Pride and Prejudice Novel Summary and Themes

 Pride and Prejudice Novel Summary and Theme

Mrs. Bennet hopes Mr. Bingley, a wealthy young bachelor who has just moved to a large nearby estate called Netherfield, will marry one of her five daughters. The Bennet family meets Bingley and his party at a ball in the town of Meryton.

Bingley is amiable and friendly, and he and Jane, the oldest daughter, form an instant attachment. His sisters, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, are haughty and superior. Mr. Darcy, a friend of Mr. Bingley’s, refuses to dance with anyone outside his party. At one point, Elizabeth, the second daughter of the Bennet family, overhears Darcy sneering that she is not attractive enough for him.

Jane and Bingley’s affection grows over time. Meanwhile, Darcy becomes begrudgingly attracted to Elizabeth. When Jane falls ill while visiting the Bingley sisters at Netherfield and is forced to stay several nights, Elizabeth is invited to stay with Jane. The Bingley sisters mock Elizabeth and Jane behind their backs, joking about the inferior social status of their relatives. Each night, Darcy and Elizabeth engage in witty banter, verbally sparing over a variety of topics. With every conversation, Darcy is more and more entranced by her intelligence. His attraction to Elizabeth frustrates Miss Bingley, who wants to marry him herself.

As he has no sons, Mr. Bennet’s estate, Longbourn, has been entailed to his cousin, Mr. Collins, who will inherit it after Mr. Bennet’s death. Mr. Collins, an obtuse, pompous clergyman, visits Longbourn, to meet the family. Mrs. Bennet is thrilled when she learns that Mr. Collins intends to marry one of her daughters because it will ensure Longbourn remain in her family.

The Bennet daughters enjoy going to Meryton, where a regiment of officers is stationed. There, they meet the handsome Mr. Wickham, who charms Elizabeth. Elizabeth is incensed by Wickham’s report that his father was Darcy’s father’s steward and that Darcy defied his father’s will by preventing Wickham from receiving a living in the clergy.

At a ball held at Netherfield, Elizabeth is surprised when Darcy asks her to dance. When she confronts him about having injured Wickham, Darcy suggests Wickham’s character isn’t what it appears. Throughout the night, her family’s brash behavior mortifies Elizabeth. The next day, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, and she vehemently declines, infuriating Mrs. Bennet.

Jane receives a letter from Miss Bingley stating that the whole party has left Netherfield for London and that she hopes Bingley will marry Darcy’s sister. Jane is disappointed, stating she must have misunderstood Bingley’s feelings; Elizabeth is livid, believing Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst think Jane isn’t good enough for their brother.

When Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas, accepts a proposal from Mr. Collins, Elizabeth is disappointed in Charlotte for settling in a marriage that could never make her happy. Charlotte, a plain woman of small fortune, assures her she seeks only financial security in marriage. After Charlotte and Mr. Collins marry, Elizabeth visits them at Hunsford. Mr. Collins is delighted to introduce Elizabeth to his haughty patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who happens to be Darcy’s aunt. Soon, Darcy arrives with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. During his stay, Darcy goes to great lengths to see Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is infuriated when Colonel Fitzwilliam reveals that Darcy intervened in Bingley and Jane’s romance. Later that day, Darcy visits Elizabeth, confesses his love, spells out his objections to her family, and asks for her hand in marriage. Disgusted, she rejects him, citing his insults to her family, his role in Jane’s unhappiness, and his ill treatment of Wickham. Stunned and angry, he leaves.

The next day, Darcy gives her a letter, in which he explains that he interfered in Bingley and Jane’s relationship because he believed Jane’s affection didn’t match Bingley’s. He also relates that Wickham turned down the living in the clergy and squandered his money, then attempted to elope with Darcy’s young sister. Elizabeth realizes Darcy is telling the truth and that she’s exhibited the same prejudice she’s accused him of.

Back home, Lydia, the flirtatious youngest Bennet daughter, goes with friends to Brighton, where the officers are now stationed. Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, take a trip to Derbyshire, where Darcy’s estate, Pemberley, is situated. At Pemberley, they meet Darcy’s housekeeper, who shares stories of his kindness and generosity. Reeling from this information, they explore the beautiful grounds until they encounter Darcy himself, who has come home earlier than expected. Elizabeth notices that his manner is gentler: he’s kind to her aunt and uncle, and he asks to introduce her to his sister. Darcy, his sister, and Bingley visit the next morning. Elizabeth likes Miss Darcy instantly and is happy that Bingley still loves Jane. She finds herself feeling more and more warmly toward Darcy.

