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Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen. First published on 28 January 1813, it was her second published novel. Its was initially written between 1796 and 1797 in Steventon, Hampshire, where Austen lived in the rectory. Originally called First Impressions, it was never published under that title, and in following revisions it was retitled Pride and Prejudice.
Twenty year old Elizabeth Bennet is the second eldest of the five daughters of a relatively poor country gentleman in the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, England. Her father's estate, Longbourn, is entailed to Mr Collins, the closest male relative, meaning that upon Mr Bennet's death, she and her mother and sisters will lose their home and income, something which obsesses her mother. Elizabeth's older sister, Jane, is sweet-tempered and intelligent, but her three younger sisters are relatively uneducated; the two youngest being obsessed with clothes and flirting with a camp of officers stationed in Meryton.
As the novel opens, Mr Bingley, a wealthy young gentleman, rents a country estate near the Bennets, accompanied by his two fashionable sisters and his good friend, the fabulously rich Mr Darcy. While Bingley is well-liked in the community, Darcy begins his acquaintance with Elizabeth, her family, and their neighbours with smug condescension and proud distaste for all of the country people. Despite Mrs Bennet's embarrassing interference and the opposition of his sisters, who believe Jane to be socially inferior, Bingley and Jane begin to grow closer. Elizabeth, amused but rather stung by Darcy's haughty rejection of her at a local dance, makes it a point to match his coldness with her own wit.
At the same time, Elizabeth begins a friendship with Mr Wickham, a charming officer who relates a prior acquaintance with Darcy. Upon hearing Wickham tell his story of his apparent misfortune at the hands of Darcy, Elizabeth immediately seizes upon it as another, more concrete reason to hate Darcy. Unbeknownst to her, Darcy finds himself gradually drawn to Elizabeth.
Just as he appears to be on the point of proposing marriage, Bingley leaves Netherfield suddenly, leaving Jane confused and upset. Elizabeth is convinced that Bingley's sisters have conspired with Darcy to separate Jane and Bingley.
Mr Collins, the obsequious and pompous male relative who is to inherit Longbourn, makes a sudden appearance and stays with the Bennets; he has been ordained as a clergyman and his patroness, the wealthy and patronizing Lady Catherine de Bourgh, insists he visit them. Collins has another reason for visiting: he wishes to find a wife from among the Bennet sisters. He proposes marriage to Elizabeth, who refuses him, much to her mother's distress. Collins immediately makes another proposal and marries Elizabeth's close friend, Charlotte Lucas, who invites Elizabeth to stay with them. The Collins' parish is adjacent to Rosings Park, the grand manor of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who turns out to be Darcy's aunt. Elizabeth is frequently invited to Rosings, where she is again forced into contact with Darcy, who is visiting his aunt at the time. During this time, Elizabeth learns that Darcy indeed played a part in separating Bingley and Jane.
Elizabeth is very surprised when Darcy admits his love for her and proposes marriage. Insulted by his high-handed and insulting manner of proposing, Elizabeth refuses him, confronting him with his sabotage of Bingley's relationship with Jane and Wickham's account of their dealings. Deeply shaken by Elizabeth's vehemence and accusations, Darcy writes her a letter justifying his actions and revealing that Wickham in fact cheated him, and in order to exact revenge and to get his hands on some of the Darcy fortune, he attempted to seduce Darcy's young sister Georgiana, almost persuading her to elope with him. Darcy also justifies his actions towards Bingley and Jane by explaining that as Jane did not visibly show any reciprocal interest in his friend, his aim in separating them was mainly to protect Bingley from heartache. Darcy also admits he was concerned about the potential disadvantageous association with Elizabeth's embarrassing mother and wild younger sisters. As a result of the letter, Elizabeth is prompted to question both her family's behaviour and Wickham's credibility, and comes to the conclusion that Wickham is not as trustworthy as his easy manners would indicate and her early impressions of Darcy may not have been accurate.
Some months later, during a tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth visits Pemberley, Darcy's estate, and is presented with a more flattering, benevolent impression of his character from his housekeeper who has known him since babyhood. When the party encounters Darcy as they tour the grounds of Pemberley, he makes an effort to be gracious and welcoming to them, thus strengthening Elizabeth's newly favourable impression of him. Darcy makes a point of introducing Elizabeth to his sister Georgiana and welcoming her uncle and aunt, people he previously dismissed as socially inferior.
Elizabeth and Darcy's renewed acquaintance is cut short when news arrives that Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia has suddenly run away with Wickham. Initially it is believed that Wickham and Lydia have eloped, but soon it is surmised that Wickham has no plans to marry Lydia, thus threatening the family's reputation and the Bennet sisters with ruin. Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle hurriedly leave Derbyshire, and Elizabeth is convinced that Darcy will avoid her from now on.
Ostensibly thanks to the intervention of Elizabeth's uncle, Lydia and Wickham are found and married, delighting Mrs Bennet. Elizabeth is surprised to learn from Lydia that Darcy was present at the wedding and discovers from her aunt that Darcy in fact was responsible for both finding the couple and arranging their marriage at great expense to himself.
Soon after, Bingley and Darcy return to the area; Bingley proposes marriage to Jane, and this news starts rumours that Darcy will propose to Elizabeth. Lady Catherine travels to Longbourn with the sole aim of confronting Elizabeth and demanding that she never accept such a proposal. Elizabeth's refusal to bow to Lady Catherine's demands convinces Darcy that her opinion of him has changed, and he once again proposes marriage. Elizabeth is by now in love with Darcy; she accepts, and the two are engaged.
