Austen for Beginners

Pride and Prejudice - the plot


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Pride and Prejudice – the text

Setting the scene...
  • Mr and Mrs Bennet are a modestly well-off couple who live on a small estate called Longbourn, in Hertfordshire and have five daughters. Mrs Bennet is desperate to marry them all off, ideally to rich men, and is in competition with all the other local matrons with eligible daughters.
  • Jane Bennet, the eldest daughter, conveniently falls in love with Mr Bingley, a rich and handsome young man who has recently arrived in the neighbourhood. Mr Bingley’s two sisters who have come with him to Hertfordshire are horrified by this – they think Mr Bingley could do much better for himself than marry Jane.
  • Elizabeth Bennet, the second daughter, is spurned at a dance by Mr Darcy, the even richer and more handsome friend of Mr Bingley, and declares to her mother that she will never dance with him.
  • Mary Bennet, the third daughter, prefers her books and her music to any man she has ever met, and refuses to go along with any of her mother’s schemes. Mrs Bennet instead devotes her attention to her two younger daughters, Kitty and Lydia, who according to Mr Bennet are two of the silliest girls in the kingdom.
Miss Bennet is invited to Netherfield
  • Jane is invited to dinner at Netherfield (Mr Bingley’s house). She catches cold by riding there in the rain and is invited to stay at the house until she has recovered. The next morning, Elizabeth sets off to see her and gets rather muddy on the way. Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley’s sisters are horrified at her appearance when they see her. Mr Bingley doesn't really notice.
  • Jane and Elizabeth spend several days at Netherfield before Jane recovers and they return home. Mr Bingley is very nice to them during their stay. Mr Darcy seems to ignore them as much as possible. Mr Bingley's sisters pretend to be nice to them.
Enter Mr Collins...
  • Since the Bennets have no son, the heir to Mr Bennet’s estate is his cousin, Mr Collins. He comes from the parish of Hunsford in Kent, where his ‘patroness’ (the local lady of the manor who appointed him as rector) is Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She turns out to be Mr Darcy’s aunt, and Mr Collins tells Elizabeth that Mr Darcy is expected to marry his cousin, Anne de Bourgh.
  • Mr Collins has come to Hertfordshire intending to acquire one of the Bennet girls as his wife. His first choice is Jane, but Mrs Bennet explains that Jane is practically engaged to someone else (meaning Mr Bingley), and encourages him to turn his attentions to Elizabeth.
…and Mr Wickham
  • The local militia are stationed in the area and Kitty and Lydia spend as much time as possible flirting with the officers. Jane and Elizabeth try to get them to behave themselves but Mrs Bennet encourages them. Actually Elizabeth rather fancies one of the officers too – a Mr Wickham.
  • Mr Wickham tells Elizabeth that he and Mr Darcy were more or less brought up together, but that when Darcy’s father died and left Wickham an inheritance, Darcy refused to hand it over because he didn’t like Wickham. Elizabeth ends up disliking Mr Darcy even more and gets rather fond of Mr Wickham.
A ball at Netherfield…and a proposal
  • Mr Bingley holds a ball and pays a lot of attention to Jane. Mr Darcy dances with Elizabeth once but doesn’t say much – she can’t work him out at all. Mrs Bennet embarrasses Jane and Elizabeth by boasting to her neighbours that Mr Bingley is in love with Jane. They are even more embarrassed by the behaviour of their younger sisters, and by Mr Collins bowing and scraping before Mr Darcy. Elizabeth is disappointed that Mr Wickham doesn’t come to the ball.
  • Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth, who is revolted by him and refuses him. He is rather put out, so he goes off to see Sir William and Lady Lucas (friends of the Bennets) and proposes to their daughter, Charlotte, instead. She accepts. Elizabeth is horrified, but Charlotte explains that although she is not in love with Mr Collins, this is the best offer she is likely to get.
  • Meanwhile Mr Bingley and his sisters and Mr Darcy leave for London without calling to say goodbye. Jane thinks she must have made a mistake about Mr Bingley’s feelings for her but Elizabeth tells her not to give up.
