Pride and Prejudice
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Pride and Prejudice, first published on 28 January 1813, is the most famous of Jane Austen's novels. It is one of the first romantic comedies in the history of the novel and its opening is one of the most famous lines in English literature—"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Its manuscript was first written between 1796 and 1797, and was initially called First Impressions, but was never published under that title. Following revisions, it was first published on 28 January 1813. Like both its predecessor and Northanger Abbey, it was written at Steventon Rectory.
The story addresses courtship and marriage among the landed gentry in the early 19th century. The main character is Elizabeth Bennet, a beautiful 20-year-old woman in possession of a quick mind and a quicker tongue. Elizabeth's beloved eldest sister, Jane, is gentler and more attractive. Mr. Bennet is an eccentric who spends much of his time hiding in his study, a refuge from his bothersome wife, and the rest of his time making humorously disparaging remarks about his family. Another sister, Mary, is a dowdy moraliser in love with books, while the others, Kitty and Lydia, are reckless teenage flirts attracted to any attentive man especially if in uniform. Meanwhile, the querulous, gauche Mrs. Bennet is desperately determined to secure good matches for her five daughters, while trying to keep control of her "nerves". The Bennet family's modest estate in Hertfordshire is entailed in default of heirs male—which means a cousin, Mr. Collins, will inherit the estate on Mr. Bennet's death, leaving Mrs. Bennet and any unmarried daughters homeless and left to live on a very small and insufficient income.
Mrs. Bennet is greatly excited by news of the arrival of a single man "of considerable fortune" in the neighbourhood. Mr. Bingley has leased the estate of Netherfield to live in with his single sister Miss Bingley and his married sister, Mrs. Hurst, whose husband is more fashionable than wealthy. After a short period, Mr. Bingley goes on a short trip to London and returns with his friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Soon afterwards, Bingley and his party attend a public ball in the village of Meryton, which is thought to be based on the real life town of Hertford. At first, Darcy is admired for his fine figure and a rumoured income of £10,000 a year. Quickly, however, the neighbours come to perceive him as a most disagreeable sort, one who believes those present to be beneath him socially. This is brought home to the Bennet family when Darcy slights Elizabeth—when Bingley suggests that Darcy dance with Elizabeth, he notes that "she is not handsome enough to tempt me" within her hearing. Bingley, on the other hand, proves highly agreeable, dancing with many of the single ladies in attendance and showing his decided admiration for Jane Bennet.
Shortly after the ball, Mr. Bennet announces to the family that a visitor is expected. Mrs. Bennet and the girls amuse themselves guessing whom it could be, but are disappointed to find out it is only their cousin, Mr. Collins, a pompous buffoon of a clergyman whose idea of a pleasant evening is reading to his female cousins from Fordyce's Sermons. Collins delights in dropping the name of his great patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, at every opportunity. Following Lady Catherine's imperious suggestion that he get married, Collins immediately looks to his "poor cousins" to find a wife and make amends for his role in the frequently anticipated impoverishment of the Bennets. Collins initially chooses the eldest and most comely daughter Jane, second only to Elizabeth in intelligence. Upon being informed that she is "practically engaged" to Mr. Bingley, Mr. Collins easily transfers his unwanted attentions to the lovely Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet greatly approves of the match and tries to browbeat Elizabeth into marriage. However, Mr. Bennet supports his favourite daughter's repeated refusals in his own idiosyncratic, humorous way, telling her "Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." Meanwhile, Elizabeth begins falling for a recently arrived militia officer, Mr. Wickham, who claims to have been robbed of his rightful inheritance by none other than Mr. Darcy, strengthening her disapprobation of the latter.
Finally accepting Elizabeth's rejection, Mr. Collins next turns to her best friend, Charlotte Lucas. She readily accepts and they are soon married—to Mrs. Bennet's and Elizabeth's profound dismay, though for entirely different reasons. Mrs. Bennet hates the idea that Charlotte will someday supplant her as mistress of Longbourn, the Bennet estate; Elizabeth, on the other hand, is mortified that her best friend would marry merely for economic security. Soon after this blow, Mrs. Bennet is further discouraged by the sudden departure of Bingley. Jane is heartbroken and Mrs. Bennet's disparaging remarks about Bingley serve only to heighten her sorrow.
