'Pride and Prejudice' Summary

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited and clever young woman, as she and her sisters navigate romantic and social entanglements within 19th-century England's country gentry.

Netherfield Is Let at Last

The novel opens with Mrs. Bennet informing her husband that the nearby great house, Netherfield Park, has a new tenant: Mr. Bingley, a wealthy and unmarried young man. Mrs. Bennet is convinced that Mr. Bingley will fall in love with one of her daughters—preferably Jane, the eldest and by all accounts the kindest and most beautiful. Mr. Bennet reveals that he has already paid his respects to Mr. Bingley and that they all shall meet soon.

At a neighborhood ball, Mr. Bingley makes his first appearance, along with his two sisters—the married Mrs. Hurst and the unmarried Caroline—and his best friend, Mr. Darcy. While Darcy’s wealth makes him the subject of much gossip at the gathering, his brusque, arrogant manner quickly sours the whole company on him.

Mr. Bingley shares a mutual and immediate attraction with Jane. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, is not so impressed. He dismisses Jane's younger sister Elizabeth as not pretty enough for him, which Elizabeth overhears. Although she laughs about it with her friend Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth is wounded by the comment.

Mr. Bingley's sisters invite Jane to visit them at Netherfield. Thanks to the machinations of Mrs. Bennet, Jane gets stuck there after journeying through a rainstorm and becomes ill. The Bingleys insist upon her staying until she is well, so Elizabeth goes to Netherfield to tend to Jane.

During their stay, Mr. Darcy begins to develop a romantic interest in Elizabeth (much to his own annoyance), but Caroline Bingley is interested in Darcy for herself. Caroline is particularly irritated that the object of Darcy's interest is Elizabeth, who doesn’t have equal wealth or social status. Caroline endeavors to eliminate Darcy's interest in Elizabeth by speaking negatively about her. By the time the girls return home, Elizabeth’s dislike for both Caroline and Darcy has only grown.

Elizabeth's Unwanted Suitors

Mr. Collins, an obsequious pastor and distant relative, comes to visit the Bennets. Despite not being a close relation, Mr. Collins is the designated heir of the Bennet's estate, as the Bennets have no sons. Mr. Collins informs the Bennets that he hopes to “make amends” by marrying one of the daughters. Nudged by Mrs. Bennet, who is certain that Jane will soon be engaged, he sets his sights on Elizabeth. Elizabeth, however, has other ideas: namely George Wickham, a dashing militiaman who claims that Mr. Darcy cheated him out of a parsonage he had been promised by Darcy’s father.

Although Elizabeth dances with Darcy at the Netherfield ball, her loathing is unchanged. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy and Caroline Bingley convince Mr. Bingley that Jane does not return his affections and encourage him to leave for London. Mr. Collins proposes to a horrified Elizabeth, who rejects him. On the rebound, Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth's friend Charlotte. Charlotte, who is worried about getting older and becoming a burden on her parents, accepts the proposal.

The following spring, Elizabeth goes to visit the Collinses at Charlotte’s request. Mr. Collins brags about the patronage of the nearby great lady, Lady Catherine de Bourgh—who also happens to be Mr. Darcy’s aunt. Lady Catherine invites their group to her estate, Rosings, for dinner, where Elizabeth is shocked to find Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth’s unwillingness to answer Lady Catherine’s prying questions does not make a good impression, but Elizabeth learns two important pieces of imformation: Lady Catherine intends to make a match between her sickly daughter Anne and her nephew Darcy, and Darcy has mentioned saving a friend from an ill-advised match—that is, Bingley and Jane.

Much to Elizabeth's shock and fury, Darcy proposes to her. During the proposal, he cites all the obstacles—namely, Elizabeth's inferior status and family—that his love has overcome. Elizabeth refuses him and accuses him of ruining both Jane’s happiness and Wickham’s livelihood.

Elizabeth Learns the Truth

The following day, Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter containing his side of the story. The letter explains that he genuinely believed Jane to be less in love with Bingley than he was with her (though her family and status did play a role, he admits apologetically). More importantly, Darcy reveals the truth of his family’s history with Wickham. Wickham was a favorite of Darcy’s father, who left him a “living” (a church posting on an estate) in his will. Instead of accepting the inheritance, Wickham insisted that Darcy pay him the value in money, spent it all, came back for more, and, when Darcy refused, tried to seduce Georgiana, Darcy’s teenage sister. These discoveries shake Elizabeth, and she realizes that her prized powers of observation and judgment did not prove correct.

Months later, Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, offer to bring her along on a trip. They end up touring Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's home, but are assured that he is away from home by the housekeeper, who has nothing but praise for him. Darcy makes an appearance, and despite the awkwardness of the encounter, he is kind to Elizabeth and the Gardiners. He invites Elizabeth to meet his sister, who is excited to meet her.

Their pleasant encounters are short-lived, as Elizabeth receives news that her sister Lydia has eloped with Mr. Wickham. She hurries home, and Mr. Gardiner tries to assist Mr. Bennet in tracking the couple down.

Weddings All Around

News soon arrives that they have been found and are to be married. Everyone assumes that Mr. Gardiner paid Wickham off to marry Lydia instead of abandoning her. When Lydia returns home, however, she lets slip that Mr. Darcy was at the wedding. Mrs. Gardiner later writes to Elizabeth and reveals that it was Mr. Darcy who paid off Wickham and made the match.

Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield and pay a call on the Bennets. At first, they are awkward and leave quickly, but then return almost immediately, and Bingley proposes to Jane. The Bennets receive another unexpected visitor in the middle of the night: Lady Catherine, who has heard a rumor that Elizabeth is engaged to Darcy and demands to hear that it is not true and never will be true. Insulted, Elizabeth refuses to acquiesce, and Lady Catherine leaves in a huff.

Rather than stopping the match, Lady Catherine’s escapade has the opposite effect. Darcy takes Elizabeth's refusal to acquiesce as a sign that she might have changed her mind about his proposal. He proposes again, and this time Elizabeth accepts as they discuss the mistakes that finally got them to this point. Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennet’s permission for the marriage, and Mr. Bennet gives it willingly once Elizabeth reveals to him the truth of Darcy’s involvement with Lydia’s marriage and of her own changed feelings for him.

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Prahl, Amanda. "'Pride and Prejudice' Summary." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2021, thoughtco.com/pride-and-prejudice-summary-4179056. Prahl, Amanda. (2021, February 17). 'Pride and Prejudice' Summary. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pride-and-prejudice-summary-4179056 Prahl, Amanda. "'Pride and Prejudice' Summary." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pride-and-prejudice-summary-4179056 (accessed March 31, 2023).