Visits to and from friends and relations
  • Mr and Mrs Gardiner (Mrs Bennet’s brother and his wife) arrive from London to stay at Longbourn for Christmas. Jane and Elizabeth are very fond of them. When they return to London, they take Jane with them to stay for a while.
  • While in London, Jane calls on Miss Bingley, but finds her much less friendly than before. Miss Bingley returns the call, but is obviously wishing she didn’t have to be there, and that’s the last Jane hears of her. Jane thinks this must mean Mr Bingley was never in love with her.
  • Elizabeth goes to Kent to visit her friend Charlotte, now Mrs Collins. Mr Darcy is also in Kent, visiting his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, accompanied by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. The Collinses, together with Elizabeth, are frequently invited to Rosings, Lady Catherine’s house, and so Elizabeth finds herself spending several evenings in Mr Darcy’s company. But he still doesn’t say much to her, although she often catches him looking at her.
Another proposal
  • Colonel Fitzwilliam rather likes Elizabeth and she finds him much better company than Mr Darcy. One day he reveals that Mr Darcy has recently talked Mr Bingley out of marrying an unsuitable lady. He has no idea that the lady in question is Elizabeth’s sister. Elizabeth doesn’t let on to the Colonel that she knows who he is talking about, but she goes off Mr Darcy in a big way.
  • Mr Darcy calls on Elizabeth one evening when everyone else is at Rosings, and asks her to marry him. He tells that he doesn’t really want to marry someone with her background and embarrassing family, but he is so much in love with her he can’t help himself. Elizabeth refuses his proposal, telling him that his manner of proposing is terrible and that she hates him because he separated her sister from Mr Bingley. Oh, and she flings Mr Wickham’s tale of woe at him as well. Darcy is pretty upset that she said no and storms out.
  • The next morning, Mr Darcy gives Elizabetha letter in which he defends himself against all the things she said. He explains that Wickham is a complete cad and a liar, and gives several stories of his appalling behaviour, including that he tried to elope with Georgiana, Darcy’s younger sister, when she was only fifteen. Elizabeth realises she was wrong to believe what Mr Wickham said, but is still angry with Mr Darcy for the way he insulted her and her family, and for what he did to Jane. His excuse is that he believed Jane to be much less in love with Mr Bingley than Bingley was with her, and he did not want to see Mr Bingley marry someone who did not truly love him. Elizabeth doesn't think this justifies his interference.
  • Mr Darcy and Elizabeth do not meet again before leaving Kent.
Back at Longbourn
  • Elizabeth departs for home via London, where she meets Jane, and they go home together. She tells Jane what happened, although she doesn’t show her Mr Darcy’s letter and she keeps quiet about Mr Darcy’s interference with Mr Bingley. Jane and Elizabeth agree that telling everyone in Meryton about what Mr Wickham has got up to in the past (as revealed in Darcy’s letter) wouldn’t really make any difference at this stage. Also, if anyone got to hear about Wickham’s attempted elopement with Mr Darcy’s sister, it would be she that would suffer, not him. That was the main reason Mr Darcy had never said anything about Wickham before.
  • The regiment, including Wickham, are still in Meryton, but are about to leave for Brighton. Lydia is invited by the colonel’s wife to go with her to Brighton as her companion. Elizabeth thinks she will embarrass them all and get into trouble, but Mr Bennet just wants some peace and quiet, so he agrees to let Lydia go. Mrs Bennet is delighted for her but Kitty is furious not to be invited as well.
A trip to Derbyshire
  • The Gardiners arrive from London to take Elizabeth with them on a planned summer holiday to the Lake District. Unfortunately the trip has to be cut short due to Mr Gardiner’s business commitments, and they explain to Elizabeth that they will only be able to go as far as the Peak District in Derbyshire. Mrs Gardiner isn’t too upset about this as she was brought up there and loves the area, but Elizabeth is a little nervous as they will be travelling very near Mr Darcy’s estate, Pemberley.