In the final chapter, the fates of the characters are more or less revealed. Elizabeth and Darcy settle at Pemberley; Mr Bennet misses his second daughter greatly and visits often. Mrs Bennet remains frivolous and silly, and she loves visiting the new Mrs Bingley and talking of the new Mrs Darcy. Later, Jane and Bingley move from Netherfield to avoid Jane's mother and Meryton relations and to locate near the Darcys in Derbyshire. Elizabeth and Jane manage to lead Kitty down a more sensible path, and Mary learns to accept the difference between herself and her sisters' beauty and mixes more with the outside world. Lydia and Wickham are always moving, leaving their debts for Jane and Elizabeth to pay off, and the Wickhams frequently stay with Jane and Bingley.
At Pemberley, Elizabeth and Georgiana grow close, though Georgiana is surprised at the playful manner Elizabeth uses toward Darcy. Lady Catherine is still very angry about her nephew's marriage but over time the relationship between the two is repaired and she eventually decides to visit them. Elizabeth and Darcy are also often visited by her uncle and aunt, showing how much Darcy has changed in his attitude towards those of supposedly inferior social status.
- Elizabeth Bennet is the main female protagonist. The reader sees the unfolding plot and the other characters mostly from her viewpoint. The second of the Bennet daughters at twenty years old, she is portrayed as intelligent, lively, attractive, and witty, with her faults being a tendency to judge on first impressions and perhaps being a little selective of the evidence she uses to base her judgments upon. As the plot begins, her closest relationships are with her father, her sister Jane, her aunt Mrs Gardiner, and her neighbour Charlotte Lucas.
- Fitzwilliam Darcy is the main male protagonist. Twenty-eight years old and unmarried, Darcy is the wealthy owner of the famously superior estate Pemberley in Derbyshire. Portrayed as handsome, tall, and intelligent, but not convivial, his concern with decorum and moral rectitude is seen by many as an excessive concern for social status. He makes a poor impression on strangers, such as the people of Meryton, but is valued by those who know him well.
- Mr Bennet has a wife and five daughters. Portrayed as a bookish and intelligent man somewhat withdrawn from society and one who dislikes the frivolity of his wife and three younger daughters, he offers nothing but mockery by way of correction. Rather than trying to lead his younger daughters down a more sensible path, he is rather content to laugh at them.
- Mrs Bennet is the wife of Mr Bennet and mother of Elizabeth and her sisters. She is frivolous, excitable, and narrow-minded. She is susceptible to attacks of tremors and palpitations, and her public manners are embarrassing to her eldest daughters. Her favourite daughter is the youngest, Lydia.
- Jane Bennet is the eldest Bennet sister. Twenty-three years old when the novel begins, she is considered the most beautiful young lady in the neighbourhood. Her character is contrasted with Elizabeth's as sweeter, shyer, and equally sensible, but not as clever; her most notable trait is a desire to see only the good in others. Jane is closest to Elizabeth. She, at the end, marries Mr. Bingley.
- Mary Bennet is the middle Bennet sister, aged around eighteen. The only plain one of the five, she strives to be the most accomplished. She spends most of her time reading and studying, but without understanding.
- Catherine "Kitty" Bennet is the fourth Bennet sister, aged seventeen. Portrayed as a less headstrong but equally silly shadow of Lydia.
- Lydia Bennet is the youngest Bennet sister, aged fifteen. She is repeatedly described as frivolous and headstrong. Her main activity in life is socialising, especially flirting with the military officers stationed in the nearby town of Meryton. She dominates her older sister Kitty and is supported in the family by her mother. She later marries Mr Wickham.
- Charles Bingley is a young gentleman without an estate; his wealth was made by trade and he is seeking a permanent home. He rents the Netherfield estate near Longbourn when the novel opens. Twenty-two years old at the start of the novel, handsome, good-natured, and wealthy, he is contrasted with his friend Darcy as being less intelligent but kinder and more charming, and hence more popular in Meryton. He lacks resolve and is easily influenced by others.
- George Wickham is an old acquaintance of Darcy, and an officer in the militia unit stationed near Meryton. A superficially charming man, he forms a friendship with Elizabeth Bennet, prompting many to remark upon his suitability as a potential husband. He spreads numerous tales about the wrongs Darcy has done to him, colouring the popular perception of the other man in local society; it is eventually revealed that these tales are distortions, and that Darcy was the more wronged man in their acquaintance.
- William Collins is Mr Bennet's cousin and a clergyman, aged twenty-five. Since Mr Bennet has no sons, Collins is in line to inherit Mr Bennet's estate. Austen described him as "not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society". Collins is thought to be naively stupid by Mr Bennet, and Elizabeth rejects his marriage proposal. She is very distressed when her friend Charlotte Lucas decides to marry Collins out of desire for a settled position and to avoid being an old maid rather than from love. Collins constantly boasts about his acquaintance with the wealthy and pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
- Lady Catherine De Bourgh is haughty, egotistical, and domineering. Because of her wealth and social standing she believes she can command everyone around her. People such as Mr. Collins contribute to this personality by acting as sycophants who bow to her every command. Her nephew Darcy initially does whatever his aunt requests out of respect for her, but by the end of the text, he makes the choice to go against her wishes and marry Elizabeth.
- Mr Gardiner is Mrs Bennet's brother, and is quite sensible and gentlemanlike. He tries to help Lydia when she elopes with Wickham. His wife has close relationships with Elizabeth and Jane. Jane stays with the Gardiners in London for a while, and Elizabeth travels with them to Derbyshire, where she again meets Darcy.