When Elizabeth receives a letter from Jane informing her that Lydia has run away with Wickham, she is forced to confess the news to Darcy. She returns home, lamenting that he could never love her now. Mr. Gardiner goes to London to find Lydia and Wickham; the family hopes to make the couple marry to avoid the shame of them living together out of wedlock. After the wedding, Elizabeth learns Darcy paid Wickham’s large debts to convince him to marry Lydia. She is overwhelmed by his kindness and hopes he did it for her.

Bingley and Darcy return to Netherfield, and Bingley proposes to Jane. One day, Elizabeth is surprised to receive a visit from Lady Catherine, who says she’s heard that Elizabeth is going to marry Darcy and demands that she promise never to do so. Elizabeth refuses to make this promise. When Elizabeth next sees Darcy at Longbourn, she thanks him for helping Lydia, and the two confess their love. Darcy explains how he’d taken her criticism to heart and how his hope was revived when Lady Catherine told him Elizabeth had refused to promise she wouldn’t marry him.

Pride and Prejudice Novel Summary and Themes Once married, Elizabeth is glad to move to Pemberley, especially once Jane and Bingley move to an estate nearby. Lydia frequently appeals to Jane and Elizabeth for money. Miss Darcy lives at Pemberley, and she and Elizabeth become good friends. Elizabeth enjoys visits from Mr. Bennet and the Gardiners.

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Pride and Prejudice Character Analysis


As the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth has the most complex journey. Her observation is keen and her wit sharp, making her arguably Mr. Bennet’s favorite, a respite from his “silly and ignorant” other daughters. She has “a lively, playful disposition” and is “not formed for ill-humour [sic]”; she laughs off Darcy’s comment to Bingley that she is merely “tolerable”, and she quickly overcomes her sorrow when Wickham is absent from the Netherfield ball. When she is unable to convince her father to forbid Lydia from going to Brighton, she decides not “to fret over unavoidable evils,” for “it is not in her nature to increase her vexations by dwelling on them”. Her evenness of temper establishes her as dependable and rational, highlighting her grave error in relying on her emotions when judging Darcy and Wickham, the charismatic solider posted in the nearby town of Meryton.

As the two oldest Bennet daughters, Jane and Elizabeth have a particularly close relationship. However, Elizabeth has “more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister” (16), making her more likely to question people’s motives, often seeing truths Jane does not. Unlike Jane, who sees nothing but the good in people, Elizabeth easily sees through the Bingley sisters’ false charm, recognizing their attempts to keep Jane and Bingley apart even when Jane believes their separation is the result of innocent misunderstandings. 

Keenly attuned to tone and skillful at reading between the lines, Elizabeth senses Mr. Collins’s ridiculousness from his letter, asking her father if he can “be a sensible man”. Elizabeth is equally incisive about herself as she is about others. She is willing to concede to Mrs. Gardiner “the imprudence” of pursuing a relationship with Wickham; later, when Wickham pursues a wealthier young lady, Miss King, her lack of pain inspires Elizabeth to acknowledge that she was not, in fact, “much in love”. Elizabeth’s ability to parse people’s meanings and motivations makes her failure to correctly assess Wickham’s character all the more remarkable.

Elizabeth expects to be treated as “a rational creature” rather than a modest, “elegant female” (105)—or worse, a husband’s property. Early in the novel, her point of view is contrasted with that of Charlotte Lucas, who believes women in financial straits do not have the luxury of falling in love. Elizabeth expects more: she disagrees that marriage’s sole purpose is convenience and is grossly disappointed when Charlotte accepts Mr. Collins’s proposal. She finds “humiliating” the picture of Charlotte “disgracing herself” (120), believing her to have sacrificed common sense and happiness for mere material gain. She herself ultimately marries for love, proving that despite the unfortunate marriages around her, one need not settle for mediocrity. Elizabeth expects to be a partner in her marriage—she shocks Darcy’s young sister by teasing him as an equal—thus shattering societal expectations that wives, in Mr. Collins’s words, should not be “headstrong” lest they negatively impact the “happiness in the marriage state” (106).

