Plot Construction of Pride and Prejudice

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      In contrast to the simplicity of her style Jane Austen’s plots are unexpectedly complex. She is not content to simply draw two or three characters in isolation. She prefers a family, with their many friends and acquaintances and she tries within her limited range to make things as difficult as possible. There is enough material in any one of her six novels to serve the modern novelist in writing two or three good sized stories: one story, one thread of narrative is not enough for her, and the tangle of human relationships is never too intriguing for her.

      In this novel, Jane Austen has not dealt with the deeper problems confronting the human race — like the problem of moral right and wrong, or that of a conflict of duties; her modest theme is connected with the upheavals and complications brought about in the lives of two young people by a couple of comparatively common flaws in human life. It is the pride of a young gentleman that creates a strong prejudice in the mind of a young lady; the prejudice grows deeper due to situations that follow, until a series of events bring about a reconciliation between them, and all’s well because it ends well.

      The main plot is the story of the misunderstanding, estrangement and union in the lives of two persons — Elizabeth and Darcy. There are the sub-plots like the Jane-Bingley relationship, the Lydia-Wickham episode and the Collins-Charlotte episode. All these threads are most harmoniously woven into an artistically convincing design.

      The novel begins with the flutter and eager expectation in the Bennet family at the arrival of the young ‘single man of large fortune’, Mr. Charles Bingley. For some time, the Jane-Bingley sub-plot attracts greater interest: they meet at a ball, are attracted towards each other and their intimacy grows through dinner-parties, balls, etc. All this while, however, the events of the main plot are also gathering interest. Darcy and Elizabeth are present at the same ball: ‘even though Darcy is looked at with great admiration for about half the evening’, he is soon ‘discovered to be proud’, and when Bingley persuades him to dance with Elizabeth, he says that she is ‘tolerable’ but not handsome enough to tempt me. Elizabeth developed ‘no very cordial feelings towards him’. This prejudice, formed in the very first meeting, is intensified by various other factors, and no event helps to remove it. Miss Caroline Bingley’s designs on Darcy and her efforts to reprobate Elizabeth during her stay at Netherfield are so persistent that in spite of his being attracted by Elizabeth’s ‘pair of fine eyes’, he realizes that it is dangerous to pay too much attention to Elizabeth and observes a studied reticence. Mrs. Bennet’s silly remarks, Mary’s all too quick consent to sing at a party, Mr. Collins’s sycophancy, Mr. Bennet’s want of propriety and Lydia’s shallowness — in fact everything that the Bennet family did is enough to alienate anybody and Darcy’s poor opinion of the whole set urges him to avoid closer connections with Elizabeth. When Elizabeth meets Wickham, his winning manners grow on her good-will, and the altogether false reports of his so-called victimization by Darcy intensify her prejudice far too much. Later, when she naturally suspects that Darcy plays a prominent part in ruining the prospects of her sister’s marriage with Bingley, she feels an almost irrevocably strong prejudice against him. From chapter. III to XXXIII, the prejudice grows in better strength and so, when Darcy proposes to her in so extraordinary a manner, she flatly, bluntly rejects him. In reply to his enquiry about why she refused, she lays the charges at his door without any apology.

      This first stage in the history of their relationship is convincingly developed. Chapters XXXV and XXXVI mark the climax in this development. Darcy’s letter to her marks the beginning of the second stage. Every event occurring subsequent to this helps to reverse Elizabeth’s conception of him, undo all the knots of prejudice and reveal the sterling qualities that he possesses. Even at the end of the first stage, his repulsive pride completely dominates all his thought and action, but the citadel staggers at the first rude shock Elizabeth gives him. ‘She showed him how insufficient were all his pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased’, and even though he was angry at first, he soon realized that the lesson she taught was ‘hard indeed at first but most advantageous.’ When they met most unexpectedly at Pemberley, he ‘showed her by every civility in his power that he hoped to obtain her forgiveness and lessen her ill opinion,’ Darcy’s excessive pride is decreased and Elizabeth becomes proportionately less prejudiced.