  • They arrive in Lambton, where Mrs Gardiner grew up, and which happens to be the nearest town to Pemberley. Elizabeth discovers from the maid at the inn that the Darcys are not at home for the summer, so she agrees to visit the estate, where she is delighted by the beautiful house and magnificent grounds. The housekeeper shows them round and tells them what a fine man Mr Darcy is and how devoted he is to his sister. Elizabeth is surprised to hear this and she realises she is starting to feel more kindly towards Mr Darcy than before.
  • Suddenly Mr Darcy arrives unexpectedly and Elizabeth is very embarrassed to have been caught poking around his house when he wasn’t there. He is very nice about it, very polite to her uncle and aunt, friendly, chatty…Elizabeth can hardly believe he is the same person. He even invites them to dinner during their stay in Lambton and asks if he can introduce Georgiana to Elizabeth when she arrives. Elizabeth is – well, stunned, really.
  • Mr Darcy brings Georgiana over to the inn at Lambton the next morning, accompanied by Mr Bingley who is staying at Pemberley. Georgiana is nice but shy. Mr Bingley is very friendly and asks after Jane.
  • Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle return the favour and call at Pemberley the next day. Mr Gardiner goes fishing with Mr Darcy on the estate. Elizabeth and her aunt make polite conversation with Georgiana and Miss Bingley. Mr Darcy joins them for tea.
Elopement!
  • Jane writes to say that Lydia has eloped from Brighton with Mr Wickham. Mr Darcy comes to the inn to see Elizabeth, and finds her still reading the letter. Elizabeth is very upset and Mr Darcy is very upset on her behalf. He excuses himself. Elizabeth thinks he is ashamed to be associated with the sister of someone like Lydia and doesn’t expect to ever see him again. That makes her even more upset as she is by now falling in love with him.
  • They rush back to Longbourn. Little do they know that Darcy has rushed off to London to try to find Lydia and Mr Wickham. This is because (a) he thinks it is all his fault, for not telling everyone what an appalling character Wickham is, and (b) he thinks he will be more likely to find Wickham since he knows a few of the dodgy characters Wickham mixes with.
  • Mr Gardiner and Mr Bennet go off to London. Eventually Lydia is found and Wickham is paid to marry her. Mr Bennet thinks Mr Gardiner put up the money. Actually Mr Darcy paid, but he made Mr Gardiner promise not to tell anyone about it, because he doesn’t want Elizabeth marrying him out of gratitude, even though he did it for her sake.
  • Lydia and Wickham call at Longbourn on their way to Wickham’s new job in the regular army in Newcastle. Lydia lets slip that Mr Darcy was at her wedding. Elizabeth writes to her aunt to find out what really happened and discovers the truth. She realises she is in love with Mr Darcy.
Lady Catherine pays a visit
  • Lady Catherine de Bourgh hears a rumour that Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are engaged (not true) and storms up to Longbourn to see Elizabeth. She demands that Elizabeth promise never to marry Mr Darcy.
  • Elizabeth refuses to promise any such thing and tells Lady Catherine where to go. Lady Catherine says she is going to see to it that Mr Darcy never marries Elizabeth.
Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy return
  • Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy call at Longbourn. Mr Bingley and Jane are soon engaged. Elizabeth thanks Mr Darcy for everything he has done. He tells her he is still in love with her and asks her again to marry him. This time she says yes. He says he realised she might say yes this time when Lady Catherine told him what Elizabeth had said to her.
  • Double wedding for Elizabeth and Mr Darcy with Jane and Mr Bingley. Mr Bennet is happy. Mrs Bennet is very happy.
  • Mr and Mrs Darcy live happily at Pemberley. Mr Bennet often comes to see them.
  • Mr and Mrs Bingley live at Netherfield for a year, then can’t stand Mrs Bennet coming over every day any longer, and move north near to Mr and Mrs Darcy.
  • Mr and Mrs Wickham are not particularly happy. They are always in financial difficulty.
And they all live happily ever after...
  • Well, the Darcys and Bingleys do, but the Wickhams are not so lucky. A good example of the good getting their just reward (Jane and Elizabeth) and the not so good (Lydia) getting theirs.
Read the text of Pride and Prejudice for yourself

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