'Pride and Prejudice' Quotes Explained

The first page of Pride and Prejudice
The first line of Pride and Prejudice is one of literature's most famous quotes. (Photo credit: Suzy Hazelwood / Pexels).

The following quotes from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are some of the most recognizable lines in English literature. The novel, which follows the push-and-pull relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, deals with themes of love, pride, social expectations, and preconceived opinions. In the quotes that follow, we'll analyze how Austen conveys these themes with her trademark wry wit.

Quotes About Pride

"I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine." (Chapter 5)

When Elizabeth speaks this quote, she’s fresh off Darcy’s slight of her at the first ball, where she overheard him judging her not “handsome enough” for him to dance with. In context, where she and her family are discussing the ball with their neighbors, she tosses the line off in a good-natured, quipping sort of way. However, a closer read does suggest some element of truth to it: as the story progresses, it becomes evident that this unpleasant first meeting has colored Elizabeth’s perception of Darcy, making her more susceptible to Wickham’s lies.

This quote is also the beginning of a running pattern through the novel: Elizabeth and Darcy are each able to acknowledge that they possess a shared flaw (Elizabeth acknowledges a degree of pride, Darcy admits that his prejudices are formed quickly and irrevocably). The theme of pride often connects to an inability to recognize one’s own flaws, so although the characters still have a ways to go before they’ll reach a happy conclusion, an admission of some flaws indicates that this will be a comedy where that conclusion is possible rather than a tragedy where a tragic flaw will be realized too little, too late.

"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us." (Chapter 5)

Mary Bennet, the middle Bennet sister, is neither frivolous like her younger sisters nor well-adjusted like her older sisters. She’s studious to a fault and is quite fond of philosophizing and moralizing, as she does here, where she inserts herself into a conversation about Mr. Darcy’s behavior at the ball by seizing on their mention of his “pride” and jumping in with her philosophy. It’s a clear indicator of her lack of social skills and her simultaneous desire to be included in society.

Although it’s delivered in Mary’s moralizing, pretentious manner, this quote is not entirely untrue. Pride – and vanity – are central themes to the story, and Mary’s definitions give readers a way to distinguish the social snobbery of Miss Bingley or Lady Catherine and the inflated self-important of Mr. Collins from the pride of Mr. Darcy. Pride and Prejudice explores personal pride as a stumbling block to true understanding and happiness, but it also presents the proudest character – Darcy – as one who does not care much what other people think of him, as evidenced by his cold social behavior. The contrast between care for perceptions and care for internal values is explored throughout the novel.

“Till this moment I never knew myself.” (Chapter 36)

There is a term in classical Greek drama, anagnorisis, that refers to a character’s sudden realization of something heretofore unknown or misunderstood. It often connects somehow to a shift in perception or relationship with an antagonist. The quote above, spoken by Elizabeth to herself, is Elizabeth’s moment of anagnorisis, where she finally learns the truth about Darcy and Wickham’s shared past via Darcy’s letter to her, and subsequently realizes her own flaws and mistakes.

Elizabeth's moment of self-awareness and character pivot indicates the literary skill at work here. Anagnorisis is something that appears in complex works with classical structures and multifaceted, flawed heroes; its presence is further proof that Pride and Prejudice is a skillful narrative, not simply a comedy of manners. In tragedies, this is the moment where a character comes to a much-needed realization, but learns their lesson too late to stop the tragic events already in motion. Because Austen is writing a comedy, not a tragedy, she allows Elizabeth to gain this needed revelation while there’s still time to reverse course and achieve a happy ending.

Quotes About Love

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Chapter 1)

This is one of the most famous opening lines in literature, up there with “Call me Ishmael” and “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Spoken by the omniscient narrator, the line essentially sums up one of the key premises of the novel; the rest of the story operates under the assumption that the reader and the characters alike share this knowledge.

Although the themes of Pride and Prejudice are certainly not limited to marriage and money, those do loom large. It is this belief that leads Mrs. Bennet to push her daughters forward at every turn, both towards worthy candidates such as Mr. Bingley and unworthy ones such as Mr. Collins. Any single man with some fortune is a marriage candidate, plain and simple.

There is a particular turn of phrase worth noting here as well: the phrase “in want of.” Although it sounds, at first glance, that it’s stating a rich, single man always wants a wife. While that’s true, there’s another interpretation. The phrase “in want of” is also used to indicate a state of lacking something. Thus, the other way to read it is that a rich, single man is lacking one crucial thing: a wife. This reading emphasizes the social expectations placed on both men and women, rather than one or the other.

“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.” (Chapter 58)

At the romantic climax of the novel, Mr. Darcy delivers this line to Elizabeth. It comes after all has been revealed between the two of them, all misunderstandings cleared up and both in full knowledge of what the other has said and done. After Elizabeth thanks Darcy for his assistance to Lydia’s marriage, he confesses that he did it all for Elizabeth’s sake and in hopes of proving his true nature to her. Because of her positive reception so far, he makes an attempt to propose to her again – but this could not be more different than his first proposal.

When Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth, it’s overlaid with a snobbish – though not inaccurate – appraisal of her social status relative to his. He uses language that “seems” romantic (insisting that his love is so great it overcame all rational obstacles), but comes across as incredibly insulting. Here, however, he not only approaches Elizabeth without pride and with genuine, unrehearsed language, but he also emphasizes his respect for her wishes. Rather than following the classic trope of “pursue until you win her over,” he calmly states that he will step away gracefully if that’s what she wants. It’s the ultimate expression of his unselfish love, as opposed to his previous self-centered arrogance and hyperawareness of social status.

Quotes About Society

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” (Chapter 11)

This quote is spoken by Caroline Bingley, while she is passing time at Netherfield along with her brother, sister, brother-in-law, Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth. The scene is, at least from her perspective, a subtle competition between her and Elizabeth for Darcy’s attention; she is, in fact, mistaken, as Elizabeth has no interest in Darcy at this time and is only at Netherfield to tend to her ill sister Jane. Miss Bingley’s dialogue is a constant stream of attempts to get attention from Darcy. While she’s rhapsodizing about the joys of reading, she’s pretending to read a book that, as the sharp-tongued narrator informs us, she only chose because it was the second volume of the book Darcy had chosen to read.

Often taken out of context, this quote is an excellent example of the gently satirical humor Austen often uses to poke fun at the social elite. The idea of taking pleasure in reading is not silly in and of itself, but Austen gives this line to a character who we know to be insincere, and compounds it by exaggerating the statement past any possibility of sincerity and making the speaker sound desperate and foolish.

"People themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever." (Chapter 9)

Elizabeth’s dialogue is typically witty and laden with dual meanings, and this quote is a definite example. She delivers this line during a conversation with her mother, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley about the differences between country and city society. She remarks upon her delight in observing people – which she intends as a barb at Mr. Darcy – and doubles down with this quote when he suggests that provincial life must be quite boring for her observations.

On a deeper level, this quote actually foreshadows the lesson Elizabeth learns over the course of the novel. She prides herself on her powers of observation, which creates her “prejudiced” opinions, and she certainly does not believe that Mr. Darcy, of all people, will ever change. As it turns out, though, there is actually much more to be observed than she has at the point when she makes this sarcastic comment, and Elizabeth comes to understand that truth later on.