The novel opens with Mrs Bennet trying to persuade Mr Bennet to visit an eligible bachelor, Mr Bingley, who has arrived in the neighborhood. After some verbal sparring with Mr Bennet baiting his wife, it transpires that this visit has taken place at Netherfield (Mr Bingley's rented house). The visit is followed by an invitation to a ball at the local assembly rooms that the whole neighborhood will attend.
At the ball, Mr Bingley is open and cheerful, popular with all the guests, and appears to be very attracted to the beautiful Miss Bennet. His friend, Mr Darcy, is reputed to be twice as wealthy; however, he is haughty and aloof. He declines to dance with Elizabeth suggesting that she is not pretty enough to tempt him. She finds this amusing and jokes about the statement with her friends. Miss Jane Bennet also attracts the attention of Mr Bingley's sister Caroline, who invites her to visit.
Jane visits Miss Bingley and is caught in a rain shower on the way, catching a serious cold. Elizabeth, out of genuine concern for her sister's well being, visits her sister there. This is the point at which Darcy begins to see the attraction of Elizabeth, and Miss Bingley is shown to be jealous of Elizabeth since she wants to marry Darcy herself.
Mr Collins, a cousin of Mr Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, visits the Bennet family. He is a pompous and obsequious clergyman because he expects each of the Bennet girls to wish to marry him due to his inheritance. He plans to propose to Elizabeth over Jane as he is led to believe Jane is taken.
Elizabeth and her family meet the dashing and charming Mr Wickham who singles out Elizabeth and tells her a story of the hardship that Mr Darcy has caused him by depriving him of a living (position as clergyman in a prosperous parish with good revenue that once granted, is for life) promised to him by Mr Darcy's late father. Elizabeth's dislike of Mr Darcy is confirmed.
At a ball at which Mr Wickham is not present, Elizabeth dances with Mr Darcy rather against her will. Other than Jane and Elizabeth, all the members of the Bennet family show their lack of decorum. Mrs Bennet states loudly that she expects Jane and Bingley to become engaged and each member of the family exposes the whole to ridicule.
The following morning, Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She rejects him to the fury of her mother and the relief of her father. They receive news that the Bingleys are leaving for London, and that Mr Collins has proposed to Charlotte Lucas, a sensible lady and Elizabeth's friend. She is slightly older and is grateful to receive a proposal that will guarantee her a home. Elizabeth is aghast at such pragmatism in matters of love.
Jane goes to visit her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner at an unfashionable address in London. Miss Bingley clearly does not want to continue the friendship and Jane is upset though very composed.
In the spring, Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are frequently invited to Rosings Park, the imposing home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Catherine is Mr Darcy's aunt and extremely wealthy. She expects Mr Darcy to marry her daughter. Mr Darcy and his cousin, Colonel FitzWilliam, visit Lady Catherine. Colonel FitzWilliam tells Elizabeth how Mr Darcy managed to save a friend from a bad match by convincing the friend of the lady's indifference. Elizabeth is horrified at Darcy's involvement in an affair which has caused her sister so much pain. Mr Darcy, however, has fallen in love with Elizabeth and proposes to her. She rejects him, stating that she could not love a man who has caused her sister such unhappiness, and accuses him of treating Mr Wickham unjustly. Mr Darcy accuses her family of wanting propriety and suggests he has been kinder to Bingley than himself. Both are furious and they part barely speaking.
The following morning, Mr Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter that explains that his treatment of Mr Wickham was caused by the fact that Mr Wickham refused the Living and was compensated economically, but then proceeded to waste all the money and then, impoverished, demanded the Living again with threats. After being refused, he tried to elope with Darcy's 15-year-old sister Georgiana for her great dowry, as Colonel FitzWilliam could also attest. He also claimed that he believed that Miss Bennet who, despite her amiability, is actually a bit reserved, did not love Mr Bingley. Darcy apologises for hurting Jane and Elizabeth begins to rejudge Mr Darcy on a clearer basis.
Some months later, Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner visit Darcy's estate in Derbyshire, Pemberley. While there Elizabeth hears an account of him from the housekeeper as being kind and generous. When Mr Darcy returns unexpectedly, he is overwhelmingly kind and civil and invites Elizabeth and the Gardiner's to meet his sister and go fishing. Elizabeth is surprised and delighted by the kindness to herself and her aunt and uncle. However, she suddenly has news from Longbourne that her sister Lydia had eloped with Mr Wickham. She tells Mr Darcy immediately and departs in haste, believing she will never see him again as Lydia's disgrace would ruin the family's good name.
