Introduction

Jane Austen was born in Hampshire, England, in 1775. Her father was a country rector, and six children had already preceded Jane into the world. While the family was large, it was not very wealthy. In spite of their lack of finances, Jane secured an education that could be called “genteel.” She was an avid reader and writer, composing works from her earliest age that demonstrated wit and sophistication.

Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most famous works. The second of her six major novels, it was published in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars, a glimpse of which is felt even in the rural countryside setting of Pride and Prejudice. It is as a soldier in these wars that Wickham means to serve, and it is to such officers that the youngest of the Bennet sisters is so attracted. Austen presents a world that is true to life, vivid, witty, satirical, human, and comical.

Even though it is set during the Napoleonic Wars and officers come and go throughout the novel, it is not a book about war, but a book about marriage. Its main character is not even a soldier; it is a woman named Elizabeth, whose disposition is hinted at by the title of the novel. She is an incredibly bright and lively young woman whose reason is blinded from time to time by her own pride and prejudice. She meets in Darcy, a wealthy landowner, her spiritual double; he is proud and prejudicial, too. What he lacks is the liveliness in spirit (or “impertinence,” as she calls it) that she possesses. Through her eyes, he begins to fall in love with her, and through the stripping away of her pride (a defense against his arrogance), she begins to grow in love with him.

Other characters include her sister Jane, who is in love with Darcy’s friend Bingley; the unfortunate Mr. Wickham, a seducer of woman and lover of none; the other Bennet sisters; Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte; her cousin Mr. Collins; and many more. The novel is populated with figures who are both complex and shallow, interesting and dull—all of which is used by Austen...

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