      Many events in the second stage quicken this cleansing process: Even in the offending remarks about her family there is an admission that Elizabeth could inspire in Darcy a strong feeling of love capable of overcoming his strong scruple of family pride; and her vanity is touched. Darcy’s narration in the letter makes it clear to her that if he found Jane’s behaviour ‘without any symptom of peculiar regard for Bingley’, it was a pardonable, even justifiable, error of judgment and the motives were certainly unchallengeable. The baselessness of her violent charge of ruining Wickham’s career becomes all clear to her. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s report about him is also creditable to Darcy. All these events make her conscious that she had acted despicably and that her certainty about her discernment was most unjustifiable. Her visit to Pemberley brings another surprise. His housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, is genuinely proud of Darcy, who is ‘the best landlord and the best master’, ‘affable to the poor’, ‘an entirely good brother’: and she is sure to know better. Darcy’s unexpected meeting at Pemberley is still more effective: he impresses her aunt and uncle by his excellent manners, and Elizabeth has to admit that her prejudice was ill-founded. Finally, Darcy’s most invaluable help in the episode of Lydia’s elopement with Wickham sweeps off all her objections. And so when Darcy’s second, and most polite, proposal is made, her attitude has changed as much as his.

      The first minor episode is the Jane-Bingley relationship. It can be treated as an independent event, but Jane Austen has woven it well with the main theme. That Jane and Elizabeth are sisters who share each other’s secrets, hopes and fears is the simplest connection. But on the strength of Darcy’s regard, Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgment the highest opinion, and so when Darcy suspected that Jane did not love Bingley as fervently as Bingley loved her, and found that her family had all vulgar manners and shallow tastes, he ‘readily engaged in the office of pointing out to him the certain evils of such a choice.’ This was one of the very important reasons of Elizabeth’s strong prejudice, and thus it is connected with the main theme.

      The Wickham-Lydia episode and the Collins-Charlotte relationship is equally well-connected with it. While Elizabeth has developed a prejudice against Darcy, she is very much attracted towards Wickham — and it is very long before she knows what his real character is. One of the two strong charges she levels against Darcy is the ruining of Wickham’s prospects. The truth is revealed to her later by Darcy, but because of her silence on this point, she cannot stop her sister’s elopement and the slander on her family. It is this catastrophe, however, that brings Darcy closest to her because it is because of his love for her that he finds out the fugitives and makes a successful effort to bring about a marriage between Lydia and Wickham, neglecting the thought of the loss to him. Mr. Collins proposes to her, and later marries her best friend, Charlotte. All the threads are thus connected.

      Wickham and Charlotte also serve as a comment on Elizabeth and Darcy. “The Darcy-Elizabeth couple is flanked on one side by the unexceptionable Bingley and Jane, it is flanked on the other by Charlotte and Wickham”. The last two have the cleverness of the two main characters, but they are time-servers. The structure is therefore most cleverly unifying.

Precision and Simplicity of Plot

      The plot of Pride and Prejudice has precision, simplicity and symmetry. There are no obtrusive characters, no digressive episodes and each event, each slight incident, each conversation, each speech is indispensable to the plot. The interdependence of the main plot and the sub-plots is complete and the interplay between characters and events is held in perfect organic unity. Lawrence J. Clipper compares the various movements of the novel to “the movements of dancers in a minute, which takes part of its beauty from the overall organisation of many dancers”.

The Main Plot

      The Elizabeth-Darcy courtship and marriage constitutes the main plot of the novel. Their affair follows a peculiar pattern which Mary Lascelles describes in the following words: “This pattern is formed by diverging and converging lines, by the movement of two people who are impelled apart until they reach a climax of mutual hostility and thereafter bend their courses towards mutual understanding and amity.”

      The two are brought together at a village ball. Elizabeth becomes prejudiced against Darcy on account of his haughty behaviour in general and his remark against her in particular that she is not handsome enough to tempt him to dance with her. Jane Austen displays a very great skill in handling events which lead to the deepening of Elizabeth’s prejudice and to the awakening of Darcy’s love in spite of his pride. Wickham’s account of afflictions suffered at Darcy’s hand arouses Elizabeth’s indignation and she pronounces him abominable. Collins is a despicable fool and he holds Lady Catherine in great adulation. Lady Catherine herself is an insufferable snob and she adores Darcy - all these get associated in her mind and strengthen every ill-impression of hers. The indiscreet half-confidence of Colonel Fitzwilliam puts Darcy’s insinuation in the Jane-Bingley affair in the most unfavourable light. When prejudice and proud love have thus reached a degree of intensity, Jane Austen brings Elizabeth and Darcy together at Hunsford parsonage. There is an arrogant and insulting proposal of marriage and an indignant refusal. But the two have already some doubts about their moral stands. At the climax of their mutual exasperation, Darcy is prepared to soften towards the Bennets, having seen the embarrassing display of ill-breeding by Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine and Elizabeth is prepared to concede the validity of Darcy’s objections to her vulgar family in regard to the Jane-Bingley alliance. Darcy’s letter begins the process of self-awareness and Pemberley brings them still closer as they meet for the first time in favourable circumstances. Darcy is at his best as a considerate master, a loving brother and a good host, on his own estate and Elizabeth is among the congenial company of the Gardiners. The two come steadily together only to be parted temporarily by Lydia’s elopement.

