A Guide to
Pride and Prejudice
“Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.”
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The Novel at a Glance
Pride and Prejudice (1813) is a comedy of manners
that explores how considerations of money, family
background, and personal vanity can complicate
the course of true love.
Setting: Mostly in rural Hertfordshire in England
in the late eighteenth century.
Protagonist: Elizabeth Bennet, the most intelligent
and complex daughter in a family of five unmarried
sisters who have no prospect of inheriting wealth.
Structure: The novel is divided into three “volumes,” each subdivided into many short chapters. The plot involves pairs of lovers who seem destined
never to get together because of the opposition of
powerful blocking figures and forces. The couples,
however, after bringing the entire community
together, are happily married in the end.
Conflicts: The plot is propelled by the need of the
female characters to find suitable husbands. The
main conflicts are the obstacles or blocks that get in
the way of achieving these marriages. The obstacles
are both external (the want of beauty, money, sense,
or social connections) and internal (an inability to
discern the true character or feelings of another).
Resolution: By learning from her experience and
honestly evaluating herself, Elizabeth gains a husband who is not only wealthy but truly worthy. She overcomes her prejudice against Fitzwilliam Darcy,
which was based on his appearance of pride, and he
overcomes his prejudice against her family, which
was based on pride in his own social rank and good
Themes: Knowledge comes through careful reasoning and considered experience, unclouded by pride or prejudice based on rank or mere appearances.
Of Special Note: By means of comic irony and
satirical exaggeration, Austen exposes the social and
moral follies of her society.
The vocabulary of Pride and Prejudice should pose no
major problems to upper-grade-level students reading
at grade level, but all students, especially those reading
below grade level, should be prepared to encounter a
society whose social and economic conditions are
markedly different from those of today. They can learn
a great deal about Austen’s world from the novel itself,
but some understanding of the British system of inherited wealth and the position of women within that system during the early nineteenth century will help
Entailed Property. In the traditional British class system, wealth was passed on via the inheritance of family property, an annual income for life, or both. Inherited
wealth conferred far more status than money earned by
work. Family estates were usually inherited by the oldest son; and other sons, and sometimes daughters, were given smaller incomes. An entail is a restriction on the
inheritance of family property, and in the case of the
Bennets, the entail stipulated that Longbourn, the family home, be passed on to a male cousin. The Eighteenth-century Gentlewoman. The Bennet
sisters were considered gentlewomen because their
father had inherited some wealth and therefore did not
have to work to earn money. Because of the entail, however, they would not inherit any wealth of their own, unlike Georgiana Darcy and Caroline Bingley, whose
fathers’ estates were so large that all the children were
designated to inherit. Since it was not respectable or
generally even feasible for gentlewomen to work, the
Bennet sisters had no option but to find husbands who
could support them and maintain their position in the
class to which they were born. If they did not marry,
they would have to depend on the generosity of male
relatives. Jane Austen’s own situation was typical of the
time: she remained with her father until he died and
then moved to her brother’s house. What was not typical was that she wrote books and was paid for her work. Pride and Prejudice 1
Mrs. Bennet, a frivolous woman, bent on making
advantageous matches for her five daughters but lacking
the ability to judge the worth of their prospective suitors. She makes silly comments, often at inappropriate times.
Mr. Bennet, an intelligent but usually aloof man who
looks on his wife and the marital dilemmas of his
daughters with detached amusement. Notable for witty
Jane Bennet, the eldest daughter (in her early twenties), very beautiful and sweet-tempered, always ready to think well of others and modestly of herself—the
friend and foil of her sister Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Bennet, at first too quick and confident in
her judgments, she refines her knowledge of herself and
her ability to evaluate others. More outspoken and
opinionated than her sister Jane.
Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia Bennet, the three
younger sisters, flat characters who change little in
response to experience. Mary is a pedant with no real
knowledge. Lydia’s high spirits are unrestrained by good
Charles Bingley, a good-looking, wealthy, and agreeable young man, who falls in love with Jane but whose courtship of Jane is not encouraged by his friend Darcy
or his fashionable sister Caroline, who wishes to marry
Darcy. Functions as a foil for Darcy.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, a handsome, dignified gentleman,
heir to great property and wealth. A reserved man, ill at
ease with strangers and mindful of social rank. He strikes
the Bennets as cold and aloof. Falls in love with Elizabeth. Reverend William Collins, a clergyman and cousin of
Mr. Bennet, who has ingratiated himself with the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh and stands to inherit Longbourn. He is accepted by Elizabeth’s plain,
practical friend, Charlotte Lucas, after Elizabeth
rejects his marriage proposals.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Mrs. Bennet’s brother and his
wife, a very sensible, well-mannered couple with a special affection for their two older nieces. Because Mr. Gardiner is in business, he is not considered a gentleman by the social elite, although he has every personal quality usually associated with gentility.
George Wickham, a handsome, charming officer,
favorite of the Bennet sisters, whose past dealings with
Mr. Darcy were very shady indeed. Not trustworthy.
Chapters 1–3. The main characters and their rural
setting are introduced when the eligible Charles
Bingley and his elegant sisters and the distinguished
Fitzwilliam Darcy arrive in the district. At a local ball,
2 Pride and Prejudice
Bingley singles out the lovely Jane Bennet for a second
dance. Darcy, ill at ease with strangers, declines to
dance with Elizabeth Bennet. Perhaps to cover his own
shyness, he dismisses her as “tolerable” looking.
Chapters 4–5. After the ball, the various confidantes—
Elizabeth and Jane, Darcy and Bingley, Mrs. Bennet and
her neighbor Lady Lucas, and Elizabeth Bennet and
Charlotte Lucas—compare impressions. The Bennets
find Darcy haughty and proud, and Elizabeth confesses
that her pride was “mortified” by Darcy’s slight.
Chapters 6–8. Jane takes a chill while visiting the
Bingleys at Netherfield Park. While recovering under
the care of her hosts and the ever-attentive Elizabeth,
she grows fonder of Bingley and his sister Caroline. The
more critical Elizabeth believes that only Bingley sincerely cares for her sister. Meanwhile, Darcy, almost against his will, is drawn to Elizabeth. At home, the
younger, flighty Bennets amuse themselves with trips to
their Aunt Philips, who entertains the officers of the
local militia. Trouble could be brewing there.
Chapters 9–11. In a section notable for its dialogue,
Mrs. Bennet and Lydia make a trip to Netherfield,
where Mrs. Bennet takes offense at Darcy’s proud manner and sings Jane’s praises. Embarrassed, Elizabeth tries to divert attention from her mother but fails to lessen
the poor impression she makes on Caroline and Darcy.
Alone, Darcy and Elizabeth (soon to be the battling
lovers) spar, each probing the character of the other.
Chapters 12–14. Finally, a recovered Jane leaves
Netherfield with Elizabeth. The Bennets receive a visit
from their relative, Reverend William Collins, who
hopes to marry one of the Bennet sisters. Mr. Bennet is
amused by the spectacle of his pompous cousin, but
Elizabeth is appalled.
Chapters 15–17. Reverend Collins and the Bennet sisters walk into town where they meet the charming George Wickham, an officer in the militia. They also
encounter Bingley and Darcy, and Elizabeth observes a
marked discomfort between Darcy and Wickham.
Later at the Philips’s, Wickham confides to Elizabeth
that he has been unjustly treated by Darcy. Elizabeth,
who is already prejudiced against Darcy, accepts
Wickham’s account, declaring “There was truth in his
looks,” an example of Austen’s dramatic irony.
Chapters 18–20. Wickham, oddly, absents himself
from a ball given by Mr. Bingley. Disappointed by
Wickham’s absence, Elizabeth quizzes Darcy, Miss
Bingley, and Jane about Wickham and gets unfavorable
reports. The ridiculous Collins proposes to Elizabeth
who rejects him.