After an agonizing wait, Mr Wickham is persuaded to marry Lydia with only the payment of debts required. With some degree of decency restored, Lydia visits Elizabeth and tells her that Mr Darcy was at the wedding. Mrs Gardiner informs Elizabeth that it is Mr Darcy who has made the match and hints that he may have a motive for doing so.
At this point, Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy return to Netherfield. Bingley proposes to Jane and is accepted, much to the delight of all. Lady Catherine visits Elizabeth under the impression that she is going to marry Mr Darcy, Elizabeth refuses to deny this claim and Lady Catherine leaves outraged by her perceived insolence. Darcy and Elizabeth go for a walk together and they become engaged. Elizabeth then has to convince her father that she is not marrying for money, and it is only after she speaks about Mr Darcy's true worth that he is happy about the wedding.
Elizabeth Darcy (née Bennet): The reader sees the unfolding plot and the other characters mostly from her viewpoint. The second of the Bennet daughters, she is twenty years old and is intelligent, lively, playful, attractive, and witty—but with a tendency to judge on first impression (the "prejudice" of the title) and perhaps to be a little selective of the evidence on which she bases her judgments. As the plot begins, her closest relationships are with her father, her sister Jane, her aunt Mrs Gardiner, and her best friend Charlotte Lucas. As the story progresses, so does her relationship with Mr Darcy. The course of Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship is ultimately decided when Darcy overcomes his pride, and Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice, leading them both to surrender to their love for each other.
Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, Esquire is initially presented as the wealthy friend of Mr Bingley. A newcomer to the village, he is ultimately Elizabeth Bennet's love interest. Mr Darcy is the twenty-eight year old wealthy owner of the renowned family estate of Pemberley in Derbyshire, and is rumoured to be worth at least £10,000 a year. This is equivalent to anywhere from around £200,000 ($290,120 USD) a year to around £10 million ($14.5 million USD) a year in 2014, depending on the method of calculation, but such an income would have put him among the 400 wealthiest families in the country at the time, also meaning that the inheritance he has from his family's accumulated fortune totals £200,000 minimum (likewise, Mr Bingley's inheritance totals £100,000, giving him £5,000 a year from the interest).
While being handsome, tall, and intelligent, Darcy lacks the ease and social graces that comes so naturally to his closest friend, Charles Bingley, his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, and even to his former childhood friend-turned-antagonist George Wickham (who abuses them). Others frequently mistake his aloof decorum and rectitude as further proof of excessive pride (which, in part, it is; thus he is often considered the "pride" of the title). While he makes a poor first impression on strangers, such as the landed gentry of Meryton, Darcy is greatly valued by those who know him well.
As the novel progresses, Darcy and Elizabeth are repeatedly forced into each other's company, resulting in each altering their feelings for the other through better acquaintance and changes in environment. At the end of the work, both overcome their differences and first impressions to fall in love with each other.
Mr Bennet, Esquire is a late-middle-aged landed gentleman of a modest income of £2000 per annum, and the patriarch of the now-dwindling Bennet family (a family of Hertfordshire landed gentry), with five unmarried daughters (at the beginning of the story); Jane, Elizabeth ("Lizzy"/"Eliza"), Mary, Catherine ("Kitty"), and Lydia Bennet. Mr Bennet is described in his first appearance in the book as "so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character", and this ironic, sarcastic, cynical sense of humour irritates his wife. Though his indolent parenting style and manners are suggested to be questionable at several times in the novel, he loves his daughters (Elizabeth in particular), and ultimately, Mr Bennet blames himself for having been insufficiently disciplining with his daughters, which ultimately had enabled Lydia to run away with Mr Wickham, (and nor does he resent Elizabeth for her having advised him against letting Lydia go to Brighton with Colonel Forster's regiment as the newly married Mrs Forster's "particular friend" in the first place).
Although Mr Bennet possesses inherited property, the estate of Longbourn, the estate is entailed, that is, it can only pass to male heirs, so Mr Bennet's daughters will not inherit the estate upon his death. In addition, having allowed his income to be spent frivolously by his wife, he has failed to put aside money for his daughters' dowries, and therefore all that his five daughters will be left on his death is a 1/5 share of their mother's dowry). Mr Bennet's current heir presumptive is a distant second cousin of sorts, Mr William Collins (the son of a late distant cousin of Mr Bennet's).
Later in the story (Volume 2, Chapter 19), it is revealed by the narrator that Mr Bennet had married his wife based on an initial and rather superficial attraction to her ("[Mr Bennet], captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in the marriage put an end to any real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence, had vanished for ever; and all of his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate of their folly or vice.") It is safe to say that, when he speaks of "[living] for making sport for [one's] neighbours, and laughing at them in our turn", he is also saying the same of himself and his folly, for having married Mrs Bennet in the first place.
