Pride and Prejudice
is the novel most Jane Austen readers seem to prefer; I think in many cases because it's the only one they've read. Mr Darcy
is certainly an attractive
hero, with his brooding romanticism
, a Heathcliff
with good breeding and pots of money; but quite as much as Mr Darcy I like her other books' heroes: Captain Wentworth, Mr Tilney, Mr Knightley. Elizabeth Bennet
is the most spirited
of heroines, and perhaps the one most readers can identify with best, but I prefer Anne Wentworth
and Emma Woodhouse
is an ever better comedy, and Persuasion
is the more heartfelt romance
. But enough of that: I don't want to slag off Pride and Prejudice
; it's just that if that's all you've read of Jane's, you haven't read Jane Austen.
Mr Bingley is the amiable and eligible young man recently settled at Netherfield Park, in the vicinity of the Bennet family, with his two beautiful sisters and his surly, haughty, but unspeakably handsome (and rich) friend Mr Darcy. This sets Mrs Bennet aflutter in her quest to see her eldest daughter Jane Bennet married. It turns out that the sweet-tempered Jane and the amiable Mr Bingley do hit it off straight away, and his two catty sisters become instant bosom friends of Jane.
Mr Darcy observes and sneers and declines to condescend. He sees the second daughter, Elizabeth Bennet, and thinks her merely tolerable. Elizabeth however is not one to wish for or seek the odious Mr Darcy's good opinion. But when Jane is forced to stay awhile at the Bingleys' from having caught cold (which was her mother's intention), Elizabeth walks across the wet fields to be with her, to the horror of the Misses Bingley and to the dawning admiration of Mr Darcy.
Another newcomer to the town of Meryton is Mr Wickham, a dashing young ex-officer, very agreable (as it is spelled in JA), and who becomes friendly with Elizabeth. The presence of soldiers excites the giddy hearts of the foolish youngest girls, Kitty and Lydia (Mary is a bookish prig and uninterested), but Elizabeth and Wickham find much natural sympathy in each other. She is distressed to learn that Mr Darcy had been the cause of grave harm to Mr Wickham, having failed and been callous in his undertakings as a guardian to him, a responsibility inherited from his father. For this reason Mr Wickham is poor. This further increases Elizabeth's dislike of Darcy.
The five daughters of Mr Bennet will never be rich, because his property has an entail, which means it will go to a distant cousin, Mr Collins, a clergyman. On receiving a letter of introduction from him, proposing a visit, Mr Bennet, a lover of the absurd, is delighted, because it is clear that the Rev. Mr Collins is an exceptionally silly, unctuous, pompous sort of man. (The name of Collins has passed into the English language for his high-flown letters of empty gratitude.)
Mr Collins means to take a wife, and aware of his eventual depriving them of their estate, thinks a Bennet wife would be an honourable thing. His gracious and noble patroness, the (disgustingly haughty) Lady Catherine de Bourgh has condescended (in between arranging what the weather is to be) to inform him that it sets a good example for clergymen to be married. Lady Catherine's opinion is law, so he scuttles over and slimes his way into the Bennet household, and courts Jane.
On hearing a hint of Jane's attachment to Bingley, he drops her and courts Elizabeth. She rejects him politely. He rubs his hands and says that of course young ladies always make a coy pretence of refusing the one they mean to accept. Elizabeth (coy!?) tries to make it very clear that No means NO. Eventually Mr Collins gives up and proposes to the next-door neighbour, Elizabeth's best friend Charlotte Lucas, to her sadness. Charlotte wants an establishment and accepts.
Mr Bingley's party leaves the area before any definite engagement with Jane had been established. She is very cast down about this, but is so lacking in confidence of her own desirability that she puts up with it stoically; but Elizabeth is once more angry with Mr Darcy, who she knows was instrumental in forcing his easy-going friend to give up Jane.
Elizabeth visits Charlotte and consequently gets to meet the fearsome Lady Catherine de Bourgh. At this point Mr Darcy comes to visit his aunt. To Elizabeth's immense surprise she receives a proposal from him: she turns him down and tells him what she thinks of him, and that so much of his behaviour has been ungentlemanly. This shocks him into rethinking, and he explains his behaviour in a long letter. Now, with the truth about Mr Wickham revealed, she begins to doubt, and to respect Mr Darcy more.
She accepts an invitation from her aunt and uncle to tour the country with them, Derbyshire and the Lake District. In Derbyshire lies Pemberley, the magnificent seat of the Darcy family. They take the tour of it (Mr Darcy is not at home, fortunately): Elizabeth's feelings soften again (oh deary, I've begun crying as I'm typing) when she sees the love and devotion that his housekeeper and other old retainers show for Mr Darcy, holding him up as an example of goodness and rectitude and kindness.
Unlooked-for, Mr Darcy himself arrives. Disaster erupts when news of an elopement reaches them. He takes part in the search for the errant lovers; and Elizabeth sees what a truly good person he is. They do, of course, get reconciled and fall into each other's arms, and live happily ever after (as do Jane and Bingley). Their pride and prejudice are overcome.