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In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen creates a picture of the small, cocooned world of the middle class gentry -- with their commonplace joys and their commonplace sorrows. The central concern of this "comedy of manners" is Mrs. Bennet’s dogged efforts to find suitable husbands for her eldest daughters. Of course, Mrs. Bennet’s judgements cannot be trusted, for she is a nagging wife, an ineffectual mother, and a social misfit throughout the novel. Her repeated and continued foolishness is one of the things that holds the plot together into a unified whole.
The plot’s focus on marriage is seen from the very beginning of the story. The arrival of Mr. Bingley, ‘a single man of large fortune’ at near-by Netherfield immediately fires the imagination of Mrs. Bennet. An acquaintance is struck and what follows is a series of parties, balls, and teas, which are very essential to the plot; it is at these social gatherings that the four main characters -Bingley and Jane and Darcy and Elizabeth - are brought together. They also serve to illustrate the culture, manners, fashions, pretensions, and snobberies of the English gentry at the time.
The first ball at Netherfield hints at the course of things to follow. The amiable Jane and the gentle Bingley are almost instantly drawn to each other. In contrast, the proud Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth have great difficulty in communicating; Elizabeth is infuriated that the arrogant man has slighted her. Much of the remaining plot is centered on the unfolding of the pride and prejudices of this pair, which Jane Austen carefully develops. Jane’s illness at Netherfield Park is deftly contrived by the author to get the two pairs of lovers into closer contact, where they can observe each other’s natures and evaluate their own feelings. In contrast to his reaction at the ball, Darcy is attracted by Elizabeth’s fine eyes, her frankness, and her ready wit. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s prejudice against Darcy makes her misinterpret anything he says or does. Wickham, serving as a contrast to Darcy, diversifies the plot. By telling falsehoods about Darcy, he strengthens Elizabeth’s dislike of the man. When Elizabeth spurns his advances, he preys upon the coquetry and caprice of Lydia, finally eloping with her. This event lets Darcy prove his true worth to Elizabeth.
Mr. Collins is introduced into the plot to reveal the negative side of marriage. He is a sycophant, a pompous clergyman, and an odd combination of ‘servility and self importance’. He is a deliberately constructed, grotesque figure, who is desperate to marry for any reason. Unfortunately, Charlotte Lucas, compelled by economic and social pressures, accepts his proposal. The picture of their married life is a bleak one. The noble Charlotte, however, tries to make her life as pleasant as possible, tolerating Collins as a payment for her sense of security offered by marriage.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh is introduced into the plot as a very wealthy member of the upper class society and as Collins’ patroness. She also happens to be Darcy’s aunt, and it is speculated that her nephew will marry her unacceptable daughter. In each encounter with Lady Catherine, she shows herself to be rude, authoritative, and domineering woman, who would like to run the lives of everyone she knows. Through her, Jane Austen clearly shows that superiority of social class does not necessarily imply superiority of intellect, ethics, or morality. For all her purported sophistication and snobbery, Lady Catherine, in her own way, is as coarse and vulgar as Mrs. Bennet.
The plot is further advance by another meeting of Darcy and Elizabeth, which leads him to know that he is in love with this vivacious young lady. Against his better judgement and sure that she will accept, Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. Her stormy refusal jolts his prides and results in an explanatory letter, which seeks to clarify the two allegations leveled against him. Although angered by the letter, from this point forward, Elizabeth begins to change her opinion of Darcy, moving away from her prejudice to a more realistic and uncritical viewpoint. At the same time, Darcy is forced to look at himself and lose some of his arrogance.
Elizabeth’s visit to Derbyshire with the Gardiners brings her into contact with Darcy once again. Elizabeth’s prejudice really begins to thaw under the warmth he emits during the visit; but just as the two are about to be reconciled, tragedy strikes. Lydia has eloped with Wickham, and Elizabeth is summoned to Longbourn. Ironically, Lydia’s crass behavior threatens to fatally injure the chances of her two admirable sisters to attract Bingley and Darcy.
In the end, Lydia’s elopement provides an opportunity for Darcy to prove his worth to Elizabeth. He convinces Wickham to marry Lydia, by offering him a large sum of money. When Elizabeth learns of his noble deed, she realizes how wrong she his been in her judgement of him and hopes for a chance to make things right. When she sees Darcy again, she apologizes and expresses her appreciation. Darcy’s response to Elizabeth’s humility is to propose to her once again. This time Elizabeth eagerly accepts, bringing the plot to its natural climax.
The fully developed and tightly constructed plot clearly centers on marriage in its various forms. It is the central theme that binds the plot together. Therefore, the natural end of the novel comes with Jane’s marriage to Bingley and Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy. Love has conquered all - both pride and prejudice.