Summary of the Novel
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are intent on having their five daughters marry above their middle-class station. A rich, single man, Charles Bingley rents an estate, Netherfield, nearby. Mrs. Bennet pushes her husband to immediately introduce himself and form an acquaintance. He obliges reluctantly. At a ball, all the Bennets are introduced to the Bingley party. Everyone likes the courteous Mr. Bingley, but his close friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is thought to be too arrogant and filled with unconcealed pride and vanity. He won’t dance with anyone outside of his own group or deign to speak with them. He states, within Elizabeth Bennet’s hearing, that “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Mr. Bingley’s affection for Jane develops quickly, to the concern of his sisters and Mr. Darcy. They can’t tolerate her lower status, and are embarrassed by her family’s manners and actions. Mr. Darcy, in spite of his better wisdom, becomes infatuated with Elizabeth. He is drawn to her uncensored wit and fine eyes. Miss Bingley’s jealous criticisms of her do nothing to lessen his admiration. Miss Bingley has made plans to entrap him for herself, but they seem blocked.
Caroline Bingley invites Jane to Netherfield. While she is en route, in the rain, Jane catches a severe cold. She is forced to stay at the estate and be treated by a local apothecary. Mrs. Bennet is delighted, because this puts Jane in proximity with Mr. Bingley and his wealth. Jane becomes more ill, and her sister Elizabeth goes to Netherfield to nurse her. The concern for her sister and strength of character appeal to Mr. Darcy, but he is afraid of his infatuation with someone who is economically inferior. The Bennet sisters’ departure after six days relieves nearly everyone.
Mr. Bennet’s estate, Longbourn, is entailed (by law bequeathed) to Mr. Collins, a clergyman and cousin. This is because he has no son; thus, his property will go after his death to Collins as the nearest male relative. Mr. Bennet receives an inane letter from Collins, apologizing for the entail, and hinting at the possibility of marriage with one of the Bennet daughters. He arranges for a fortnight stay at Longbourn, where his officious stupidity delights Mr. Bennet’s keen satiric sense, repels Elizabeth, and endears him to the vacuous Mrs. Bennet.
Mr. Bennet can’t wait for him to depart and soon tires of his praise of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He sends his cousin on an errand to Meryton with his daughters. There, they meet George Wickham, a handsome and personable military officer. Elizabeth is intrigued when Wickham and Darcy, who obviously know each other, meet on the street and both seem uncomfortable. At a ball, soon after, Wickham tells his life story to Elizabeth. He states that Darcy disobeyed his own father’s will out of resentment. (Wickham was a ward of Darcy’s father and had been promised revenue for a clergyman’s position.) Wickham’s story makes Darcy look cruel and self-indulgent. Elizabeth buys this account, because she has pre-determined, negative views of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance and pride.
Elizabeth becomes infatuated with the charming Wickham, as do her younger sisters. She resents his absence from the ball thrown by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. She attributes his lack of attendance to a dispute between Wickham and Darcy, because Wickham has persuaded her of Darcy’s bad character. She annoys Darcy by bringing up the subject, and is puzzled by his persistence in approaching her, as she does not know of his attraction. Elizabeth is mortified by her family’s behavior that evening. Mrs. Bennet loudly proclaims the merits of a match between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Mary, her sister, bores everyone with her mediocre piano playing. Mr. Collins, her cousin, gracelessly proposes marriage, and she is further embarrassed. He wants a marriage of convenience, and she wants no part of it. She tries to convince him that her refusal is earnest. The support of her father makes Collins see the truth.
The Bingley party leaves Netherfield for London, and Caroline Bingley writes to Jane to inform her that they won’t return until winter. She hints in her letter that Mr. Bingley intends to court Georgiana Darcy. This is a match that has been determined for years between the families.
Elizabeth rightly discerns that Bingley’s sisters and friend are trying to keep him from the Bennets. Her family is not prominent enough for their aspirations.
Mr. Collins, rejected by Elizabeth, is consoled by Charlotte Lucas, her best friend. To Elizabeth’s great surprise and astonishment, Charlotte plots to marry Mr. Collins, “from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.” She had always considered herself plain and almost an old maid, so she snaps at a chance to be a respectable lady of society. He proposes, they marry, and they leave for their residence near Rosings. Elizabeth later accepts Charlotte’s invitation to visit her in her new establishment. Elizabeth is gratified that Charlotte has taken charge, choosing not to react to her husband’s stupidity or her patron’s insolent behavior. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a tyrannical despot. She tells everybody what to do, and is not to be contradicted. She plans to unite the family estates by marrying her daughter to Mr. Darcy, who is due to arrive at Easter.
Darcy continues to court Elizabeth. He seeks her companionship, but says little. One night, he declares his love and proposes. He is discourteous, and stresses his family’s superiority. Elizabeth is as angry as she is astonished. His seeming pride is unbearable to her, and she adamantly refuses his declaration and derides him. She accuses him of breaking up Jane and Bingley, and ruining young Mr. Wickham’s reputation. Darcy acknowledges both charges without seeming remorse or explanation, and leaves her with a cold, indifferent attitude.