Mrs Bennet (née Gardiner) is the middle-aged wife of her social superior, Mr Bennet, and the mother of their five daughters; Jane, Elizabeth ("Lizzy"/"Eliza"), Mary, Catherine ("Kitty"), and Lydia Bennet. Mrs Bennet is shameless, childish, frivolous, excitable, temperamental, officious, indecorous, greedy and grasping, illogical, loquacious, invasive, artless, and attention seeking. She is a hypochondriac, who imagines herself susceptible to attacks of tremors and palpitations ("[her] poor nerves"), whenever she is displeased because things are not going her way. She is very much a child still, emotionally, but in an adult's body.
Her public manners and social-climbing are a source of constant embarrassment to both Jane and Elizabeth. Her pastimes are shopping, 'socializing', and gossiping & boasting. Her favourite daughter is her youngest, Lydia, who takes very much after her younger self. Next she values her eldest, Jane, though only for Jane's great physical beauty, and never considers Jane's feelings, virtue or reputation. Her least-favourite daughter is Elizabeth (closely followed by Mary) whom she does not understand at all.
Her main ambition in life is to marry her daughters off to wealthy men. Whether or not any such matches will give her daughters happiness is of little concern to her.
Jane Bingley (née Bennet) is the eldest Bennet sister. Twenty-two years old when the novel begins, she is considered the most beautiful young lady in the neighbourhood. Her character is contrasted with Elizabeth's as sweeter, shyer, and equally sensible, but not as clever; her most notable trait is a desire to see only the good in others. As Anna Quindlen wrote, Jane is "sugar to Elizabeth's lemonade". Jane is closest to Elizabeth, and her character is often contrasted with that of Elizabeth's.
She falls in love with Charles Bingley, a rich young gentleman recently moved to Hertfordshire and a close friend of Mr Darcy. Their love is initially thwarted by Mr Darcy and Caroline Bingley, who are concerned about Jane's low situation in society, and have other plans for Bingley. Mr Darcy, aided by Elizabeth, eventually sees the error of his ways, and is instrumental in bringing Jane and Bingley back together.
Mary Bennet is the only plain Bennet sister, and rather than join in some of the family activities, she mostly reads and plays music, although she is often impatient to display her accomplishments and is rather vain about them. She does work hard for knowledge and accomplishment, but has neither genius nor taste. Like her two younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, she is seen as being silly by Mr Bennet. Mary is not very intelligent but thinks of herself as being wise. When Mr Collins is refused by Elizabeth, Mrs Bennet hopes Mary may be prevailed upon to accept him and we are led to believe that Mary too has some hopes in this direction, but neither of them knows that he is already engaged to Charlotte Lucas by this time. Mary does not appear often in the novel. She is said to be the "sister of Elizabeth Bennet who prefers to reason than feel."
According to James Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen, Mary ended up marrying one of her Uncle Philips' law clerks (name not mentioned), and moving into Meryton with him.
Catherine "Kitty" Bennet is the fourth daughter at 17 years old. Though older than Lydia, she is her shadow and she follows her in pursuits of the 'Officers' of the regiment. She appears but little, although she is often portrayed as envious of Lydia and also a "silly" young woman. However, it is said that she has improved by the end of the novel.
According to James Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen, Kitty later married a clergyman (name not mentioned) who lived near Pemberley/Derbyshire.
Lydia Wickham (née Bennet) is the youngest Bennet sister, aged 15 when the novel begins. She is frivolous and headstrong. Her main activity in life is socializing, especially flirting with the officers of the militia. This leads to her running off with George Wickham, although he has no intention of marrying her. She dominates her older sister Kitty and is supported in the family by her mother. Lydia shows no regard for the moral code of her society as Ashley Tauchert says "Lydia who feels without reasoning." She feels no remorse for the disgrace she causes her family.