Despite her strong opinions, Elizabeth shows willingness to grow and learn by overcoming her prejudice of Darcy and acknowledging that she’d misinterpreted his character. Already predisposed to dislike Darcy, she believes everything Wickham tells her about him, finding Wickham too handsome to lie and falling victim to the same prejudice of which she accuses Darcy. She confronts Darcy over Wickham without ever hearing his side of the story, rejecting his proposal in part because of what she believes he’s done to Wickham. She reads Darcy’s letter “[w]ith a strong prejudice against everything he might say” and at first is angry over his assessment of Jane and her family; however, a careful, rational reading of his letter forces her to acknowledge her how her previous thinking had been faulty, ultimately leading her to reevaluate her opinions. She is horrified to discover her own vanity and prejudices, acknowledging that she “never knew myself” (196) and absorbing the lesson, which is “humiliating” but “just” (196). 

Over the months that follow, she realizes the extent of her misconception, taking seriously the warm commendations of Darcy’s servant Mrs. Reynolds and considering the kindness he’s exhibited toward his sister. Her reevaluation of his character makes her newly nervous around him, especially as she comes to understand that he is, in fact, “exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her” (289). The gradual softening of her feelings toward him shows an open-mindedness that earns her happiness when he proposes a second time.


The people of Meryton dislike Darcy almost immediately after he arrives at Netherfield. At the Meryton ball, people are impressed with his “handsome features, noble mien, and the report of his having ten thousand a year” (12), until his manners are determined to be proud. Unlike his friend Bingley, he doesn’t speak to or dance with anyone outside his party. By the end of the evening, the town has decided that “he is the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world” (12). It’s also at the Meryton ball that he insults Elizabeth, telling Bingley, loudly enough for her to hear, that he finds her merely “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me”.

The more Darcy sees Elizabeth, the more he appreciates her intelligence and independence. However, of the belief that a woman’s poor relations “must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world” (36), he finds his increasing admiration of her “mortifying” (24), and the “inferiority of her connections” prevents him from pursuing her. It’s an obstacle frequently brought to his attention by Miss Bingley, who desires him for herself. When Miss Bingley attempts to dampen his attraction for Elizabeth by reminding him of her low connections or independence, Darcy defends Elizabeth; for example, when Miss Bingley mocks Elizabeth for walking three miles to Netherfield, Darcy says he believes her eyes “were brightened by the exercise”.

His proud, off-putting behavior makes it easy for Elizabeth to believe Wickham’s accusations against him. However, when Elizabeth confronts him about Wickham at the Netherfield ball, Darcy declines to similarly smear Wickham, merely warning her that judging his character at that moment “would reflect no credit on either” of them. In this way Darcy, though not faultless, shows himself to have integrity.

His proposal to Elizabeth focuses more on his concern over “the inferiority of your connections” than on his love for her, and after she soundly rejects him, he leaves wounded. Though his letter to her serves primarily to defend himself against her accusations regarding Jane and Wickham—he writes that his “character” forces him to “demand” of her “justice” that she read it —when she meets him at Pemberley she finds his attitude much changed. He is kinder and gentler, and he goes out of his way to make her aunt and uncle feel welcome, even inviting Mr. Gardiner to fish at Pemberley and introducing Elizabeth to his sister. He joins Bingley at Longbourn, sanctioning a relationship he’d previously worked to break up, and he admirably tolerates the frivolous behavior of Elizabeth’s mother. Though he makes these changes for Elizabeth—he demonstrates the depth of his love for her by paying off Wickham’s debts, anonymously—they show that, like Elizabeth, he is not so proud as to be incapable of self-improvement. Having spent “many months” pondering his “unpardonable” behavior, he proves to have taken her criticisms seriously, becoming a fairer, more tolerant man.


Jane is the eldest Bennet daughter. Described as a great beauty, she is the closest in age and temperament to Elizabeth, though the two differ dramatically in perspective. Whereas Elizabeth questions people’s motives and is more comfortable coming to unpleasant conclusion about their characters, Jane always sees the good in people and is nearly incapable of accepting that they act out of selfishness or malice. When the Bingley party leaves Netherfield, Jane argues that Miss Bingley could never deceive anyone and that she must simply be warning Jane, out of the goodness of her heart, that Bingley doesn’t love her. Rather than accept that Miss Bingley may be duplicitous, Jane blames herself for misinterpreting Bingley’s affection. When Elizabeth tells her about Darcy’s letter, Jane tries “to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear one, without involving the other” (210). When Elizabeth complains that people continue to disappoint her, Jane pleads with Elizabeth not to indulge in thoughts that “will ruin your happiness” and to remember that “difference of situation and temper” inspire people to make decisions Elizabeth might not (131). Her optimism extends even to Wickham: before Lydia and Wickham are found, Jane never loses hope that they eventually will marry, and once they do marry, she insists Wickham must have some affection for Lydia. Her good heart and refusal to criticize make her a good match for the buoyantly amiable Bingley and inspire her father, upon her engagement, to pronounce that they are both “so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income” (323).


Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte is described as “plain” and is 27 years old, an age when her brothers worry about her “dying an old maid” (117). She often reflects more traditional views, telling Elizabeth, for example, that Darcy’s wealth justifies his pride. Early in the novel, she warns Elizabeth that Jane should show Bingley more affection than she otherwise would, for Jane’s “uniform cheerfulness of manner” (22) may suggest to Bingley that she does not love him. When Elizabeth argues that Jane barely knows Bingley, Charlotte tells her that “[w]hen she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses” (22). Though her point of view is set up to contrast with Elizabeth’s, she is ultimately proved correct when Darcy writes to Elizabeth that he encouraged Bingley to leave Netherfield because he didn’t believe Jane’s affection matched his.

Charlotte admits to marrying Mr. Collins because she is “not romantic” (120); she believes marriage to be merely the most practical option, the “pleasantest preservative from want,” for “well-educated young women of small fortune” (117). Her vision of marriage as a mercenary arrangement inspires her to warn Elizabeth not to let her “fancy for Wickham” affect her treatment of Darcy, “a man of ten times his consequence” (88). She believes “[h]appiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” (23) and that people are better off not knowing their partners’ flaws before marriage. . Charlotte manages her life with Mr. Collins with grace, though, enjoying the comfort of her house and devising routines that put her as little in Mr. Collins’s company as possible; she also quickly learns to bear Lady Catherine’s many suggestions on how she run her household.

Charlotte’s acceptance of women’s subversion illustrates the lack of options for women during Austen’s day. Unhopeful that she will be able to achieve both love and financial security in marriage, and seeing marriage as her only refuge from destitution, she does what she feels is most advantageous for a woman in her circumstances. Unlike Elizabeth, she does not fight against the patriarchal system that makes women dependent.


Mrs. Bennet is loud, silly, and full of folly and obsessed with marrying her daughters to rich men. Her relationship with her husband is combative; Mr. Bennet often gives into her whims in order to preserve peace and quiet. When she doesn’t get her way, she complains of her “poor nerves” or that “nobody is on my side” (108). Mrs. Bennet’s unsubtle behavior frequently embarrasses Elizabeth; for example, she scolds Darcy for disparaging the country, inadvertently revealing her provinciality, and at the Netherfield ball, she speaks freely about how Jane’s marriage to Bingley would open the doors for her other daughters to marry rich men. Her scheme to stay late at the Netherfield ball, like her scheme to force Jane to recover from her illness there, is transparent to everyone and is therefore counterproductive to her goal of endearing her family to the Bingleys.

Worse, however, is Mrs. Bennet’s indulgence of her youngest daughters’ frivolity, which ultimately leads to Lydia’s elopement with Wickham. Remembering fondly a time when she, too, “liked a red coat myself very well” (30), she encourages her daughters to chase after officers, pleading with Mr. Bennet to bring the family on a trip to Brighton when the officers leave Meryton. When Lydia marries Wickham, rather than feel shame over Lydia’s behavior or gratitude for Mr. Gardiner’s generosity in helping, Mrs. Bennet chastises Mr. Bennet for refusing to send Lydia money for clothes. Oblivious to others’ great efforts to achieve this marriage, Mrs. Bennet sees nothing but the fact that she finally has a daughter married.

Mrs. Bennet feels in competition with other women seeking to marry off their daughters and even sends Jane to Netherfield in the rain in the hopes she’ll grow ill and need to stay there. Mrs. Bennet is furious with Mr. Collins, who will inherit Longbourn after Mr. Bennet’s death, but she is thrilled when he decides to marry one of her daughters. When Elizabeth rejects him, Mrs. Bennet calls her “undutiful,” stating she will never speak to her again and that she doesn’t know “who is to maintain you when your father is dead” (108). Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with marriage, though on first glance petty, is not wholly unwarranted. Her frustration with the entail of Longbourn, which makes her daughters dependent on Mr. Collins, is grounded in legitimate concern—a concern reflected in the Lucas sons’ relief that they will not have to look after Charlotte in her old age. With no sons to support them after Mr. Bennet’s death, Mrs. Bennet has reason to wonder what will happen to her unmarried daughters. She therefore is furious at the thought of Charlotte, through Mr. Collins, becoming the mistress of Longbourn, at which time she could choose “to turn herself and her daughters out of the house” (124). It’s perhaps no surprise that, although Elizabeth fears she’ll be devastated by her engagement to Darcy, Mrs. Bennet is delighted, exclaiming about “how rich and how great you will be,” how many “carriages you will have” (351). Her dislike of Darcy, which she’d made abundantly clear, suddenly turns to awe when she learns he will care for one of her daughters.


