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In the neighborhood of the Bennet family's estate of Longbourn, Mr. Bingley, an attractive young bachelor with a good income, has moved into the nearby manor. He falls in love with the oldest of the five Bennet daughters, Jane. But his friend, wealthy and aristocratic Mr. Darcy, disapproves of Bingley's choice. Darcy considers the Bennet family to be socially inferior, and he plots with Bingley's sisters to separate the lovers. Meanwhile, though, Darcy is finding it hard to resist his own increasing attraction to Jane's next younger sister, the vivacious Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy because he seems so proud and conceited. She also suspects that he has interfered between Jane and Bingley. She is even more put off when she hears that Darcy has treated a young man, George Wickham, cruelly and unjustly. Wickham tells her that Darcy has denied him the inheritance that his godfather, Darcy's father, left him. Wickham courts Elizabeth, and his good looks, charming manners, and story of injustice at Darcy's hands win her sympathy and deepen her prejudice against Darcy.
Because Mr. Bennet has no son, his estate will be inherited by his nearest male relative, Mr. Collins. This pompous clergyman comes to Longbourn seeking a wife. He proposes to Elizabeth, who rejects him-even though marrying him would be the one way to keep Longbourn in the family. But he wins her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, a plain young woman who marries Collins to escape from spinsterhood into a safe, if loveless, marriage.
The story continues with an interweaving of plot and subplots. Elizabeth visits Charlotte, now Mrs. Collins. Darcy visits his aunt, Lady Catherine, who is Mr. Collins's patron. Darcy and Elizabeth meet constantly, and at last he proposes to her, saying with more honesty than tact that he does this against his better judgment. She angrily rejects him, accusing him of destroying Jane's happiness and Wickham's legitimate prospects. Later, in an earnest letter, he tells her the truth on both counts: he did interfere between Jane and Bingley, but he did not treat Wickham unjustly. In fact, he says, Wickham is a thoroughly bad character. Elizabeth believes Darcy for once, and her prejudice against him begins to weaken.
Elizabeth goes on a trip with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners. They come to Darcy's magnificent estate in his absence and are shown through the house. His housekeeper praises him for his goodness and generosity, painting a very different picture of him from the one Elizabeth has had. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Darcy himself arrives. Elizabeth is mortified to be found there, but he is full of courtesy to the Gardiners and very attentive to Elizabeth.
Bad news comes from Longbourn: The youngest Bennet girl, giddy sixteen-year-old Lydia, has run away with Wickham. Such a scandal must disgrace the whole family, and Elizabeth decides that now, just as her feelings toward Darcy have begun to change, any hope of his renewing his proposal is lost forever.
But not so. Darcy feels partially responsible for Lydia's elopement; he feels he should have warned the Bennets that Wickham once tried the same thing with Darcy's own sister. Besides, he is very much in love with Elizabeth. For her sake he searches out the fugitive couple, makes sure that they are legally married, pays Wickham's debts, and buys him a commission in the army. All this he does secretly. But, though sworn to secrecy, Lydia reveals Darcy's part in her rescue-and Elizabeth realizes at last how wrong she's been about him all along.
Bingley, with Darcy's encouragement, proposes to Jane and is accepted. Soon Darcy makes his proposal again to Elizabeth. By now she has abandoned her prejudice and he has subdued his pride, and so they are married and all ends happily.