“The wit of Jane Austen has for partner the perfection of her taste.”
Pride and Prejudice are set primarily in the county of Hertfordshire, about 50 miles outside of London. The story centers on the Bennet family, particularly Elizabeth. The novel opens at Longbourn, the Bennet family’s estate. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five children: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. The family engages in a conversation about Mr. Bingley, “a single man of large fortune” who will be renting the nearby estate of Netherfield Park. Mrs. Bennet sees Mr. Bingley as a potential suitor for one of her daughters.
The Bennets first meet Mr. Bingley and his companions at the Meryton Ball. The townspeople conclude that Mr. Bingley is perfectly amiable and agreeable. Meanwhile, Mr. Bingley takes an immediate liking to Jane Bennet. Mr. Bingley’s friend Mr. Darcy, however, snubs Elizabeth. The community decides that Darcy is proud and disagreeable because of his reserve and his refusal to dance. Jane finds Bingley’s sisters – Caroline and Mrs. Hurst – to be amiable, but Elizabeth sees them as arrogant.
After further interactions, it becomes evident that Jane and Bingley are interested in one another. However, while Bingley makes his partiality quite obvious, Jane is universally cheerful and somewhat shy. Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s best friend, has a very pragmatic view of marriage. She recommends that Jane make her regard for Bingley more obvious. At the same time, Mr. Darcy begins to admire Elizabeth, captivated by her fine eyes and lively wit. She, however, remains contemptuous towards him.
When Jane is invited for dinner at Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet refuses to provide her with a carriage, hoping that the impending rainstorm will force her to spend the night there. After getting caught in the rain, Jane actually falls ill and has to remain at Netherfield for many days. Upon hearing that Jane is ill, Elizabeth walks to Bingley’s estate through the muddy fields. Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are scandalized by Elizabeth’s rumpled appearance, but join Bingley in welcoming her nonetheless.
Elizabeth continues to impress Darcy during her time nursing Jane at Netherfield. However, she remains blind to his affections and continues to see him as a proud and haughty man. Caroline, who hopes to attract Mr. Darcy herself, grows extremely jealous of Elizabeth and mocks her lowly status.
Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters come to Netherfield to check on Jane, and Elizabeth is mortified by their foolish behavior and complete lack of manners. Bingley’s admiration for Jane continues unabated, though, and his affection is evident in his genuine solicitude for her recovery. After Jane recovers, she returns home with Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, a militia regiment is stationed at the nearby town of Meryton, where Mrs. Bennet’s sister Mrs. Phillips lives. Mrs. Phillips is just as foolish as Mrs. Bennet. Lydia and Kitty love to stay with their aunt in Meryton so they can socialize (and flirt) with the military officers.
Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s distant cousin, writes a letter stating his intention to visit. Collins is in line to inherit Longbourn because the estate has been entailed away from any female children. Mr. Collins is a clergyman, and his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (who is also Darcy’s aunt), has suggested that he find a wife. Therefore, Collins hopes to make amends for the entailment by marrying one of Mr. Bennet’s daughters. Mr. Collins proves himself to be a silly man, speaking in long, pompous speeches with an air of solemn formality. The Miss Bennets and Mr. Collins go for a walk to Meryton. On the way, they meet an officer in the regiment named Mr. Wickham. They also run into Mr. Darcy. When Darcy and Wickham see one another, both men become visibly uncomfortable.
Wickham shows an immediate partiality for Elizabeth, and they speak at length over the following days. In one of these conversations, Wickham explains his past with Darcy. Darcy’s father had promised that Wickham, his godson, would inherit a good living after the elder man’s death. However, Darcy failed to fulfill his father’s dying wishes and left Wickham to support himself. Elizabeth, already predisposed to think badly of Darcy, does not question Wickham’s account. When Elizabeth tells Wickham’s story to Jane, however, Jane refuses to think badly of either Wickham or Darcy, insisting that there must be some misunderstanding.
Bingley hosts a ball at Netherfield. He and Jane spend the whole evening together and their mutual attachment becomes increasingly obvious. However, Mrs. Bennet speaks loudly about their imminent engagement, and Elizabeth notes that Darcy overhears her. Later that evening, Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance and she reluctantly accepts. She does not enjoy it and cannot understand why he asked her. Mr. Collins pays particularly close attention to Elizabeth at the ball, and even reserves the first two dances with her.
