On January 28 1813 – Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice was first published in the United Kingdom. The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a country gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London. Though the story is set at the turn of the 19th century, it retains a fascination for modern readers, continuing near the top of lists of “most loved books” such as The Big Read. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature and receives considerable attention from literary scholars. Modern interest in the book has resulted in a number of dramatic adaptations and an abundance of novels and stories imitating Austen’s memorable characters or themes. To date, the book has sold some 20 million copies worldwide. The novel centres on Elizabeth Bennet, the second of the five daughters of a country gentleman. Mr Bennet is a bookish man, and somewhat neglectful of his responsibilities. Mrs Bennet is a woman lacking in social graces and primarily concerned with finding suitable husbands for her five daughters. Jane Bennet, the eldest daughter, is distinguished by the kindness of her attitudes and her beauty; Elizabeth Bennet, the second daughter, shares her father’s keen wit and occasionally sarcastic outlook; Mary is not pretty, but is studious, devout and musical albeit lacking in taste; Kitty, the fourth sister follows where her younger sister leads, while Lydia is flirtatious and unrestrained.
The novel opens with news in the Bennet family that Mr Bingley, a wealthy, charismatic and sociable young bachelor, is moving into Netherfield Park in the neighbourhood. Mr Bingley is soon well received, while his friend Mr Darcy makes a less favourable impression by appearing proud and condescending at a ball that they attend (he detests dancing and is not much for light conversation). Mr Bingley singles out Jane for particular attention, and it soon becomes apparent that they have formed an attachment to each other, though Jane does not alter her conduct for him, confessing her great happiness only to Lizzie. By contrast, Darcy slights Elizabeth, who overhears and jokes about it despite feeling a budding resentment. On paying a visit to Mr Bingley’s sister, Caroline, Jane is caught in a heavy downpour, catches cold, and is forced to stay at Netherfield for several days. Elizabeth arrives to nurse her sister and is thrown into frequent company with Mr Darcy, who begins to act less coldly towards her.
Mr Collins, a clergyman, and heir to the Bennet estate, pays a visit to the Bennets. It soon becomes apparent that Mr Collins has come to Longbourn to choose a wife from among the Bennet sisters (his cousins) and Elizabeth is singled out. Elizabeth forms an acquaintance with Mr Wickham, a militia officer who dislikes Mr Darcy, despite having been a godson and favourite of Mr Darcy’s father. This and Elizabeth’s attraction to Mr Wickham, increase her dislike of Mr Darcy.At a ball ,mr Darcy becomes aware that Mr Bingley and Jane may marry. The following morning, Mr Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth, who refuses him, much to her mother’s distress. Mr Collins becomes engaged to Elizabeth’s close friend Charlotte Lucas, meanwhile Mr Bingley abruptly leaves Netherfield and returns to London, devastating Jane, and Elizabeth becomes convinced that Mr Darcy and Caroline Bingley have colluded to separate him from Jane.Jane is persuaded that Mr Bingley is not in love with her, but goes on an extended visit to her aunt and uncle Gardiner in London in the hope of maintaining her relationship with Caroline if not with Charles Bingley.
In the spring, Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are frequently invited to Rosings Park, home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt; coincidentally, Darcy also arrives to visit. Elizabeth meets Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who vouches for Darcy’s loyalty, using as an example how Darcy had recently stepped in on behalf of a friend, who had formed an attachment to a woman against whom “there were some very strong objections.” Elizabeth rightly assumes that the said friend is none other than Mr Bingley, and her dislike of Darcy deepens. Thus she is of no mood to accept when Darcy arrives and, quite unexpectedly, confesses love for her and begs her hand in marriage. His proposal is flattering, he is a very distinguished man, but it is delivered in a manner ill suited to recommend it. He talks of love but also of revulsion at her inferior position and family. Despite assertions to the contrary, he assumes she will accept him. Elizabeth rebukes him, and a heated discussion follows; she charges him with destroying her sister’s and Bingley’s happiness, with treating Mr Wickham disgracefully, and with having conducted himself towards her in an arrogant, ungentleman-like manner. Mr Darcy, shocked, ultimately responds with a letter giving a good account of his actions: Wickham had exchanged his legacies for a cash payment, only to return after frittering away the money to reclaim the forfeited inheritance; he then attempted to elope with Darcy’s young sister Georgiana, and thereby secure her fortune for himself. Regarding Jane and Bingley, Darcy claims he had observed no reciprocal interest in Jane for Bingley, and had assumed her not to be in love with him. In addition to this, he cites the “want of propriety” in the behaviour of Mr and Mrs Bennet and her three younger daughters. Elizabeth, who had previously despaired over this very behavior, is forced to admit the truth of Mr Darcy’s observations, and begins to wonder whether she has misjudged him.
Some months later, Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle Gardiner visit Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, believing he will be absent for the day. He returns unexpectedly, and though surprised, he is gracious and welcoming. He treats the Gardiners with great civility, surprising Elizabeth who assumes he will “decamp immediately” on learning who they are. Darcy introduces Elizabeth to his sister, and Elizabeth begins to acknowledge her attraction to him. Their re-acquaintance is cut short, however, by the news that Lydia has eloped with Mr Wickham. Elizabeth and the Gardiners return to Longbourn (the Bennet family home), where Elizabeth grieves that her renewed acquaintance with Mr Darcy will end as a result of her sister’s disgrace.
Lydia and Wickham are soon found, and persuaded to marry And Jane, Elizabeth and Mr Bennet realise that their Uncle Gardiner must have bribed Wickham to marry Lydia and are ashamed of their indebtedness. Mr and Mrs Wickham visit Longbourn, where Lydia lets slip that Mr Darcy was in attendance at their wedding but that this was to have been a secret. Elizabethdiscovers that Mr Darcy was responsible for finding the couple and negotiating their marriage, at great personal and monetary expense. Elizabeth is shocked and flattered. Meanwhile Bingley’s returs and proposes to Jane, who immediately accepts. Lady Catherine de Bourgh pays an unexpected visit to Longbourn. She has heard a rumour that Elizabeth will marry Mr Darcy and attempts to persuade Elizabeth to agree not to Because Lady Catherine wants Mr Darcy to marry her daughter (his cousin) Anne De Bourgh instead and thinks Elizabeth is beneath him. Elizabeth refuses her demands. Disgusted, Lady Catherine leaves, promising that the marriage can never take place….