Pride and Prejudice: by Jane Austen - Summary & Analysis

Also Read


      Pride and Prejudice is the first novel of Jane Austen. It is the most popular novel in English literature. Elizabeth, the second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett finds Darcy proud and condescending. She is further prejudiced by an unfavorable report of him from George Wickhan, a young officer. Elizabeth rejects Darcy's haughty proposal. When Elizabeth's younger sister runs off with Wickham, Darcy persuades him to marry her and he also reconciles Jane, the eldest daughter of Bennett with Bingley. Elizabeth's prejudice goes and she accepts the second proposal of Darcy. Along with this main theme, there are the episodes of Jane-Bingley, Lydia Wickham and Collins and Charlotte Lucas.

      ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was written in 1797 with the title ‘First Impressions’ but was published only in 1813. One of Austen’s most popular novel Pride and Prejudice like her other novels is concerned with the theme of marriages. There are seven marriages in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ all of them intended to reveal the requirements of a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ marriage.

      The arrival of a new neighbor, wealthy Mr. Bingley, promises to solve a problem for the Bennet family: they see him as an eligible bachelor for one of their five marriageable daughters. Their hopes are borne out when he is attracted to the eldest daughter, Jane. The next oldest, Elizabeth, however, takes an instant dislike to Bingley’s friend, Darcy, who appears to be a proud, supercilious man. While Jane’s affair progresses, Elizabeth is courted by Mr. Collins, an unlikeable churchman who is a cousin of Mr. Bennet’s and the legal heir to the small Bennet estate. When Elizabeth refuses his proposal, Collins turns to her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who surprises everyone by accepting; she has found a comfortable, secure life at the cost of marrying an obsequious fool.

      Jane’s chances of winning Bingley are diminished when he leaves for London. His sister Caroline and Darcy contrive to keep him there in order to prevent any further progress of this affair with Jane, who is not in Bingley’s social class. Elizabeth finds another reason for disliking Darcy when she hears from a fop named Wickham who has flattered her shamefully, that Darcy had ruined his prospects years before.

      On a visit to Collins’ parsonage, Elizabeth meets Darcy again, and is astonished when he proposes. She refuses and be-rates him for his treatment of Jane and Wickham. He explains in a fetter that he had not realized the depth of Jane’s affection for Bingley, hence had not seen the separation as a calamity. As for Wickham, that young man is really a scoundrel who had attempted to seduce Darcy’s sister and to get her money. Elizabeth begins to suspect that she had misjudged Darcy; her doubt is reinforced when she meets him again at his estate and finds him to be a gracious host who is virtually worshipped by his employees.

      Their reconciliation is jeopardized, however, by the sudden elopement of Wickham and Lydia, the youngest Bennet girl. The Bennets are in a position where they must pay Wickham to marry their daughter. Surprisingly, however, the sum Wickham demands is relatively small. It is soon revealed that Darcy has paid an additional amount to the scoundrel.

      Elizabeth realizes from this that Darcy is in love with her. Shortly, Bingley arrives at the village again to renew his acquaintance with Jane. Darcy and Elizabeth apologize to each other for their initial pride and prejudice. And, in spite of protests from their families, Bingley and Darcy marry Jane and Elizabeth and take them off to comfortable futures.

Pride and Prejudice is the first novel of Jane Austen.
Pride and Prejudice

Critical Analysis

      The Novel has a Dramatic Structure. The different episodes are looked at from the central character, Elizabeth, Jane Austen reveals characters through dramatic dialogues and situations. The novel deals with an entire family. Each character is beautifully delineated. Mr. Collins is the most humorous character; Lady Catherine is a pompous lady; Jane is sweet and Elizabeth is witty and vivacious. Darcy is shy and generous, but proud. Irony suffices the novel, as the characters labor under their misconceptions. Life is viewed as a high comedy. Jane Austen writes a comedy of manners. Her comedy is confined to the delineation of the manners and habits of the upper middle class. Match-making is the central occupation of the characters. But there is a serious criticism of life. The original title of the novel was First Impressions. Austen means to suggest that first impressions corrected by experience lead to the judgment. The first encounter between Darcy and Elizabeth suggests the conflict and then she devises a number of situations through which the conflict is resolved. The novel is remarkable for technical brilliance and structural coherence.