Elizabeth is invited to visit the newlyweds. While she is staying with them, Darcy visits his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, at her adjoining estate, Rosings. Elizabeth and Darcy are perforce thrown daily into each other's company. Elizabeth's charms eventually entrance Mr. Darcy, leading him to finally declare his love for her "against his own will" and his desire to marry her, in spite of her objectionable family. Elizabeth is appalled (especially since she has recently learned that Darcy dissuaded Bingley from proposing to Jane) and informs Darcy he is "the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."
The morning after, Darcy intercepts Elizabeth on her daily walk and hands her a letter before coldly taking his leave. In the letter, Darcy justifies his actions. He notes that, apart from her embarrassing relations, Darcy did not believe Jane a suitable match for Bingley because of her own seeming indifference to Bingley. (Elizabeth admits to herself that Jane's reserved character does indeed make it difficult for others to ascertain her true feelings.) Darcy also reveals Wickham's true character as a womanising cad and opportunist. This throws all of Darcy's past actions in a new light for Elizabeth and gradually her prejudices against him are broken down.
Later, while on holiday with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, she is persuaded to visit nearby Pemberley, Darcy's estate, though only agreeing after discreetly finding out that the owner is away and not expected back anytime soon. While on a tour of the grounds, she is therefore mortified when she bumps into him unexpectedly. However, his altered behaviour towards her - distinctly warmer from their last meeting - and his polite and friendly manner towards her aunt and uncle begins to persuade Elizabeth that underneath his pride, lies a true and generous nature.
Just as her relationship with Darcy starts to thaw, Elizabeth is horrified by news that her headstrong younger sister Lydia has run away with Wickham. In Elizabeth's absence, sixteen-year-old Lydia attracted Wickham's attentions and she elopes with him. When the family investigates, it is learned that Wickham resigned his commission to evade gambling debts. When told of this by Elizabeth, Darcy takes it upon himself to find Wickham and bribe him into marrying Lydia, but keeps this secret from Elizabeth and her family. Elizabeth accidentally learns of Darcy's involvement from Lydia's careless remarks, later confirmed by Mrs. Gardiner. This final act completes a reversal in Elizabeth's sentiments.
A complication arises when Lady Catherine discovers Darcy's feelings, threatening her long cherished ambition for him to marry her own daughter. She pays Elizabeth an unannounced visit and brusquely tries to bully her into giving him up, a fruitless undertaking. When Lady Catherine complains to Darcy about Elizabeth's obstinacy, he realizes her feelings have changed, giving him hope to try again. He confesses to Bingley that he was mistaken about Jane's indifference to him, and after an awkward reconciliation, Bingley and Jane become engaged. Then, when Darcy proposes a second time to Elizabeth, she opens her heart to him and both his pride and her prejudices are forgotten.
Characters in Pride and Prejudice
An English gentleman with an estate in Hertfordshire. He is married and has five daughters, a circumstance injurious to his dependents. The property is entailed; it can only be inherited by a male heir. Because he has no son, that would be his closest male relative, Mr. Collins, a clergyman who provides him with much amusement. Mr. Bennet, a gentle if eccentric man, is very close to his two eldest daughters, Jane and particularly Elizabeth. However, he has a poor opinion of the intelligence and common sense of his wife and three youngest daughters, frequently declaring them "silly" and visiting them with insulting remarks as well as gentle teasing.
The querulous wife of Mr. Bennet. Her main concern in life is seeing her daughters married well. She angles for her new neighbour, Mr. Bingley, for one of them. She also hopes to match one of her girls with Mr. Collins, who is to inherit their property. Sometimes classless, Mrs. Bennet speaks whatever is on her mind, often bragging and lying to her neighbors about her family.
She was 22 at the start of the novel. The eldest and most beautiful of the Bennet daughters. She has a reserved personality and tends to hide her feelings from outsiders. She is incapable of suspecting the worst of people, seeing only the good.
The 20-year-old second sister, and the protagonist of the story. She is her father's favorite and inherits his intelligence and wit. She is generally regarded as one of the most endearing and popular female protagonists in English literature.
The third sister, bookish, plain, and ill at ease in company. She disdains her sisters' frivolous interests and seeks to impress others instead with her scholarly yet ill-timed aphorisms and limited musical abilities.
Catherine "Kitty" Bennet
The irritable fourth sister, 17 years old, who generally follows the lead of her younger sister, Lydia.