Charles Bingley, Esquire is a handsome, affable, amiable, good-natured and wealthy young gentleman (a parvenu/nouveau riche) of 23-years-old at the beginning of the novel, who leases Netherfield Park, an estate 3 miles from Longbourn, with the hopes of purchasing it. The Bingleys are a respectable family with roots in the north of England, their entire fortune is derived from trade; Charles Bingley's late father, Mr Bingley Sr., wished to purchase an estate in order to raise his family to the ranks of the gentry, but died before he could do so, so his only son, Charles (inheriting his father's £100,000 fortune, giving him an income of £5,000 per annum from the Interest), seeks to make this wish a reality by buying his own country manor and surrounding estate. At the beginning of the novel, Charles Bingley is leasing Netherfield Park with the hope that it will prove perfect for his plans. He is contrasted with his friend Mr Darcy as being more kind and more charming, and having more generally pleasing manners, although not quite so clever and experienced. He lacks resolve and is easily influenced by others (practically led around the nose by his sisters); his two sisters, Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs Louisa Hurst, both disapprove of Bingley's growing affection for Miss Jane Bennet
Caroline Bingley is the vainglorious, snobbish sister of Charles Bingley, with a dowry of £20,000 (giving her an additional Interest of £1000 per annum from her £20,000 inheritance). Miss Bingley harbours designs upon Mr Darcy, and therefore is jealous of his growing attachment to Elizabeth. She attempts to dissuade Mr Darcy from liking Elizabeth by ridiculing the Bennet family and criticising Elizabeth's comportment. Miss Bingley also disapproves of her brother's esteem for Jane Bennet, and it is acknowledged later that she, with Darcy's agreement, attempted to separate the couple, both by attempting to dissuade Jane of the attachment and by concealing from her brother Jane's presence in London. Jane, who is always determined not to find fault with anybody, is finally forced to admit that she had been deceived in thinking she had a genuine friendship with Caroline Bingley, the realisation of which she relays to Elizabeth in a letter.
She is described in the novel, along with her sister, as a "fine women, with an air of decided fashion", and also disdainful of society in Meryton, Hertfordshire ("[Louisa (and Caroline's)] behaviour at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgment, too, unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them. They were in fact very fine ladies, not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of £20,000, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.").
George Wickham has been acquainted with Mr Darcy since infancy, being the son of Mr Darcy's father's steward. An officer in the militia, he is superficially charming and rapidly forms an attachment with Elizabeth Bennet. He spreads tales about the wrongs Mr Darcy has done him, adding to the local society's prejudice, but eventually he is found to have been the wrongdoer himself. He runs off with Lydia, with no intention of marrying her, which would have resulted in her complete disgrace, but for Darcy's intervention to bribe Wickham to marry her by paying off his immediate debts.
Mr/Rev. William Collins, aged 25 years old as the novel begins, is Mr Bennet's distant second cousin, a clergyman, and the current heir presumptive to his estate of Longbourn House. His physical appearance is described as being "tall, heavy looking young man of five and twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal".
Born to a father, Mr Collins Sr. (deceased), who is described as an "illiterate and miserly father", the 'subjection' in which his father had brought him up in had "originally given him great humility of manner". However, this characteristic has now been "now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head", and replaced with arrogance and vanity due to "early and unexpected prosperity"; this early prosperity having come by chance, at the hands of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, when a vacancy arose for the Living of the Hunsford parish, "and the respect which he felt for her high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility", and "conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man".
Elizabeth's rejection of Mr Collins's marriage proposal is welcomed by her father, regardless of the financial benefit to the family of such a match. Mr Collins then marries Elizabeth's friend, Charlotte Lucas. Mr Collins is usually considered to be the foil to Mr Darcy, who is grave and serious, and acts with propriety at all times. On the other hand, Mr Collins acts with impropriety and exaggerated humility, which offers some comedic relief.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh (née Fitzwilliam), the daughter and sister of an earl and widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh (either a Knight or a Baronet), of Rosings Park, Hunsford, Kent (their daughter is Miss Anne de Bourgh), and who possesses wealth and social standing from birth and by marriage, is haughty, pompous, domineering, and condescending, (although her manner is seen by some as entirely proper and even admirable; Mr Collins, for example, is shown to admire these characteristics by deferring to her opinions and desires). She "likes to have the distinction of rank preserved". Elizabeth, by contrast, is duly respectful, but not intimidated. Lady Catherine's nephew, Mr Darcy, is embarrassed by her lack of manners, especially towards Elizabeth, and he later courts her disapproval by marrying Elizabeth in spite of her numerous objections, Lady Catherine having long since planned to marry-off her own sickly daughter, Anne, to Darcy, to 'unite their two great estates', claiming it to be the dearest wish of both her AND her late sister, Lady Anne Darcy (née Fitzwilliam).
Mr E. and Mrs M. Gardiner: Edward Gardiner is Mrs Bennet's brother and a successful tradesman of sensible and gentlemanly character. Aunt Gardiner (her first name, though never revealed, is hinted at in a letter she wrote to Elizabeth, she signs it off as "M. Gardiner") is close to her nieces Jane and Elizabeth. Jane stays with the Gardiners in London for a period, and Elizabeth travels with them to Derbyshire, where she again meets Mr Darcy. The Gardiners are quick in their perception of an attachment between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, and judge him without prejudice. They are both actively involved in helping Mr Darcy arrange the marriage between Lydia and Mr Wickham.