      The parting is essential to the story as it reveals how much Elizabeth loves Darcy and how much she cherishes the hopes of marriage with him and it provides Darcy with an opportunity to act heroically and prove his love for Elizabeth. The Darcy-Elizabeth relationship progresses in such a way that their marriage could be the only logical conclusion of their earlier misunderstandings. W.L. Cross says: “The marriage of Elizabeth to Darcy is not merely a possible solution of the plot, it is as inevitable as the conclusion of a properly, constructed syllogism or geometrical demonstration. For a parallel of workmanship of this high order one can only go to Shakespeare, to such a comedy as, Much Ado About Nothing.”

The Sub-Plots

      In addition to the main Elizabeth-Darcy plot, the novel has three sub-plots involving Jane and Bingley, Lydia and Wickham and Charlotte and Collins. Each of this is skillfully linked with the main plot and substantially contributes to it. It is to Mr. Bingley that Darcy owes his presence at Netberfield and the growing Jane-Bingley affair brings Elizabeth also there allowing Darcy to fall in love with her and conversely deepening her own prejudice against him. The Jane-Bingley affair provides Darcy an opportunity to see the disadvantages of the Bennet family objectively and it underlines his love for Elizabeth which asserts itself in defiance of all these disadvantages. Darcy’s hand in separating Jane and Bingley contributes to Elizabeth’s prejudice and is the overwhelming factor for her rejection of his proposal.

      The Lydia-Wickham affair is still more relevant. Wickham is, in the early chapters, precisely what Darcy is not — pleasant, channing and attentive to her. Wickham contributes in deepening Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy and later when his duplicity is exposed, she gains a better perspective of Darcy’s character. The Lydia-Wickham elopement helps Darcy to act heroically and prove his love for Elizabeth. Thus the Lydia-Wickham sub-plot furthers the main plot of Elizabeth and Darcy.

      The Charlotte-Collins plot brings Elizabeth and Darcy together at Rosings and leads to the climax of the novel. Later Mr. Collin’s gossip brings Lady Catherine down to Longbourn to persuade Elizabeth to refuse Darcy and her reports of this to Darcy is what ultimately brings Darcy and Elizabeth together. Thus, no situation or character is irrelevant to plot. Even the places are important. Netherfield plays the role of creating a conflict. Hunsford solves the mental tangle of the heroine and Pemberley reawakens the attitude of the heroine to the true picture of the man whom she has misunderstood on first impressions.

Thematic Unity of the Plot

      The plot and the sub-plots are also thematically unified. The theme of love and marriage is exemplified through the plot and sub-plots.

      The Charlotte Lucas-Collins sub-plot exemplifies a marriage based on economics plainly lacking in love and devotion. The Lydia-Wickham marriage like that of the Bennets is based on physical charm and will soon sink into indifference. The Jane-Bingley marriage is based on sincere love but there is a lack of intellectual understanding and maturity. All these serve by contrast to highlight the propriety of Darcy-Elizabeth's marriage based on emotional compatibility and intellectual understanding.

Symmetry of the Plot

      The symmetry of the plot is evident in the series of balancing incidents in the novel. The novel is divided into three parts, the first and the last balanced against each other: part I occurs largely at Longbourn and Netherfield Park: part II is at Rosings and part III is at Pemberley, then returns to Longbourn. Numerous balancing events occur at various points in the novel. There are two arrivals of Bingley and Darcy at Netherfield Park, one at the beginning, optimistic but ending in fiasco and the other at the end, gloomy but finally bringing fulfillment. There are two surprise marriages, Charlotte’s near the beginning and Lydia’s near the end. At Netherfield it is Elizabeth who is embarrassed by the vulgarity of her mother and younger sisters, at Rosings it is Darcy’s turn to blush at Lady Catherine’s ill-breeding. Near the beginning, Darcy separates Jane and Bingley; near the end he interferes in the Lydia-Wickham affair but brings about their marriages. Thus, by fine precision of balanced events, Jane Austen makes her plot symmetrical.

Organic Unity of the Plot

      There is perfect correspondence between characters and actions thus leading to the organic unity of the plot. Except for a few coincidences such as Wickham and Darcy coming to Meryton around the same time. Collins’s patroness Lady Catherine being Darcy’s aunt and Darcy arriving at Pemberley a day ahead of schedule, much of the action proceeds mainly from the behaviour of the various characters. Darcy’s slight of Elizabeth stems from his pride and his prejudice against the rural gentry. Elizabeth’s prejudice stems from her own hurt pride and her confidence in her own perceptions. The Jane-Bingley affair is complicated by Jane’s reluctance to display her emotions and Bingley’s pliancy and irresolution. Lydia’s elopement with Wickham can be traced to her infatuation and flighty behaviour and his sensuality and rakishness. Thus, the actions are all lent a plausibility which make the plot logical and well-knit.