Mr. Bennet was “captivated by youth and beauty” (221) and “had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (221).Knowing he will not find intellectual fulfillment or happiness in his marriage, he’s been committed to finding “amusement” in her “ignorance and folly” (221). He finds pleasure in teasing his wife, who usually misses his jokes. Mr. Bennet spends as much time as possible in his library, where he is “always sure of leisure and tranquility” (69). Though frequently frustrated with the silliness of his wife and youngest daughters, he finds comfort with his oldest daughters, especially Elizabeth, whom he sees as having “something more of quickness than her sisters” (7).

Mr. Bennet enjoys playing tricks on his wife and daughters, for example deliberately not telling them he’s already visited Bingley and watching their excitement when he reveals this information. He also teases them with quick turns of words, such as when he announces the upcoming visit of Mr. Collins, “who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases” (60). Humor is often his defense against his wife’s frivolity; for example, when Jane, according to Mrs. Bennet’s plan, is too ill to leave Netherfield, he tells his wife that “if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders” (32).

His tendency to laugh at or ignore his family’s follies, however, brings on folly of its own. He doesn’t stop Kitty and Lydia from visiting the officers, even though he finds this behavior “uncommonly foolish” (31). His lackadaisical attitude is noticed by Darcy, who in his letter to Elizabeth apologetically suggests her father is as guilty of “want of propriety” (187) as her mother. Elizabeth tries to warn him of “the very great disadvantage to us all” that has “already arisen” from “Lydia’s unguarded and imprudent manner,” only for her father to joke about which lovers Lydia has “frightened away” (216). He allows Lydia to go to Brighton because they “shall have no peace at Longbourn” (217) if he forbids her; he even suggests it would be advantageous if Lydia embarrasses herself at Brighton, for she would be far away from them. His prioritizing quiet over discipline and his failure to see the danger of his wife and daughters’ behavior make Lydia’s elopement with Wickham possible. His gentle-handed manner of discipline is reminiscent of his looseness with finances: he never “laid by an annual sum, for the better provision of his children,” instead “spending his whole income” (286).

Mr. Bennet undergoes a brief period of regret when Lydia runs off with Wickham, telling Elizabeth he deserves to feel the pain he’s caused and refusing to indulge his wife in visiting Bingley upon Bingley’s second arrival at Netherfield. He also wishes he’d had the discipline and foresight to put money aside each year, for if he had, he’d avoid being in debt to Mr. Gardiner, who he believes has paid Wickham’s debts. As the conclusion of the novel draws near, he regains his joking attitude, saying he loves Wickham most of all his sons-in-law. However, there is a note of seriousness in his conversation with Elizabeth regarding her engagement: he objects not to Darcy himself but to the possibility that Elizabeth is marrying him for the wrong reasons, for given her “disposition” and her “lively talents” (349), she would be forever unhappy in an unsatisfying marriage. He begs her: “My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life” (350). His subtle suggestion is that he knows what it’s like to feel no joy with his partner and that he can’t bear the thought of his favorite daughter suffering as he has.


Mr. Collins benefits from a patriarchal system in which men of means occupy positions of power of they don’t always deserve. In addition, or perhaps as a consequence, he is a believer in the social hierarchy, and sees the upper classes as intrinsically superior.

Mr. Collins adheres to the belief that women are mild, delicate, and subservient. For example, he brags of his offering to Miss de Bourgh “those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies” (66) and lectures Lydia that she should read sermons on female behavior. Nowhere is this belief more evident than in his approach to marriage. In looking for a wife, Mr. Collins moves from Jane to Elizabeth to Charlotte without a care, easily allowing each woman to replace the one before as if they are all the same. Just as he assesses the Bennets’ house and furniture “as his own future property” (64), he comes to marriage with hopes of his own happiness. A wife is a possession with which to please Lady Catherine; marriage is a way for him to serve as an “example of matrimony in his parish” (101).

