Pride and Prejudice Book summary
Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Austen in the late 1700’s, but was not published until 1813 after she rewrote and revised the manuscript. The story is set in 1811, and runs through late 1812. During Austen’s lifetime, none of her writings, to include Pride and Prejudice, were of particular note to critics. Pride and Prejudice sold modestly for the time (about 1,500 copies), but as of her passing in 1817, she remained relatively unknown. It was not until 1870 that literary scholars began to take serious note of the quality of her writing.
The story is presented by an omniscient, third-person narrator. Some have argued that Elizabeth, the protagonist, narrates. However, this is certainly not the case, especially in light of frequent dialogue foreshadowing or even directly stating things that the character would not, or could not, be aware of. Austen’s writing style, especially in “Pride and Prejudice,” is known for its wit. She employs irony, humor, colloquialism, dialogue, and realism, weaving all together in such a way that the book maintains its appeal over 200 years after its first publication.
The story focuses on Elizabeth Bennet, an unmarried 22-year-old with four sisters. Charles Bingley is a wealthy man who moves into the neighborhood, and immediately attracts the attention of many single women. Elizabeth’s mother, in particular, is excited at the prospect of marrying off any one of her daughters with him.
Mr. Bingley’s friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is also wealthy, but does not impress people with the same likability that Mr. Bingley generates. Mr. Darcy seems aloof and standoffish, possibly too proud to mingle with those of a lower social status. This apparent disdain, seemingly due to the man’s pride, is offensive to Elizabeth in particular, who immediately develops a strong prejudice against Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, soon grow fond of each other. However, Mr. Bingley’s meddling sisters disapprove, due to Jane’s family’s lower social status. Mr. Darcy is also disapproving of his friend’s relationship with Jane, as he is of the impression that Jane’s affection is not sincere, but only designed to deliver Mr. Bingley’s wealth to Jane.
In spite of these misgivings, Mr. Darcy finds Elizabeth very attractive, and his interest in her grows. However, Elizabeth’s prejudice has already soured her opinion of Mr. Darcy, and instead her interest is directed at George Wickham, a military man whose good looks and pleasant demeanor make him very popular. Mr. Wickham, perhaps sensing a romantic rivalry from Mr. Darcy, tells Elizabeth a number of things to reinforce the idea that Mr. Darcy is not a good man, things that Elizabeth accepts without question. Her disdain for Mr. Darcy grows.
Meanwhile, A cousin of Elizabeth’s father visits. William Collins, being the closest male relative, is heir to Mr. Bennet’s property, in the event of Mr. Bennet's death. Should this ever occur, the five sisters and their mother would be left destitute. However, Mr. Collins announces his intention to marry one of the five Bennet girls, with Elizabeth being his first choice. However, Elizabeth refuses his offer of marriage, leaving him offended. The rebuffed suitor quickly finds Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas, willing to marry, if only for the privilege of marrying a man for money. The two are married, to the dismay of Elizabeth, who believes strongly that marriage should be based upon love, and not for business purposes or financial convenience.
Mr. Bingley has left for England, but Jane receives a letter from one of Mr. Bingley’s sisters informing her that Mr. Bingley will not be returning. The sister also mentions that Mr. Bingley will most likely be marrying Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. While Jane accepts the news with a heavy heart, Elizabeth suspects that it is merely a mean-hearted ploy designed by Mr. Bingley’s conniving sisters, and with the help of Mr. Darcy, to dissuade Jane.
Elizabeth later visits her friend Charlotte, where she meets Mr. Darcy’s aunt, who is also a patroness (providing financial support) to Mr. Collins. The aunt, Lady Catherine De Bough, is a boorish woman whose pastime is meddling in the affairs of others, creating unrest.
Mr. Darcy then visits as well, and is accompanied by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. During this visit, Mr. Darcy appears to be interested in Elizabeth’s company, but does not speak much. Elizabeth is baffled by this behavior, and is especially surprised when he spontaneously requests her hand in marriage. Still finding Mr. Darcy reprehensible, she declines his offer.
The following day, Mr. Darcy presents a letter to Elizabeth. He explains a number of things to her, including the version of events that Mr. Wickham had given an account of. Mr. Wickham had made Mr. Darcy out to be a bad person. However, the letter from Mr. Darcy reveals a number of truths to prove otherwise. In fact, it is Mr. Wickham whose character is flawed, and not Mr. Darcy's. At this point, Elizabeth realizes that she has made a terrible mistake in her judgment of Mr. Darcy.
One month later, Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visit Mr. Darcy’s estate. They did not expect to see Mr. Darcy, and are surprised at his unanticipated appearance. He is exceptionally affable and hospitable, especially to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth begins to feel the possibility of love for Mr.Darcy, but is still unsure.
However, before any chance of pursuing this union, word arrives that Elizabeth’s youngest sister, 15-year-old Lydia, has eloped with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth, her aunt and her uncle immediately depart for home (Netherfield), while others, such as the girls’ father, go in search of Lydia. There is much distress over the notion that Lydia will permanently disgrace not only herself, but the entire family, by engaging in sexual relations with a man who is unlikely to marry her. This threat of disgrace hits Elizabeth especially hard, as she assumes that this disgrace will result in Mr. Darcy distancing himself from her.
The tables turn, however, when Lydia and Mr. Wickham are found, and soon announce their engagement. Marriage will erase any danger of reputation besmirchment.
As it turns out, Mr. Darcy was responsible for ensuring that Mr. Wickham married Lydia. Mr. Darcy provided a significant amount of money to Mr. Wickham, essentialy paying her dowry, in order to ensure the marriage.
Elizabeth not only finds this to be a heroic and kind act, but it causes her to consider again that just possibly, there might be hope for her and Mr. Darcy to be wed.
Mr. Bingley returns to ask for Jane’s hand in marriage, which she gladly agrees to. Mrs. Bennet is very glad, but still bothered by Mr. Darcy’s annoying presence at times.
Elizabeth is visited by Lady Catherine De Bourgh, who confronts her after hearing rumors of that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are engaged. The rumor is entirely false, but Lady Catherine drives home the point that such a union would be a terrible mistake. She insists that Elizabeth take a vow to never accept any such offer, should Mr. Darcy happen to propose. Elizabeth indignantly refuses to offer such a promise.
Lady Catherine then tells Mr. Darcy about Elizabeth’s failure to comply. She also tells Mr. Darcy just how foolish such a relationship would be. However, news that Elizabeth refused Lady Catherine’s demand reignites Mr. Darcy’s hope that Elizabeth might be interested in him after all. He boldly proposes yet again. This time, Elizabeth readily accepts.
The story concludes with an “update” a year later, briefly displaying how all of the main characters, many of them in new marriages, are faring. All are doing well, as Austen’s writing style generally prefers happy, light endings
T. Egerton, Whitehall