The Plot as a Five-Act Drama

      All of Jane Austen’s plots are structurally so dramatic that it can be stated with considerable confidence that she would have been a highly successful dramatist. Cross compares the workmanship of Pride and Prejudice to that of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and A.C. Bradley the great critic of drama thinks that the entanglement of errors, misunderstandings cross - purposes and view - point of comedy all seem to point a good deal to the influence of drama! Baker points out that she has greater affinities with dramatists like Congreve and Moliere than with other novelists. He has rightly pointed out that Pride and Prejudice has a “dramatic subject treated dramatically”. The plot can be divided into five acts and has all the elements of a drama;


      The Exposition or Introduction. It extends approximately over the first eighteen chapters and establishes all the major characters and the meeting of Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy and Bingley’s departure to London.


      Brings in the complication. It unfolds the arrival of Mr. Collins, his proposal to Elizabeth and her rejection of it, his marriage with Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth’s growing intimacy with Wickham.


      Presents the climax in Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy’s offer of marriage and later on the realisation of her mistake in understanding Darcy and Wickham.


      Presents the denouement or the resolution of the conflict. In this act there is the sudden meeting of Elizabeth with Darcy in the congenial environment at Pemberley. It marks the movement of Elizabeth and Darcy towards each other. However, just when events seem to be moving towards a happy union of the two there is the unexpected complication of Lydia’s elopement with Wickham which casts doubts on the Bennet family’s suitability with regard to Elizabeth- Darcy marriage.


      It is the final stage where all events move to a resolution. Darcy proves his nobility, gallantry, and love for Elizabeth by doing everything in his power to bring about the Lydia-Wickham marriage. Lady Catherine’s visit to Elizabeth to warn her against marrying Darcy, Elizabeth’s refusal to abide by her wishes and Lady Catherine’s subsequent report of this to Darcy all expedite Darcy’s proposal and his marriage to Elizabeth. Bingley and Jane are also engaged. Thus, all conflicts are resolved.

Dramatic Irony

      We therefore, see that the plot of Pride and Prejudice is dramatic, coherent and well integrated. Dramatic Irony is one of the prominent features of Pride and Prejudice and the difference between appearance and reality is emphasised at every stage. Wickham is apparently refined and well-mannered but turns out to be an unprincipled rake, Darcy is seemingly ill-mannered, but is really a fine gentleman; Elizabeth is proud of her perceptions but fails to judge the intricate characters correctly; Lydia’s elopement with Wickham is supposed to jeopardise Elizabeth’s marriage with Darcy; it brings it about; Lady Catherine wants to prevent the marriage, she simply facilitates it. Darcy checks Bingley from marrying a Bennet girl but ends up marrying one himself. And many such instances abound in the novel making it closer to a drama.

      The narrative mode is also dramatic with action and character being developed through dialogue effectively. Some of the scenes have great dramatic vividness and intensity — Darcy-Elizabeth's repartees at Netherfield, the two proposal scenes, the clash between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth. In such scenes Jane Austen reveals herself as a “master dramatist—with a perfect ear, a perfect sense of timing, a shrewd instinct for climax and anti-climax.”


      Jane Austen’s incidents natural, her characters have an independent reality and yet they all fall into a neat logical scheme — a well-knit integrated coherent plot — where no incident or character is out of place. In spite of such a calculated composition the characters of Pride and Prejudice and indeed of her other novels give us a “sense of spontaneous life we get from a play of Chekov. The precision, simplicity and symmetry of Pride and Prejudice evoke instinctive appreciation. So well is it constructed that the plot has the symmetry and structure of a drama with the action proceeding logically from exposition, complication and climax to the denouement and finally the resolution. Jane Austen uses the dramatic narrative mode and irony so effectively to build her complex plot that it would not be amiss to say that she “is the most perfect dramatist who never wrote a play”.

University Questions

‘The plot of Pride and Prejudice has an exactness of structure and symmetry of form’. Discuss and illustrate.
Examine and comment on the plot construction of Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice is a well constructed novel. Do you agree? Discuss and illustrate.
Write a note on the dramatic nature of the plot of Pride and Prejudice.
“Jane Austen is the most perfect dramatist who never wrote a play.” Discuss this statement with special reference to Pride and Prejudice.

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