His insistence that Elizabeth’s rejections are the result of the “natural delicacy” (101) typical of “elegant females” (104) demonstrates not only how poorly he understands her character, but also the ideal of feminine “modesty” (101). Though Elizabeth begs him to treat her as “a rational creature” (105), he refuses to take her seriously—and tells Mrs. Bennet that if Elizabeth is “liable to such defects of temper” (106)—that is, the inclination to voice her opinions—he would prefer not to marry her after all, for “she could not contribute much to my felicity” (106). By casting Elizabeth as unladylike, he is able to see her rejecting him as her flaw rather than accept it as a reflection on himself. Importantly, his comment to Elizabeth that he could have chosen from “many amiable young women” (102) in his own neighborhood, though arrogant at first glance, in fact proves true when he almost immediately becomes engaged to Charlotte Lucas.

Mr. Collins speaks constantly of his patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh, bragging about his closeness to her at every opportunity, clearly missing that her constantly offering her opinion is not a beneficent condescension on her part but in fact a demonstration of arrogant entitlement. He is grateful for any attention from Lady Catherine, interpreting her invitations and even her criticism as evidence of his own importance. It is little wonder Mr. Collins indulges Lady Catherine in her desire “to have the distinction of rank preserved” (154), for the social hierarchy that subverts him to Lady Catherine is the very hierarchy from which he benefits, through his entail of the Longbourn estate.

Pride and Prejudice Themes


The education of women in the early part of the 19th century often depended on their parents and tutors and would consist less of traditional topics like classic languages and more of the “accomplishments,” described by Miss Bingley: “music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages” (39), as well as other traditionally feminine arts listed by Darcy, such as “paint[ing] tables, cover[ing] screens, and net[ting] purses” (38). Women would be encouraged to read books teaching of household care and female conduct, such as “Fordyce’s Sermons” (67), Mr. Collins’s reading choice at Longbourn. A woman seeking additional knowledge could, in Darcy’s words, “add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading” (39). Elizabeth reiterates this point to Lady Catherine, explaining that, while they had no governess to teach them, they “were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary” (158). As women were not admitted to universities or most professions, and as estates often were left to the eldest son—the estate of Mr. Bennet, who has no sons, is entailed to Mr. Collins, and each of the five Bennet daughters will receive upon Mrs. Bennet’s death one-fifth of her dowry, or a mere “one thousand pounds” (102)—women without a fortune would either depend financially on the kindness of their male and married relations or enter a traditionally feminine trade, becoming a governess or housemaid. Or, they could marry.

From the first chapter of the book, marriage is established as the central theme of Pride and Prejudice. The desperation with which Mrs. Bennet seeks to marry off her daughters to rich men speaks to the limited options for women in Austen’s day and of the very real concern over the futures of unmarried daughters. She laments that Mr. Bennet’s “estate should be entailed away from your own children” (60) and is soothed by Mr. Collins’s commitment to marry one of her daughters, for it means that Longbourn will remain in the family. When Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins’s proposal, Mrs. Bennet calls her “undutiful” (108), seeing her daughter’s refusal to form this alliance with Mr. Collins as the throwing away of an opportunity to ensure her family’s financial security. Not surprisingly, she is delighted by the possibility that her younger daughters will benefit from Jane’s marriage to Bingley, for “Jane’s marrying so greatly must throw them in the way of other rich men” (95).

Charlotte Lucas, as a woman “of twenty-seven” who has never “been handsome,” understands that marrying Mr. Collins is her best option for “preservative from want” (117). Though Charlotte finds Mr. Collings “irksome” and “neither sensible nor agreeable,” marriage is the surest way for her to avoid “dying an old maid” and being dependent on her brothers (117). Accepting that “[h]appiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” (23) and that by marrying Mr. Collins she has “as fair” a chance “as most people” (120), Charlotte reflects a practical, disillusioned view of marriage that takes into considerations the realities of women in her time.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen depicts a variety of marriages. Marrying for passion, like Lydia and Wickham, is unlikely to bring “permanent happiness” (290)—as is demonstrated by the marriage of Elizabeth’s parents, who were brought together because Mr. Bennet had been “captivated” by his wife’s “youth and beauty” (221) but quickly lost “all real affection for her” (221). Loveless marriages are presented as empty or sad; Lydia and Wickham, forced to marry as a result of their rash, imprudent behavior, live forever in financial straits, and Mr. Bennet is driven to his library to escape his wife. Charlotte similarly spends much of her time in a sitting room in the back of the house, far from Mr. Collins’s own room in front, and encourages her husband to garden outside as much as possible.

