the Gardiners.

Related Titles

By Jane Austen