Georgiana Darcy is Mr Darcy's quiet, amiable (and shy) younger sister, with a dowry of £30,000 (giving her an additional Interest of £1500 per annum from her £30,000 inheritance), and aged barely 16-years-old when the story begins. When still 15, Miss Darcy almost eloped with Mr Wickham, having been made to believe that the two of them were in-love, who in reality sought her out for her £30,000 dowry. Miss Darcy is first introduced to Elizabeth at Pemberley and is later delighted at the prospect of becoming her sister-in-law. Georgiana is extremely timid and gets embarrassed fairly easily. She idolises her brother, Mr Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy), and the two share an extremely close sibling bond, much like Jane and Elizabeth. Thanks to years of tutorage under masters, she is accomplished at the piano, singing, playing the harp, and drawing, and modern languages. She is also very modest.
Charlotte Collins (née Lucas) is Elizabeth's friend who, at 27 years old (and thus past prime marriage age), fears becoming a burden to her family and therefore agrees to marry Mr Collins, whom she does not love and who had merely a few days previously proposed to Elizabeth, to gain financial security. Though the novel stresses the importance of love and understanding in marriage (as seen in the anticipated success of Elizabeth–Darcy relationship), Austen never seems to condemn Charlotte's decision to marry for money. Austen uses Lucas as the common voice of early 19th Century society's views on relationships and marriage. Austen uses Charlotte to convey how women of her time would adhere to society's expectation for women to marry even if it is not out of love, but convenience. She is the daughter of Sir William Lucas and Lady Lucas, friends of Mrs Bennet.
Louisa Hurst (née Bingley) is the older sister to Caroline Bingley and Charles Bingley, and wife of Mr Hurst, coming into the marriage with a £20,000 dowry (giving her an additional Interest of £1000 per annum from her £20,000 inheritance). She is described in the novel, along with her sister, as a "fine women, with an air of decided fashion", and also disdainful of society in Meryton, Hertfordshire ("[Louisa (and Caroline's)] behaviour at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgment, too, unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them. They were in fact very fine ladies, not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of £20,000, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade."). She is (arguably) the nicer of the two sisters, but like Caroline, she does not encourage her brother's admiration of Jane Bennet because of her lack of connections, placing her (and Caroline's) personal chances of social advancement over her brother's happiness, and co-conspired with Caroline and Mr Darcy to keep Charles and Jane apart.
Mr Hurst is the husband of Louisa Hurst, and thus the brother-in-law of Charles Bingley and Caroline Bingley. He is described as 'a man of more fashion than fortune' (although his social status and consequences are never elaborated upon this, whenever his background was originally in trade like his wife's, etc., although he would have to have a sufficiently large enough fortune in to order to entice the then-Miss Louisa Bingley into marrying him), and as an indolent man, often drunk, who lives only to eat, sleep/pass-out drunk, drink, and play at cards, and who, upon hearing Miss Elizabeth Bennet say that she prefers a plain dish of fresh fruit over a heavily seasoned ragout dish, has nothing to say.
Mr Philips is an attorney and has a practice in and lives in Meryton which he inherited from his late father-in-law, having formerly been one of his law clerks before marrying his boss's daughter. Mrs Philips (née Gardiner) is much like her sister Mrs Bennet, silly, unintelligent, and a gossip. Like her sister, Mrs Bennet, Mrs Phillips will have inherited a £4,000 dowry from her father. She often entertains her nieces and other guests in her parlour at her and her husband's residence in Meryton.
Many critics take the novel's title as a starting point when analysing the major themes of Pride and Prejudice; however, Robert Fox cautions against reading too much into the title because commercial factors may have played a role in its selection. "After the success of Sense and Sensibility, nothing would have seemed more natural than to bring out another novel of the same author using again the formula of antithesis and alliteration for the title. It should be pointed out that the qualities of the title are not exclusively assigned to one or the other of the protagonists; both Elizabeth and Darcy display pride and prejudice." The title is very likely taken from a passage in Fanny Burney's popular 1782 novel Cecilia, a novel Austen is known to have admired:
A major theme in much of Austen's work is the importance of environment and upbringing on the development of young people's character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world, and a further theme common to Austen's work is ineffectual parents. In Pride and Prejudice, the failure of Mr and Mrs Bennet as parents is blamed for Lydia's lack of moral judgment; Darcy, on the other hand, has been taught to be principled and scrupulously honourable, but he is also proud and overbearing. Kitty, rescued from Lydia's bad influence and spending more time with her older sisters after they marry, is said to improve greatly in their superior society. American novelist Anna Quindlen observed, in an introduction to an edition of Austen's novel in 1995:
The opening line of the novel announces: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." This sets marriage as a central subject—and really, a central problem—for the novel generally. Readers are poised to question whether or not these single men are, in fact, in want of a wife, or if such desires are dictated by the "neighborhood" families and their daughters who require a "good fortune". Marriage is a complex social activity that takes political economy, and economy more generally, into account. In the case of Charlotte Lucas, for example, the seeming success of the marriage lies in the comfortable economy of their household, while the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet serves to illustrate bad marriages based on an initial attraction and surface over substance (economic and psychological). The Bennets' marriage is one such example that the youngest Bennet, Lydia, will come to re-enact with Wickham, and the results are far from felicitous. Though the central characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, begin the novel as hostile acquaintances and unlikely friends, they eventually work to understand each other and themselves so that they can marry each other on compatible terms personally, even if their "equal" social status remains fraught. When Elizabeth rejects Darcy's first proposal, the argument of only marrying when one is in love is introduced. Elizabeth only accepts Darcy's proposal when she is certain she loves him and her feelings are reciprocated. Austen's complex sketching of different marriages ultimately allows readers to question what forms of alliance are desirable, especially when it comes to privileging economic, sexual, companionate attraction.