The next morning, Darcy finds Elizabeth on one of her walks. He delivers a letter, which tries to answer her reproaches. Darcy intervened in Bingley’s romance because he wanted him to marry a wealthy person, and he was not convinced that Jane was truly in love with him. Jane’s placid manner never convinced him that there was any deep emotion between them. He went on to add that the Bennet family left a lot to be desired. Mrs. Bennet was vacuous, Mr. Bennet, indifferent and unequivocally negligent, and the two younger daughters were flirtatious and empty-headed. No criticism was leveled at either Jane or Elizabeth. He revealed that Wickham was a man without principle, and had presented his case falsely. Her former prejudice was now quite jarred, and she had to contemplate the probability of this being true.
Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner set off on a tour. One of their unofficial stops is at Derbyshire, which is her aunt’s and Darcy’s home county. Since they are in the vicinity of Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, Mrs. Gardiner wants to visit it. Elizabeth has apprehensions, but does not object when she learns the owner is away. She finds Pemberley extremely pleasant. The house is prestigious, and the gardens lavish. Elizabeth muses that if she had been more perceptive and indulgent, this place could have been hers. She hears the housekeeper’s glowing description of Darcy as being extremely good-natured and generous to the poor. Darcy unexpectedly appears, a day early, and both he and Elizabeth are embarrassed. Darcy is attentive and gracious and extremely cordial to the unpretentious aunt and uncle. Darcy insists upon Elizabeth meeting his sister, and they call the next day at the inn. The formidable Miss Darcy seems not proud, but shy. She barely is able to carry on a conversation without deference to her brother. There is much affinity between the two. It is not as obvious to Elizabeth that Darcy is still in love with her. The Gardiners see this, but await Elizabeth’s version. When Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth go to Pemberley for a requested return visit, Miss Bingley tries in vain to insult Elizabeth in her presence and behind her back. She fails completely to work her will on Darcy.
In the midst of her happiness, Elizabeth receives two letters from her sister Jane. They say that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. The pair left Brighton for London and are not presumably married. Elizabeth fears that her sister is permanently disgraced, and that her own re-discovered love for Darcy can never result in marriage. She and the Gardiners leave for home as fast as they can make preparations.
The eloped pair is elusive for several days. Mr. Bennet went after them, but returns home unfulfilled. Mr. Gardiner, who took the matter into his own hands, writes and states that they have been found. He adds that Lydia has agreed to a quick marriage. All of this has been arranged by Darcy. He works secretly to pay off Wickham’s gambling debts and ensure a suitable dowry. Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic about this development. Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, and Jane are sure that Mr. Gardiner must have paid out a tidy sum to get Lydia married officially and save the family name. Little do they realize that it was Darcy’s work.
Mr. Darcy confronted Wickham, bribed him and offered a commission in the army if he would marry Lydia. He did this because of his love for Elizabeth, and because of his sense of blame for Wickham’s irresponsibility.
Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn as a married couple. Elizabeth inadvertently learns of Darcy’s involvement in the marriage when Lydia passes on a confidence. She gets the complete story when she writes to Mrs. Gardiner.
Bingley returns to Netherfield and falls in love with Jane again. After a while, he proposes. She accepts. Mrs. Bennet’s joy is lessened by the appearance of Darcy, whom she has always distrusted.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives at Longbourn, after hearing a rumor that Darcy is enraptured with Elizabeth. She ridicules Elizabeth and demands her to reject a proposal from Darcy. Elizabeth’s answer is reserved. Lady Catherine speaks with Darcy. This only lets Darcy acknowledge that Elizabeth has had a change of heart, and he renews his proposal to her. This time it is met with a positive attitude.
Estimated Reading Time
Fifteen hours should be allowed for the study of Pride and Prejudice. The chapters are grouped into sections. The chapters are short, but they should be read closely to capture nuances of plot and characterization. After reading each section, the student should answer all study questions to insure understanding and comprehension. The essay questions are guide-lines to be used, if needed.
1. Discuss the importance of social class in the novel, especially as it impacts the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.
2. Though Jane Austen satirizes snobs in her novels, some critics have accused her of being a snob herself. Giving special consideration to Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, argue and defend one side of this issue.
3. Pride and Prejudice is a novel about women who feel they have to marry to be happy. Taking Charlotte Lucas as an example, do you think the author is making a social criticism of her era’s view of marriage?
4. Giving special attention to Wickham, Charlotte Lucas, and Elizabeth, compare and contrast male and female attitudes toward marriage in the novel.
5. Discuss the relationship between Mrs. Bennet and her children, especially Elizabeth and Lydia.
6. Compare and contrast the Bingley-Darcy relationship with the Jane-Elizabeth relationship.
7. Compare and contrast the roles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Bennet.
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