      The Theme of the Novel: Marriage and courtship are the central theme of this novel. It is stated in the very first chapter with Mrs. Bennet the eager mother out to find good matches for her five daughters. In the course of the story, this theme is developed through the plot and the five marriages in the novel show varying degrees of good or bad or successful and unsuccessful marriages. But involved in this larger theme of marriage is the theme of pride and prejudice - the feelings which come in the way of marriage.

      The theme of Pride and Prejudice manifests through Elizabeth and Darcy: The novel, we can say traces the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy marred by the pride of Darcy and the prejudice of Elizabeth. But unlike Sense and Sensibility which is a study of opposites with the character traits divided between two sisters, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is more complex with the character traits divided between a man and woman, initially hostile to each other and eventually attracted to each other. It is also to be noted that Pride leads to prejudice and Prejudice invites pride. It is Darcy who first exhibits pride in refusing to dance with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is thus prejudiced against him but her prejudice itself stems from her wounded pride. Darcy’s first proposal in fact, is the climax of pride on his part and prejudice on hers. The real turning point is the letter Elizabeth receives from Darcy which makes her reevaluate Wickham’s story as well as Darcy’s part in keeping Bingley away from Jane. In writing the letter, Darcy has humbled himself and Elizabeth begins to recognize Darcy’s good qualities. But it is not until after all the external action of the visit to Pemberley, Lydia’s elopement, Darcy’s rescuing of her and Lady Catherine’s interference that Darcy and Elizabeth are finally united in marriage. It is a marriage built on love and calm judgement and therefore good.

      The Relationship of Miss Bennet (Jane) and Bingley: The parallel plot of Jane’s romance goes on without disturbing the main course of the novel. At first glance it may seem that Jane is as important as Elizabeth but Elizabeth is definitely the heroine for she dominates the action and represents the ‘prejudice’ in the title of the novel. Jane is too perfect, too good, too simple a character to be the heroine. It is Elizabeth who is an intricate character with a mix of the good and the bad and hence more interesting. Jane Bennet and Bingley are not sufficiently profound and their romance is on a subsidiary level in the novel and their affair depends ultimately upon the change of heart in the Elizabeth/Darcy affair. The Jane/Bingley marriage is another “Good” marriage in the novel.

      A marriage of convenience: Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins only because of her need for economic security. She opts for it because there were hardly any means of earning an independent livelihood for the daughters of gentlemen. Their marriage dramatizes the economic inequality of women and is an example of a bad marriage.

      A marriage of passion: The runaway marriage of Lydia and Wickham is an example of this. Based as it is on superficial qualities as good looks it is bound to end at best in mutual tolerance. Wickham often leaves Lydia alone while he cavorts in London. This again is a bad marriage, as passion is sure to disappear after a while.

      Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: Their marriage has also been disastrous with Mrs. Bennet being foolish and vulgar, and Mr. Bennet increasingly isolating himself from his family as he is unable to respect his partner in life. All that they have in marriage is a mutual forbearance.

      George Wickham: He is one of the most plausible and the most villainous of Jane Austen’s anti-heroes. Handsome, persuasive and personable, he also turns out to be a dishonorable and calculating man, who not only defames Darcy but also in the end has to be paid to marry the girl (Lydia) he has eloped with.

      Symmetry in Plot: The plot has a symmetry in the way in which events are balanced. The novel opens with parties and balls and ends with marriage, that is with social affairs. Bingley and Darcy make two arrivals - an optimistic one in the beginning and a gloomy one towards the end. There are two surprise marriages — Charlotte’s near the beginning and Lydia’s near the end. Structurally the opening chapters are short, thus making for speedy movement of the plot. The viewpoint is that of comedy and hence the customary elopement and other dangers and difficulties are overcome with the minimum of sorrow to end in marriage. At the end we have Jane Austen’s oft-used technique of a profusion of letters which report and explain events.

      Conclusion: Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular novels of Jane Austen. It is here that Jane Austen for the first time allows her heroine Elizabeth Bennet to share her own characteristic response to the world. Elizabeth Bennet tells Darcy:

      “...Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can...” It is this view which leads to much of the comic irony in the novel.

Previous Post Next Post