Chapters 21–23. Obstacles to the progress of Jane and
Bingley’s romance begin when Jane receives a letter
from Caroline, stating that the Bingleys are to leave
Netherfield. Caroline has begun to function as a blocking figure, who will do all she can to prevent a match
Copyright © Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
(in order of appearance)
between her brother and Jane. Though Elizabeth
assures Jane of Bingley’s true affection and the certainty of his return, she is worried. Meanwhile, Mr. Collins
has found someone willing to marry him—Elizabeth’s
friend Charlotte Lucas, who declares that marriage is
the only honorable provision for a well-educated
woman of small fortune. This is the first of four marriages that will occur in the novel, and unlike the parallel romances of Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy, and Lydia and Wickham, the Collinses are
brought together by practical necessities alone without
a hint of personal attraction.
Chapters 1–3. More complications—Jane receives
another cool letter from Caroline, which confirms that
Bingley is enjoying the company of Darcy’s sister,
Georgiana, and has no plans to return. The ever-forgiving
Jane sees Caroline as motivated by her brother’s best
interests, but her foil, Elizabeth, is critical of Bingley’s lack of resolution. Aunt and Uncle Gardiner invite Jane
to their London home, where she hopes to resume her
ties with the Bingleys. Aunt Gardiner warns Elizabeth
not to fall in love with the penniless Wickham, and
when he shifts his attention to a wealthier woman,
Elizabeth congratulates herself on her calm acceptance
of his prudent decision. Finally Jane, receiving no word
from Bingley, sadly tries to resign herself to his loss.
Copyright © Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
Chapters 4–6. Elizabeth visits her friend Charlotte and
her new husband, Reverend Collins. The group is
invited to Rosings, the imposing home of Lady
Catherine, Mr. Collins’s aristocratic patron. Elizabeth is struck more by Lady Catherine’s willfulness than by her
wealth or rank.
Chapters 7–9. During Elizabeth’s visit, Darcy and his
cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam come to stay with their aunt
at Rosings. The young men visit the parsonage often,
and although Fitzwilliam’s appreciation of Elizabeth is
evident, Darcy’s feelings for her are harder to discern.
Chapters 10–12. In a scene of great tension, Darcy
astounds Elizabeth by confessing that he loves her
despite all his social objections to her family.
(Elizabeth’s mother and younger sisters have functioned
as blocks to a marriage between her and Darcy.)
Offended by his pride, she rejects his proposal, accusing
him of cruelty to Jane and to Mr. Wickham. The next
day Darcy sends a letter explaining that he believed
Jane never seriously cared for Bingley and revealing that
Wickham is a scoundrel who once tried to elope with
Darcy’s fifteen-year-old sister.
Chapters 13–15. Elizabeth now realizes that she has
misjudged both Darcy and Wickham; she has allowed
appearances and pride in her own discernment to blind
her. “Till this moment I never knew myself,” she
exclaims in what is the turning point of the novel. She
leaves Rosings with mixed feelings toward Darcy, her
family, and herself.
Chapters 16–19. At home, Elizabeth is glad to hear that
Wickham and his regiment are leaving for Brighton—
until she learns that her sister Lydia has been invited there by one of the officers’ wives. Unable to talk her father
into denying Lydia permission for the visit, Elizabeth
leaves for a tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners.
Unwittingly she finds herself at the doorstep of
Pemberley, the Darcy estate, and is talked into visiting the grand house by assurances that the master is not at home.
Chapters 1–3. While touring the grounds, after hearing a sterling account of Darcy’s character from his housekeeper, Elizabeth and her relatives are surprised
by the arrival of Darcy. Darcy is friendly to all and
astonishes Elizabeth by inviting her to meet his sister
Georgiana. Confused and flattered by his changed
manner, Elizabeth visits Darcy’s sister and provokes the
jealously of Caroline Bingley, who wishes to block any
attachment between the Darcys and the Bennets.
Chapters 4–6. Darcy calls on Elizabeth just after she
has heard the scandalous news that her sister Lydia has
run off with Wickham. Rushing home, she finds her
distressed family uncertain of Lydia’s whereabouts or
marital status. Elizabeth perceives the irony of her situation: just as she was beginning to have stirrings of love for Darcy, her sister’s behavior has made marriage
between them impossible.