Money plays a key role in the marriage market, not only for the young ladies seeking a well-off husband, but also for men who wish to marry a woman of means. Two examples are George Wickham, who tried to elope with Georgiana Darcy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Marrying a woman of a rich family also ensured a linkage to a high family as is visible in the desires of Bingley's sisters to have their brother married to Georgiana Darcy. Mrs Bennet is seen encouraging her daughters to marry a wealthy man of high social class, an example of this is seen in chapter 1 when Mr.Bingley arrives she says "I am thinking of his marrying one of them."
Inheritance was by descent, but could be further restricted by entailment, which would restrict inheritance to male heirs only. In the case of the Bennet family, Mr Collins was to inherit the family farm upon Mr Bennet's death and his proposal to Elizabeth would have allowed her to have a share. Nevertheless, she refused his offer. Inheritance laws benefited males because most women did not have independent legal rights until the second half of the 19th century. As a consequence, women's financial security at the time the novel is set depended on men. For the upper middle and aristocratic classes, marriage to a man with a reliable income was almost the only route to security for the woman and her future children. Ironically, the text opens with the line "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife". This is ironic as generally within this society it would be a woman who would be looking for a wealthy husband in order to have prosperous life.
Even as Austen is known for her "romances", almost all of the marriages that take place in her novels engage with some form or another of the economic concerns involved in the matches. Pride and Prejudice is hardly the exception. When Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, he cites their economic and social differences as an obstacle his excessive love has had to overcome, though he still anxiously harps on the problems it poses for him within his social circle. His aunt, Lady Catherine, later characterizes these differences in particularly harsh terms when she conveys what Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy will become: "Will the shades of Pemberley be thus polluted?" Though Elizabeth responds to Lady Catherine's accusations that hers is a potentially contaminating economic and social position (Elizabeth even insists she and Darcy are "equals"), Lady Catherine refuses to accept Darcy's actual marriage to Elizabeth even as the novel closes.
Meanwhile, the Bingleys present a particular problem for navigating social class. Though Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst behave and speak of others as if they have always belonged in the upper echelons of society, Austen makes a point to explain that the Bingleys acquired their wealth by trade rather than through the gentry's and aristocracy's methods of inheriting estates and making money off their tenants as landlords. The fact that Bingley rents Netherfield Hall—it is, after all, "to let"—distinguishes him significantly from Darcy, whose estate belonged to his father's family, and who, through his mother, is the grandson and nephew of an Earl. Bingley, unlike Darcy, does not own his property, but he has portable and growing wealth that makes him a good catch on the marriage market for daughters of the gentility, like Jane Bennet, who have the social status—they're of "good family"—but require money to stake a claim to being quasi-aristocrats. Class plays a central role in the evolution of the characters, and Jane Austen's radical approach to class is seen as the plot unfolds.
In addition, there is an undercurrent of the old Anglo-Norman upper class hinted at in the story, as suggested by the names of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Fitzwilliam, D'Arcy, and de Bourgh (Burke) are all traditional Norman surnames.
Elizabeth and Darcy were not born a great match. It is through their interactions and their critiques of each other that they recognise their faults and work to correct them. Elizabeth meditates on her own mistakes thoroughly in chapter 36:
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried; "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself."
Other characters are unable of this type of self-reflection and don't have the capacity or experience to correct themselves. Tanner (1986) in his essay notes that Mrs Bennet in particular, "has a very limited view of the requirements of that performance; lacking any introspective tendencies she is incapable of appreciating the feelings of others and is only aware of material objects." Mrs Bennet's behaviour reflects the society in which she lives as she knows that her daughters will not succeed if they don't get married. "The business of her life was to get her daughters married: it's solace was visiting and news" This proves that the Mrs Bennet is only aware of "material objects" and not of her own feelings and emotions.