The next day, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She refuses, but it takes him a while to accept her rejection; he assumes she is simply playing coy (as he believes females do). Mrs. Bennet is extremely angry at Elizabeth for refusing Collins, but Mr. Bennet is glad. Mr. Collins quickly shifts his attentions to Charlotte Lucas. He proposes to Charlotte, and she accepts. Elizabeth is disappointed in her friend for agreeing to marry such a silly man simply for the sake of financial security.
Bingley travels to London for business but plans to return to Netherfield. His sisters and Darcy soon follow him. Soon thereafter, Caroline writes to Jane to say that Bingley has changed his plans and will not return to Netherfield for at least six months. Caroline also informs Jane that she hopes Bingley will marry Darcy’s younger sister in order to unite the two families’ fortunes. Jane is heartbroken. Elizabeth thinks that Darcy and Bingley’s sisters have somehow managed to dissuade Bingley from proposing to Jane.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, come to Longbourn to visit. Noting Jane’s sadness, they invite her to stay with them in London for a while. Elizabeth hopes that Jane will run into Bingley while in London. Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth against marrying Wickham because of his poor financial situation. While Jane is in London, Caroline Bingley is extremely rude to her. Jane assumes that Mr. Bingley knows she is in London, and since he does not call, she decides he no longer cares for her. In Meryton, Wickham suddenly transfers his attentions from Elizabeth to Miss King, a woman who has recently acquired 10,000 pounds from an inheritance.
Elizabeth travels to visit Charlotte (now Mrs. Collins) at her new home in Kent, along with Sir William Lucas and Maria Lucas. On their way, the travelers stop to visit Jane and the Gardiners. Mrs. Gardiner criticizes Wickham’s change of affections, but Elizabeth defends him. During her stay in Hunsford, Elizabeth and the others are often invited to dine at Rosings, Lady Catherine’s large estate. Lady Catherine is completely arrogant and domineering. After Elizabeth has been at the parsonage for two weeks, Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam visit Rosings. Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam get along very well. Darcy also pays a lot of attention to Elizabeth and often visits the parsonage. He also purposely meets her during her daily walks through the nearby gardens. One day, Colonel Fitzwilliam mentions to Elizabeth that Darcy recently saved a close friend from an imprudent marriage. Elizabeth realizes that Fitzwilliam is referring to Bingley and Jane. She is so angry at Darcy that she gives herself a headache, which keeps her from visiting Rosings that night.
Darcy visits Elizabeth while she is alone at the parsonage and confesses that he wants to marry her despite her low family connections. Elizabeth is shocked at his arrogant address and rudely refuses him. She also rebukes him for acting in such an ungentlemanly manner and accuses him of ruining Jane’s future happiness and betraying Wickham. Darcy is shocked that Elizabeth has declined his proposal and leaves.
The next day, Darcy finds Elizabeth and hands her a letter. She reads it after he is gone. First, Darcy defends himself for dissuading Bingley from proposing to Jane. Not only were Jane’s family connections low, but she did not seem to show any particular preference for Bingley. Darcy then details his side of the Wickham story. Before his death, Darcy’s father asked Darcy to provide Wickham with a living, provided Wickham to enter a clergy. Wickham, however, did not want to enter the clergy and asked Darcy for 3,000 pounds to study law. Wickham soon squandered all his money on a dissolute lifestyle and then asked Darcy for another stipend, promising to enter the clergy this time. When Darcy refused, Wickham seduced Darcy’s teenage sister, Georgiana. Before they could elope, Darcy intervened and saved Georgiana’s honor.
Elizabeth initially refuses to believe Darcy’s claims but comes to consider the possibility as she reflects on Wickham’s behavior. She realizes she was inclined to believe Wickham because she was prejudiced against Darcy and because she was flattered by his attention. Soon afterward, Elizabeth returns home, stopping to collect Jane on the way. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty are upset because the regiment is leaving Meryton and moving on to Brighton. Lydia is then invited to join Colonel Forster and Mrs. Forster in Brighton. Elizabeth advises her father to refuse Lydia’s request, believing that her sister’s frivolous nature will get her in trouble there. However, Mr. Bennet does not heed Elizabeth’s advice.