Chapters 7–10. Lydia and Wickham are located, and
an offer of money persuades Wickham to marry her.
Elizabeth later finds out that it was Darcy who intervened
to save her family from disgrace. The newly married couple visit the Bennets without a hint of shame or regret. Chapters 11–13. Bingley returns to Netherfield and
before long proposes to Jane. All are overjoyed and convinced of the happiness their mutual love will bring them. Chapters 14–16. Lady Catherine, a major blocking
figure, tries to extract a promise from Elizabeth not to
marry Darcy. Failing, she tries to apply her powers of
persuasion to her nephew. Her interfering angers Darcy
and gives him the courage to renew his proposal to
Elizabeth. This time, full of love and admiration, she
gratefully accepts his offer.
Chapters 17–19. Elizabeth and Darcy announce their
marriage. Those who love them are happy, and those
who are disappointed eventually come around. All
except the nefarious Wickham are welcomed by the
couple to Pemberley. Thus the novel ends with a typical comic resolution in which the loving couples are united, the blocking figures reconciled, and the community restored to a state of happy equilibrium.
The striking elements of Pride and Prejudice are
Austen’s sharp delineation of character and her use of
Pride and Prejudice 3
1. Investigating Patterns of Characterization
One way that Austen reveals her characters is by creating foils, or contrasting personalities, who illuminate each other by their differences. Students may want to discuss the following pairs:
• Jane and Elizabeth Bennet
• Darcy and Bingley
• Mr. and Mrs. Bennet
2. Finding Contemporary Comic Types
The stock characters of classical comedy continue to
appear in today’s books, movies, plays, and television
series. Students can broaden their understanding of
these types by first identifying such characters and
their traits in Pride and Prejudice and then finding
similar types in contemporary works. Here are some
stock types they can consider:
• the battling lovers
• the blocking parent figures
• the charming rake
• the injured innocent
• the jealous rival
3. Responding to Tone
Critics have disagreed about Austen’s attitude toward
the characters she satirizes. Some feel the character
portraits, like that of Mrs. Bennet, are hard and angry.
Others hear an amused and forgiving, though no less
penetrating, tone. Students can discuss who and what
they think Austen is criticizing and how severely she
attacks her targets. They may also want to discuss
their own feelings toward these characters.
4. Evaluating Contemporary Appeal and Relevance
After highlighting some of the differences between
Austen’s social world and their own, students may want
to discuss, “Why would today’s readers or viewers be
interested in a society so different from their own?”
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4 Pride and Prejudice
This question could lead to an evaluation of aspects
of the novel, such as the following:
• a clear sense of moral values
• fixed social roles and rankings
• moral worth rewarded
• social restrictions on individual freedom
Meet the Writer
Jane Austen (1775–1817) was born and grew up in her
father’s rectory in Steventon, Hampshire, England.
George Austen, a cultivated and well-off clergyman,
took an interest in his second daughter’s literary education. Jane read widely and began writing in her early teens. Although all her fictional heroines eventually
find mates, Jane never married. After her father’s death,
she lived quietly in her brother’s household, writing her
minutely observed studies of “three or four families in a
country village.” Six of her novels were published
before she died. Austen admitted that she agreed with
the opinion of most of her readers: among her heroines,
Elizabeth Bennet was her favorite, too.
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811). Elinor and
Marianne Dashwood, sisters with contrasting personalities, first suffer disappointment in love and then marry happily.
William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 116.” A view of love—
“. . . an ever-fixed mark, / That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”—that contrasts somewhat with Austen’s.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the
Portuguese (1850). Personal poems of love. Number 43
begins “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
James Joyce, “Araby.” Like Austen’s protagonists,
Joyce’s young narrator is deceived and then disillusioned by what at first attracts him. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Winter Dreams.” Dreams of love
and money attach young Dexter Green to the tantalizing
Judy Jones, but is she worthy of his devotion?
Copyright © Holt, Rinehart and Winston. All rights reserved.
comic irony to expose what she sees as the moral or
intellectual failings of her characters. Discussion groups
or students doing individual research might focus on
the following activities.