Pride and Prejudice, like most of Austen's other works, employs the narrative technique of free indirect speech, which has been defined as "the free representation of a character's speech, by which one means, not words actually spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character's thoughts, or the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke". Austen creates her characters with fully developed personalities and unique voices. Though Darcy and Bennet are very alike, they are also considerably different. By using narrative that adopts the tone and vocabulary of a particular character (in this case, Elizabeth), Austen invites the reader to follow events from Elizabeth's viewpoint, sharing her prejudices and misapprehensions. "The learning curve, while undergone by both protagonists, is disclosed to us solely through Elizabeth's point of view and her free indirect speech is essential ... for it is through it that we remain caught, if not stuck, within Elizabeth's misprisions." The few times the reader is allowed to gain further knowledge of another character's feelings, is through the letters exchanged in this novel. Darcy's first letter to Elizabeth is an example of this as through his letter, the reader and Elizabeth are both given knowledge of Wickham's true character. Austen is known to use irony throughout the novel especially from viewpoint of the character of Elizabeth Bennet. She conveys the "oppressive rules of feminity that actually dominate her life and work, and are covered by her beautifully carved trojan horse of ironic distance.". Beginning with a historical investigation of the development of a particular literary form and then transitioning into empirical verifications, it reveals FID as a tool that emerged over time as practical means for addressing the physical distinctness of minds. Seen in this way, FID is a distinctly literary response to an environmental concern, providing a scientific justification that does not reduce literature to a mechanical extension of biology, but takes its value to be its own original form.
Austen began writing the novel after staying at Goodnestone Park in Kent with her brother Edward and his wife in 1796. It was originally titled First Impressions, and was written between October 1796 and August 1797. On 1 November 1797 Austen's father sent a letter to London bookseller Thomas Cadell to ask if he had any interest in seeing the manuscript, but the offer was declined by return post.
Austen made significant revisions to the manuscript for First Impressions between 1811 and 1812. As nothing remains of the original manuscript, we are reduced to conjecture. From the large number of letters in the final novel, it is assumed that First Impressions was an epistolary novel. She later renamed the story Pride and Prejudice. In renaming the novel, Austen probably had in mind the "sufferings and oppositions" summarised in the final chapter of Fanny Burney's Cecilia, called "Pride and Prejudice", where the phrase appears three times in block capitals. It is possible that the novel's original title was altered to avoid confusion with other works. In the years between the completion of First Impressions and its revision into Pride and Prejudice, two other works had been published under that name: a novel by Margaret Holford and a comedy by Horace Smith.
Austen sold the copyright for the novel to Thomas Egerton from the Military Library, Whitehall in exchange for £110 (Austen had asked for £150). This proved a costly decision. Austen had published Sense and Sensibility on a commission basis, whereby she indemnified the publisher against any losses and received any profits, less costs and the publisher's commission. Unaware that Sense and Sensibility would sell out its edition, making her £140, she passed the copyright to Egerton for a one-off payment, meaning that all the risk (and all the profits) would be his. Jan Fergus has calculated that Egerton subsequently made around £450 from just the first two editions of the book.
Egerton published the first edition of Pride and Prejudice in three hardcover volumes on 27 January 1813. It was advertised in the Morning Chronicle, priced at 18s. Favourable reviews saw this edition sold out, with a second edition published in November that year. A third edition was published in 1817.
Foreign language translations first appeared in 1813 in French; subsequent translations were published in German, Danish, and Swedish. Pride and Prejudice was first published in the United States in August 1832 as Elizabeth Bennet or, Pride and Prejudice. The novel was also included in Richard Bentley's Standard Novel series in 1833. R W Chapman's scholarly edition of Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1923, has become the standard edition on which many modern published versions of the novel are based.
The novel was originally published without Austen's name. It was instead written 'By the Author of Sense and Sensibility'. This carried responsibility for Austen, unlike when 'Sense and Sensibility' was released as being written 'By A Lady'.
The novel was well received, with three favourable reviews in the first months following publication. Anne Isabella Milbanke, later to be the wife of Lord Byron, called it "the fashionable novel". Noted critic and reviewer George Henry Lewes declared that he "would rather have written Pride and Prejudice, or Tom Jones, than any of the Waverley Novels".
Charlotte Brontë, however, in a letter to Lewes, wrote that Pride and Prejudice was a disappointment, "a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but ... no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck".In 2003 the BBC conducted a poll for the "UK's Best-Loved Book" in which Pride and Prejudice came second, behind The Lord of the Rings.