Despite the limited options for women, by concluding with two happy marriages, Pride and Prejudice ends hopefully, suggesting that women who refuse to sacrifice happiness for financial security, or vice versa, truly can have both. In order to reach this happy conclusion, however, Elizabeth and Darcy must defy conventions about marriage and female conduct. Elizabeth possesses what Miss Bingley calls “conceited independence” (36), brazenly ignoring standards for femininity bolstered by Mr. Collins. Darcy is drawn in by Elizabeth’s intelligence and is stimulated by their fresh, witty conversations. He also defies convention by marrying a woman who, in the words of Lady Catherine, is “of inferior birth, of no importance in the world” (331).

Ultimately, Pride and Prejudice contrasts Charlotte’s practical approach to marriage with Elizabeth’s romanticism, suggesting the necessity of the former while not eliminating the possibility of the latter. Though Elizabeth finds Charlotte’s marrying Mr. Collins for “worldly advantage” a “humiliating picture” (120), readers can understand Charlotte’s conclusion that the marriage is her “only honourable [sic] provision” (117). Mr. Collins’s sense of entitlement—his disbelief that he could be rejected—while obnoxious, is the result of this patriarchal system. Elizabeth’s escape therefore can be seen as the exception rather than the rule.


When Lady Catherine complains that Pemberley will be “polluted” (332) if Darcy marries Elizabeth, a woman “without family, connections, or fortune” (331), Elizabeth retorts that she and Darcy are “equal” because Darcy “is a gentleman” and she is “a gentleman’s daughter” (331). Lady Catherine admits Elizabeth is a gentleman’s daughter but asks, “But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts?” (331). Mr. Bennet and Darcy are both part of the landed gentry, a class of landowners whose income consists of that earned by the land, sometimes through rent brought in by tenant farmers. Members of the landed gentry earned their living by managing the land, rather than in trade. Lady Catherine therefore is reminding Elizabeth that her father married beneath him, for Mrs. Bennet comes from a family of lawyers, including her father, brother (Mr. Gardiner), and brother-in-law (Mr. Philips, “who had been a clerk to their father, and had succeeded him in the business” [28]).

As land was equated with social standing, tradesmen were beneath the landed gentry, though they could make good money in their trade, sometimes surpassing the income of those in the landed gentry. One example of a wealthy tradesman is Bingley. Bingley’s father, who had left Bingley a vast fortune, “had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it” (17). Austen writes that Bingley’s “sisters were very anxious” (17) for Bingley to purchase an estate, which would place them properly in the landed gentry. Despite the fact that “their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade” (17), their fortune is greater than that of Mr. Bennet, who has not “laid by an annual sum” (286). Though their mocking of the Bennets is ironic given their connection to trade, they consider themselves superior for their wealth and family connections.

The Bingley sisters are far from the only characters in Pride and Prejudice who exhibit social pretension and snobbery. Mrs. Bennet embarrasses Elizabeth by assuring Darcy the city has no advantage to the town, for she and her family “dine with four-and-twenty-families” (43). Sir William Lucas, who “had made a tolerable fortune” in trade, earned “a knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty,” an honor that had “been felt too strongly” (18). Though Sir William’s fortune is evidently not great enough to ensure an adequate dowry for his daughter, Charlotte, he puts on airs both with Darcy—to whom he professes to know about “superior society” (26)—and with Mr. Collins, to whom he states that “his situation in life” (153) has provided him with “knowledge of what the manners of the great really are” (153). Sir William, however, like Mr. Collins, is overwhelmed and in awe of Rosings and Lady Catherine, to whom he can barely bring himself to speak.


Like Sir William Lucas, Mr. Collins attempts to make himself look superior through his connections to the wealthy. Mr. Collins’s reverence of Lady Catherine is revealed as early as his letter to Mr. Bennet and continues to be his defining quality throughout his stay at Longbourn. He brags about his connection to her at every opportunity, using it as evidence of his own importance. At the Netherfield ball, he dismisses Elizabeth’s warnings that his approaching Darcy is “imprudent,” telling her that he is “more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right” (94). He regales the Bennets with tales of his many dinners at Rosings and Lady Catherine’s generous advice as to his manner of living. He delights in his ability to show “the grandeur of his patroness” (152) to Elizabeth, Sir William, and Maria; once there, he agrees with everything Lady Catherine says, “thanking her” every time he wins at cards “and apologizing [sic]” (159) when he wins too much. His compliment to Mrs. Philips that her apartment reminds him of “the small summer breakfast parlour [sic] at Rosings” (73) is in truth a boast of his own relationship with the wealthy Lady Catherine. Like Sir William and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins unwittingly debases himself, refusing to see that his obsequiousness merely distinguishes him further from the object of his awe. Later, at Pemberley, Elizabeth is pleased when Darcy speaks with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner who, unlike her other friends and family, exhibit “intelligence,” “taste,” and “good manners” (238).

