Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 1 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet live with their five daughters (Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia) at Longbourn. When the novel opens they are discussing the recent rental of a nearby estate Netherfield Park, by a Mr. Bingley. Mr. Bingley, a bachelor possessing four-five thousand a year was to settle there before Michaelmas. With five daughters for marriage, Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed with the news for she feels Bingley will certainly marry one of her daughters. Mr. Bennet however, is apparently unaffected by the news and casually remarks that he will inform Mr. Bingley of his consent to his marrying any girl he chooses, though preferably Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet is provoked by Mr. Bennet’s partiality towards Elizabeth. She rather prefers the “handsome Jane” or “the good-humoured Lydia” Mrs. Bennet urges Mr. Bennet to make a proper social call on the new neighbour. Though Mr. Bennet, teases her he secretly intends to call on Mr. Bingley.

      Critical Analysis: This is an important chapter, for the novelist quickly establishes the main situation: the arrival of Bingley and the need to marry off the Bennet girls. The opening sentence of this novel is probably one of the most famous first sentences found in fiction. It sets the tone for the entire novel, in that the whole work is a masterpiece of irony both structurally and verbally. The sentence begins as though the novel were going to be a great philosophical discourse. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, - that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. It implies that the novel will deal with great truths, but the second half of the sentence reveals that the universal truth is no more than a consideration of a common social situation. Thus there is an ironic difference between the formal manner of the statement and the ultimate meaning of the sentence. The “truth” spoken of is that a man in possession of a fortune must need a wife, whereas in reality the sentence means that a woman without a fortune needs a man with a fortune for a husband. The young man may actually be the hunted rather than the hunter. The sentence is a perfect example of the complexity of Jane Austen’s prose style.

      The chapter also gives us the characters of two important people: the elder Bennet. Mrs. Bennet is silly and shallow, yet we approve of her concern for her children. Mr. Bennet is sensible, has a sense of perspective, and can be disinterested about the things which upset his wife. Clearly, they are a mismatched pair. The fact that Mrs. Bennet approves of Lydia’s good humour and Jane’s handsomeness while Mr. Bennet prefers his daughter Elizabeth is symptomatic of their incompatibility.

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