Soon afterward, Elizabeth goes on vacation with the Gardiners. Their first stop is close to Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate. The Gardiners want to take a tour, and Elizabeth only agrees once she learns that Darcy is currently away. During their tour of the estate, Mrs. Reynolds, the Pemberley housekeeper, praises Darcy unequivocally. Elizabeth also expresses some regret that she will never be mistress of this estate. The travelers suddenly run into Darcy, who has arrived early. Surprisingly, Darcy is extremely cordial to both Elizabeth and the Gardiners. He tells Elizabeth that he wants her to meet Georgiana as soon as she arrives the next day. The next morning, Darcy and Georgiana visit Elizabeth and the Gardiners at their inn. Bingley soon joins them, and Elizabeth can see that he still thinks fondly of Jane. Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner return the courtesy by visiting Pemberley, where Bingley’s sisters treat them quite rudely.
One morning, Elizabeth receives a letter from Jane, announcing that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. Worse yet, the family fears that Wickham does not actually intend to marry her. Jane asks Elizabeth to return home immediately. As soon as Elizabeth reads the letter, Darcy arrives at the inn. In her frantic state, Elizabeth tells him what has happened. Darcy feels partially to blame since he never publicly exposed Wickham’s wickedness.
Elizabeth and the Gardiners depart for Longbourn almost immediately. There, a hysterical Mrs. Bennet has locked herself in her room. They learn from Colonel Forster that Wickham has amassed over 1,000 pounds of gambling debts. The next day, Mr. Gardiner leaves for London to join Mr. Bennet, who is already there looking for Lydia. After many days of fruitless searching, Mr. Bennet returns home, leaving the search in Mr. Gardiner’s hands.
Soon, a letter arrives from Mr. Gardiner announcing that Lydia and Wickham have been found. Wickham has agreed to marry Lydia if Mr. Bennet provides her with her equal share of his wealth. Considering the size of his debts, Mr. Bennet knows that Wickham would never have agreed to marry Lydia for so little money. He concludes that Mr. Gardiner must have paid off Wickham’s debts to solidify the deal. After their marriage, Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn. Lydia is not the least bit remorseful for her conduct. Nevertheless, Mrs. Bennet is very happy to have one of her daughters married. At dinner, Lydia lets it slip to Elizabeth that Darcy was present at her wedding. Curious, Elizabeth writes to Mrs. Gardiner for details. Her aunt explains that it was Darcy who found Lydia and Wickham and paid off Wickham’s debts. Mrs. Gardiner believes that Darcy did this out of love for Elizabeth.
Bingley and Mr. Darcy soon return to Netherfield Park, and they call at Longbourn frequently. After several days, Bingley proposes to Jane. She accepts, and the family is very happy. In the meantime, Darcy leaves on a short business trip to London. While he is gone, Lady Catherine comes to Longbourn, furious after hearing a rumor that Elizabeth and Darcy are engaged. She forbids Elizabeth from ever accepting a proposal from Mr. Darcy, but Elizabeth is completely offended and refuses to promise anything. Lady Catherine leaves in a huff.
After returning from his trip, Darcy tells Elizabeth that his affection has not changed. She then reveals that her feelings have changed and that she would be happy to marry him. They discuss how and why their sentiments have changed since Darcy’s first proposal. Darcy has since realized he was wrong to act so proudly and place so much emphasis on class differences. Elizabeth, meanwhile, accepts that she was wrong to judge Darcy prematurely and admits that she allowed her vanity to affect her judgment.
Both couples marry. Elizabeth and Darcy live at Pemberley. After living in Netherfield for a year, Jane and Bingley move to an estate near Pemberley. Lydia and Wickham tire of each other eventually, and Lydia keeps asking her sisters for money. Kitty spends most of her time with her two elder sisters, and her education and character begin to improve. Mary remains at home to keep her mother company. Mr. Bennet is very happy that his two oldest daughters have married so happily, and Mrs. Bennet is glad that her daughters have married so prosperously.