In a 2008 survey of more than 15,000 Australian readers, Pride and Prejudice came first in a list of the 101 best books ever written.
The 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice on 28 January 2013 was celebrated around the globe by media networks such as the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the Daily Telegraph, among others.
Pride and Prejudice has engendered numerous adaptations. Some of the notable film versions include that of 1940, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier (based in part on Helen Jerome's 1936 stage adaptation) and that of 2005, starring Keira Knightley (an Oscar-nominated performance) and Matthew Macfadyen. Notable television versions include two by the BBC: a 1980 version starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul and the popular 1995 version, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
A 1936 stage version was created by Helen Jerome played at the St. James's Theatre in London, starring Celia Johnson and Hugh Williams. First Impressions was a 1959 Broadway musical version starring Polly Bergen, Farley Granger, and Hermione Gingold. In 1995, a musical concept album was written by Bernard J. Taylor, with Claire Moore in the role of Elizabeth Bennet and Peter Karrie in the role of Mr Darcy. A new stage production, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, The New Musical, was presented in concert on 21 October 2008 in Rochester, New York, with Colin Donnell as Darcy.
The novel has inspired a number of other works that are not direct adaptations. Books inspired by Pride and Prejudice include the following: Mr. Darcy's Daughters and The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston; Darcy's Story (a best seller) and Dialogue with Darcy by Janet Aylmer; Pemberley: Or Pride and Prejudice Continued and An Unequal Marriage: Or Pride and Prejudice Twenty Years Later by Emma Tennant; The Book of Ruth by Helen Baker (author); Jane Austen Ruined My Life and Mr Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo; Precipitation – A Continuation of Miss Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Helen Baker (author); Searching for Pemberley by Mary Simonsen and Mr Darcy Takes a Wife and its sequel Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberly by Linda Berdoll.
In Gwyn Cready's comedic romance novel, Seducing Mr Darcy, the heroine lands in Pride and Prejudice by way of magic massage, has a fling with Darcy and unknowingly changes the rest of the story.
Abigail Reynolds is the author of 7 Regency-set variations on Pride and Prejudice. Her Pemberley Variations series includes Mr Darcy's Obsession, To Conquer Mr Darcy, What Would Mr Darcy Do and Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World. Her modern adaptation, The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice, is set on Cape Cod.
Helen Fielding's 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary is also based on Pride and Prejudice and spawned a feature film of the same name, released in 2001.
In March 2009, Quirk Books released Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which takes Austen's actual, original work and mashes it up with zombie hordes, cannibalism, ninja and ultraviolent mayhem. In March 2010, Quirk Books published a prequel that deals with Elizabeth Bennet's early days as a zombie hunter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. In 2016, a movie of the aforementioned contemporary literature adaptation was released starring Lily James and Matt Smith.
In 2011, author Mitzi Szereto expanded on the novel in Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, a historical sex parody that parallels the original plot and writing style of Jane Austen.
Marvel has also published their take on this classic by releasing a short comic series of five issues that stays true to the original storyline. The first issue was published on 1 April 2009 and was written by Nancy Hajeski. It was published as a graphic novel in 2010 with artwork by Hugo Petrus.
Pamela Aidan is the author of a trilogy of books telling the story of Pride and Prejudice from Mr Darcy's point of view: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. The books are An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire and These Three Remain.
Detective novel author P.D. James has written a book titled Death Comes to Pemberley, which is a murder mystery set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage.
Sandra Lerner's sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Second Impressions, develops the story and imagined what might have happened to the original novel's characters. It is written in the style of Austen after extensive research into the period and language and published in 2011 under the pen name of Ava Farmer.
Jo Baker's 2013 novel Longbourn imagines the lives of the servants of Pride and Prejudice.
Curtis Sittenfeld set the characters of Pride and Prejudice in modern-day Cincinnati, where the Bennet parents, erstwhile Cincinnati social climbers, have fallen on hard times. Elizabeth, a successful and independent New York journalist, and her single older sister Jane must intervene to salvage the family's financial situation and get their unemployed adult sisters to move out of the house and onward in life. In the process they encounter Chip Bingley, a young doctor and reluctant reality TV celebrity, and his medical school classmate, Fitzwilliam Darcy, a cynical neurosurgeon.
Pride and Prejudice has also inspired works of scientific writing. In 2010, scientists named a pheromone identified in male mouse urine darcin, after Mr Darcy, because it strongly attracted females. In 2016, a scientific paper published in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Diseases speculated that Mrs Bennet may have been a carrier of a rare genetic disease, explaining why the Bennets didn't have any sons, and why some of the Bennet sisters are so silly.