Pride & Prejudice
Author & Title
Plot & Events
Summary & Chapterwise Analysis
Characters & Relationship
Themes, Symbols, Motifs
Previous Year Papers
Movies & Lectures
Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, England, on December 16, 1775. When Austen was in her early 20s, she wrote a novel called First Impressions. This was the basis for the book that eventually became Pride and Prejudice. Austen's father submitted First Impressions to a publisher, but it got rejected. Austen later revised the manuscript and changed the title. The English publisher, T. Egerton, released the book in three volumes in 1813—without identifying her as its author.
Pride and Prejudice is Austen's popular novel and her personal favourite. In fact, she called it "my own darling child" and talked about its characters as real people. Through her lively protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, and the family, friends, and social acquaintances in her orbit, Austen's novel explores themes of class, reputation, and love. Many of Austen's novels received critical recognition during her lifetime. However, it was only upon her death that her brother Henry revealed her authorship.
Her novels were published anonymously until after her death when her authorship became known. While it was not unheard of in Austen's lifetime. Despite the fact that her books focus on the intricate rituals of courtship and marriage among the British middle class, Austen herself remained single throughout her life, preferring the life of a writer over that of a wife and hostess. That death occurred on July 18, 1817, when Austen was 41.
The title “Pride and Prejudice “ alludes to two traits demonstrated by the main characters, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy's superior manner and Elizabeth's initial judgments about his character lead to misunderstandings, open conflict, and, eventually, reconciliation.
Austen's novels are famous for the way they seem to exist in a small, self-contained universe. There are almost no references in her work to the events of the larger world. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Austen's depiction of life in the tranquil English countryside takes place at the same time when England was fighting for its life against the threat of Napoleon, and all of Europe was embroiled in war and political chaos. No mention is ever made of the imminence of a French invasion in her novels. Napoleon was finally defeated by the British at Waterloo in 1815, two years before Austen's death.
Landownership was a true mark of status. Anyone who owned more than approximately 300 acres of land was a member of the landed gentry and thus highly respectable. The landed gentry weren't at the top of the social heap by any means. In Austen's England, the social hierarchy can be likened to a five-level pyramid, with the following classes listed in descending order, from the top tier to the bottom:
1. Royalty (kings, queens, princes, and princesses) 2. Aristocracy or nobility (dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons)
3. Upper-class gentry, including landed gentry with large estates, high-level clergy and government officials, bankers, merchants, and barristers (lawyers)
4. Middle-class gentry, including landed gentry with smaller estates, various professionals, military officers, and lower level clergy
5. Lower and working classes
For the most part, Pride and Prejudice represents the interactions of characters from the middle of the pyramid—the gentry.
Austen, like the Bennet family portrayed in Pride and Prejudice, belonged to the educated upper-middle-class gentry. Even though the members of this class often lacked the wealth and resources of the aristocracy, they were free to socialize with them. Because only the eldest son inherited land, other sons of the landed gentry might serve in the clergy (like Austen's father) or the military. These professions are specifically represented in Pride and Prejudice.
Women of the gentry in the Regency period did not have careers. They did not even have legal rights—though some were beginning to discuss the topic openly. Unless a gentlewoman became a governess (a live-in tutor of wealthy children), her only acceptable role was as a wife. To attract a husband, women of the gentry were expected to accumulate a list of "accomplishments," including being skilled in needlework, music, foreign languages, and art. To prepare for her role as wife, mother, and hostess, a gentlewoman was expected to master intricate rules of etiquette, including detailed rules for making social calls and accepting guests.
With the exception of women who were fortunate to inherit some wealth from their parents, marriage was also the only way for a woman to determine her financial destiny. By law, women had little control over their finances; money was controlled by the men of the family. Women who did not marry did not have a clear role in society. Called spinsters, they might at best be relegated to running the household of an unmarried brother. Austen herself never married. When her father died, she lived off money provided by her brothers. (Though some of her novels sold well, the cost she bore in having them published ate up her profits.)
A New Tenant at Netherfield
Pride and Prejudice opens with the news that a wealthy young man, Charles Bingley, is arriving at Netherfield Park, a large estate. The news is met with great excitement by the members of the Bennet family, who live in the neighbouring estate of Longbourn, in a village of the same name. To Mrs. Bennet, the news is especially welcome. As the mother of five unmarried daughters, her most pressing goal is to see each of her offspring married. The sisters—Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia—are intrigued by this new arrival and thrilled when the family is invited to attend a ball where Mr. Bingley will appear.
At the ball, Jane, the eldest Bennet daughter, and Mr. Bingley form a mutual attraction. One of Mr. Bingley's friends, Fitzwilliam Darcy, also attends the ball. His aloofness and his insulting behavior toward Elizabeth, the second oldest Bennet sister, stand in contrast to Mr. Bingley's gracious and cheerful manner.
As the weeks unfold, at various events, Mr. Darcy is intrigued by Elizabeth, but she maintains a poor impression of him based on his earlier behavior. However, a courtship between Jane and Charles Bingley seems to be developing, and the Bingley sisters invite Jane to visit Netherfield. On her way there, she is caught in a rainstorm and subsequently falls ill. Elizabeth sets out for Netherfield to tend to her sister. Her appearance and stay at Netherfield creates some tension for Mr. Bingley's sister Caroline, who jealously notices Mr. Darcy's growing
in Elizabeth. Caroline considers herself a better match for the wealthy gentleman.