The youngest sister, when the story begins, Lydia is extremely flirtatious, naive, headstrong and reckless. She is described as being idle and indulging in frivolous pursuits, the chief of which involves the officers stationed at Meryton.
A clergyman and nephew of Mr. Bennet. Mr. Collins, the closest male relation, stands to inherit the Bennet estate. When not pompously full of himself, Collins is a narrow-minded sycophant, excessively devoted to his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He is always overly keen to show his admiration and gratitude--trying to inflate his self-importance by basking in the glow of his patroness.
Close friend of Elizabeth and daughter of a neighbouring landowner. Twenty-seven years old and with no other prospects in sight, she is willing to put up with Mr. Collins's flaws in return for a home, family and security.
An outgoing, extremely good-natured, and wealthy and red haired young man who leases property near the Bennets' estate. He is attracted to Jane Bennet.
Mr. Bingley's close friend, an intelligent, wealthy and reserved man, who often appears haughty or proud to strangers. He is wary of his friend Bingley's romantic entanglements with unsuitable women. He is a very proud man but changes for the better.
Much younger sister of Mr. Darcy. The age difference is so great that he is more of a father figure than a brother. Since their parents' death, she has been under the joint guardianship of Darcy and their cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. She became infatuated with George Wickham and was persuaded by him to elope. Fortunately, she felt it was her duty to inform her brother and he quickly put a stop to this ill-advised plan.
Louisa Hurst and Caroline Bingley
Mr. Bingley's sisters, who look down upon the Bennets and their society. Caroline has a secret desire for Mr Darcy.
A dashing, handsome young soldier who attracts the attention of Elizabeth Bennet. His father was the manager of the Darcy estate, so he grew up with Mr. Darcy and his sister. Although a charming man, Wickham's outward pleasantness conceals a more conniving and dishonourable nature, and despite a favourite of Darcy's now-deceased father, there is bitter enmity between him and Darcy, due to his attempt to elope with Georgiana Darcy for her substantial inheritance. He later runs off with Lydia Bennet, but is tracked down by Darcy and bribed into marrying her.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Aunt of Mr. Darcy and patroness of Mr. Collins. A proud and domineering woman, she had planned for the marriage of Mr. Darcy and her daughter since they were infants.
Anne de Bourgh
Daughter of Lady Catherine and intended betrothed of her cousin Mr. Darcy, suffers from some infirmity. A gently humorous running joke has the proud mother describing extraordinary talents her daughter would have possessed had she applied herself.
Another nephew of Lady Catherine and friend and cousin of Mr. Darcy. He is attracted to Elizabeth Bennet, but is not wealthy enough to consider her seriously as a spouse.
The intelligent, level-headed younger brother of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Philips. He is in trade in London.
Wife of Mr. Gardiner and the favourite aunt of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet.
Sister of Mrs. Bennet. She has the same silly character as Lydia and often indulges her schemes.
Artistic depictions of and related to Pride and Prejudice
- See main article: List of artistic depictions of and related to Pride and Prejudice
Film, television, and theatrical adaptations
Pride and Prejudice has engendered numerous adaptations. Some of the notable film versions include Pride & Prejudice (2005 film) starring Keira Knightley and Pride and Prejudice (1940 film) starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Notable television versions include Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV serial) starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, as well as a BBC adaptation Pride and Prejudice (1980 TV serial) starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. First Impressions is a Broadway musical version.
Related works of film and literature
Pride and Prejudice has inspired a number of other works. Bride and Prejudice is a Bollywood adaptation of the novel while Pride and Prejudice (2003 film) places the novel in contemporary times. Books inspired by Pride and Prejudice include Mr. Darcy's Daughters (novel) and Pemberley : Or Pride & Prejudice Continued by Emma Tennant. The novel Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (and the film made of it) was also directly inspired by Pride and Prejudice.
Awards and nominations
- In 2003 the BBC conducted the largest ever poll for the "UK's Best-Loved Book" in which Pride and Prejudice came second, behind The Lord of the Rings.
- Chronology/Calendar for Pride and Prejudice
- Pride and Prejudice, available freely at Project Gutenberg
- Pride and Prejudice, online at Ye Olde Library
- Pride and Prejudice PDF eBook
- Free audiobook from LibriVox
- Filmography of Jane Austen Adaptations
- Pride & Prejudice timeline
- Free typeset PDF ebook of Pride and Prejudice, optimized for printing at home
- List and map of real and imaginary places in Pride and Prejudice