Austen seems to suggest that regardless of wealth or status, true class is indicated in one’s behavior. Despite Lady Catherine’s money and circumstance, her dinner party “did not supply much conversation” (156). Lady Catherine demonstrates ill breeding in her arrogance, stating that her daughter is more beautiful than most women “because there is that in her features which marks the young woman of distinguished birth” (65); she also claims she has “more true enjoyment of music” (165) than anyone in England, even though she doesn’t play—a comment that contributes to Darcy’s feeling “ashamed” (165). In contrast, Mrs. Annesley, Miss Darcy’s attendant, is “a genteel” woman “whose endeavor to introduce some kind of discourse proved her to be more truly well-bred” (249) than Bingley’s sisters. Jane and Elizabeth, though not wealthy, are honest, thoughtful, and unpretentious. That Darcy and Bingley defy their wealthy relations’ protests and marry women of true good breeding suggests the futility of snobbery and entitlement.


At the Meryton ball, Darcy’s pride makes him prejudiced against the townspeople: he declares that the idea of dancing “[a]t such an assembly as this” is “insupportable” (13). He falls in love with Elizabeth against his will and even in his proposal fixates on her “inferiority” (179). Elizabeth’s rejection, though “inexpressibly painful,” forces him to reevaluate his haughty behavior. He admits that he’d proposed expecting to be accepted and that he was “properly humbled” by her rejection, which showed him that “a woman worthy of being pleased” (343) deserves more. By the end of the novel, Darcy’s changed behavior proves that he’s taken these lessons to heart. He is kind and gentle with the Gardiners, and he tolerates the “parading and obsequious civility” of Mr. Collins and the “vulgarity” of Mrs. Philips with “admirable calmness” (356). When he anonymously settles Wickham’s debts, it is a selfless sacrifice where he helps two people he personally dislikes, wholly for Elizabeth’s benefit, without any hope of being acknowledged.

Darcy’s comment at the Meryton ball that Elizabeth is merely “tolerable” (13) wounds her pride and clouds her perception of him through much of the novel. Missing the signs that he loves her, Elizabeth assumes he pays attention to her to find ways to criticize her and tells him she believes he wants only “the pleasure of despising my taste” (50). At Hunsford, she believes he meets her on her walks because of his “willful [sic] ill-nature” (173). In fact, when Charlotte, at the Netherfield ball, suggests Elizabeth may enjoy dancing with him, Elizabeth flatly admits she wants to hate him: “That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate!” (88). After reading the letter Darcy writes after she rejects his proposal, Elizabeth is horrified to discover that her attraction to Wickham has made her “blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd” and that she, who has “prided myself on my discernment,” has “courted prepossession and ignorance” (196). Like Darcy, she amends her behavior; as she falls in love with him, she regrets having spoken so strongly against him.

Elizabeth's prejudice against Darcy also colors her opinion of Miss Darcy, whom she assumes, based on Wickham’s report, to be proud. This opinion is formed without her having met Miss Darcy who, it turns out, is merely shy. Upon meeting, the two women like each other instantly and ultimately form a special bond.


Bingley’s sisters insult Jane behind her back, stating “there is no chance” (36) of Jane marrying their brother because her uncles work in trade and laughing “at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations” (36). However, shortly after, they visit Jane in her room “[w]ith a renewal of tenderness” (36). One afternoon, as she and Darcy are walking in the garden, Miss Bingley, in an attempt to dampen his attraction for Elizabeth, teases Darcy about Elizabeth’s family; when they encounter Elizabeth, Miss Bingley worries “they had been overheard” (51). The Bingley sisters’ duplicity contrasts with the honesty of Jane and Elizabeth: the elder Bennet sisters say what they feel, never masking malice with false kindness.

In fact, Elizabeth’s honesty is what attracts Darcy to her, making Miss Bingley’s blind agreement with everything he says that much more unpalatable. Darcy, who states that “disguise of every sort is my abhorrence” (182), tells Bingley his disparagement of his own writing is an “indirect boast” (47); later, he flatly tells Lady Catherine that his sister “does not need” (165) her advice that she practice the piano. He and Elizabeth are also honest with themselves, taking seriously each other’s criticisms and overcoming their misunderstandings to reach their happy ending.


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