Courtship and Complications
One of Mr. Bennet's cousins, Mr. Collins, visits the Bennet home. Mr. Collins, a clergyman from Hunsford, stands to inherit the Bennet estate, Longbourn. This arrangement, called an entail, is the result of laws requiring estates to be passed down to male relatives. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins's patroness—the person who has helped him achieve his position as a clergyman—has instructed him to marry one ofthe Bennet daughters. He proposes to Elizabeth. She finds him pompous and obnoxious and flatly turns him down, against her own mother's wishes. Deeply offended, Mr. Collins next proposes to Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas. She accepts his proposal.
The Bennet sisters meet a group of militia officers who are stationed near their home. Elizabeth becomes interested in a handsome soldier, George Wickham, who tells her about his past relationship with Mr. Darcy. Wickham explains how cruel Darcy was to him, even cheating him out of money. This information confirms Elizabeth's bad impressions of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy and the Bingleys leave Netherfield unexpectedly to go to London. Jane is upset because she had hoped her relationship with Mr. Bingley would blossom. When Jane travels to London shortly thereafter, Caroline Bingley treats her rudely, and Jane fails to see Mr. Bingley at all
Elizabeth travels to visit her friend Charlotte, who is now married to Mr. Collins. While visiting her friend, Elizabeth sees Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins's patroness, who is also Mr. Darcy's aunt. During Elizabeth's visit to the Collins' home, Darcy makes several appearances. During one of his visits, he shocks Elizabeth with a clumsy marriage proposal. She refuses him, telling him that she finds his superior attitude and his intervention in Jane's affair intolerable. She also accuses him of conspiring to keep Jane and Mr. Bingley apart. Finally, she scolds him for his cruel behavior to Wickham. After Elizabeth's refusal, Darcy reappears with a letter that explains everything. He tells her that he did encourage Bingley to separate from Jane because he did not think they were truly serious about each other. He also reveals Wickham as a scoundrel.
Elizabeth begins to rethink her feelings about Darcy. When she arrives home, she snubs Wickham. At this time, the local militia is to relocate to Brighton. Lydia, particularly consumed by flirtation with the officers, is upset. She successfully begs her father to allow her to stay with a family friend in Brighton for the summer.
During the summer, Elizabeth goes on holiday as well, this time with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. They travel to the north of England, in the neighborhood of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's estate. Once reassured that Darcy is not anywhere nearby, Elizabeth feels free to explore Pemberley and its exquisite buildings and grounds. Just as her attitude about him becomes even more favorable, Darcy shows up unexpectedly. He treats Elizabeth and the Gardiners graciously and encourages Elizabeth to spend time with his sister, Georgiana. During the course of this visit, Elizabeth receives shocking news from home. Her youngest sister, Lydia, has apparently eloped with Wickham. Knowing that Lydia's actions could potentially disgrace the Bennet family, Elizabeth confides her news to Darcy, then rushes home.
Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet search for Lydia and Wickham. Eventually, Gardiner locates them and reports that a benefactor has arranged for Wickham to marry Lydia in exchange for receiving an annual income, thus saving the Bennet family from scandal. The family is relieved. Elizabeth later learns that Mr. Darcy is the source of the money that will be paid to Wickham. She is mortified that her family has caused such a scandal but also touched by Darcy's intervention.
After a brief return to Longbourn, George and Lydia Wickham leave for the north of England, where Wickham is now stationed. Soon after, Mr. Bingley returns to Netherfield and seeks out Jane once again. He proposes to her, and the family is thrilled. Darcy has also reappeared and seems uncomfortable around Elizabeth. Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes to Longbourn and, to Elizabeth's astonishment, tries to extract a promise from her to refuse any proposal from her nephew. Elizabeth does not agree to this, even though no proposal has been made. A short time later, Darcy tells Elizabeth that his feelings for her have not changed, and he asks her to marry him. She gladly accepts. The two older Bennet sisters are married to the two friends and settle near each other, making a happy ending to the novel.
Strength & Weakness
Elizabeth is the second oldest of the Bennet daughters. She is highly intelligent and witty. Elizabeth is the protagonist of the novel, and many of the observations captured in the book are from her point of view. She has many positive qualities, including her bright intellect and poise in social interactions. Much of the novel is presented through her witty and insightful dialogue with other characters. Elizabeth's honest reflection on the society she inhabits enables her to see through the silly and sometimes cruel behaviour of the people around her. However, she sometimes makes snap judgments about the people and situations she encounters. Because she is the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, the story follows the changes in her feelings and attitudes on her road to romantic happiness.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a member of an aristocratic family and the master of the Pemberley estate. Like Elizabeth, Darcy is intelligent, though judgmental and proud. Also like Elizabeth, he proves himself able and willing to change. Initially, his snobbishness leads him to awkwardly propose to Elizabeth; he tells her he is doing so against his better judgment. Her rejection of his first proposal leads to a series of events that help him reevaluate the situation and become more humble. Darcy has to overcome the negative attitude of his snobbish aunt, Lady Catherine, in pursuing a marriage with Elizabeth, whose means are substantially less than his own. He also finds himself in the role of protector and hero when Lydia, the youngest Bennet sister, gets into trouble. As the novel progresses and Darcy becomes more self-aware, he also becomes more likable and sympathetic. This mirrors the change in heart demonstrated by Elizabeth as their relationship deepens and they become more open with each other.