In this lesson, we’ll go over the quintessential romantic comedy, Pride and Prejudice.
We’ll take a look at all of the factors conspiring to keep Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart as well as read some of Jane Austen’s sparkling prose.
The Original Romantic Comedy
Any brief summary of Pride and Prejudice is going to sound pretty much like every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen – that’s because it’s kind of the first one. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy don’t like each other when they first meet. They’re forced to spend a lot of time together through contrived circumstances, and they end up falling in love and getting married.
(I’m sorry if that was a spoiler, but you could kind of see it coming.)Pick a movie: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Knocked Up, When Harry Met Sally. In all of these, it starts out rough then ends up being a wonderful union at the end. It’s also not a coincidence that almost every Jane Austen novel has been made into a movie because we’ve got a way of thinking about that kind of plot now in movies; it’s a sure box office winner.
But Jane Austen was way more talented than your average Hollywood screenwriter. She kind of invented this plot; she invented the ‘people don’t like each other and then they fall in love’ story.She, actually, originally titled the book First Impressions, but she was forced to change it when she published it. This is interesting to know because it’s kind of a handy way of remembering what Elizabeth and Darcy think of each other. The new title is Pride and Prejudice; the original title was First Impressions. Their ‘first impressions’ of each other are that Darcy is way too ‘proud’, and Elizabeth thinks he’s too proud and is ‘prejudiced’ against liking him on further interaction.So, that’s a neat way to remember that their ‘first impressions’ of each other are ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice.
Beginnings and Protagonists
The Bennet family has five daughters, and because of this silly rule called an entail, none of the daughters can actually inherit the estate. So, basically, at least a few of the daughters have to find very rich husbands or else the family is going to be ruined (because the estate will have to be inherited by someone who’s not directly in it). At the beginning of the novel, the prospect of this happening is actually looking up. They might meet someone rich because someone rich has moved into the neighborhood.
That is Mr. Bingley. The novel begins with this pretty famous line that you should probably remember:’It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’Jane Austen is known for her dry wit and sparkling dialogue, and this is arguably one of her most famous lines, so you should probably know it.
It’s also an interesting line because you get the sense that Jane Austen, herself, doesn’t really believe that it’s true (it definitely wouldn’t be ‘universal,’ so that tips us off). But her characters do, so she’s inhabiting their voice right off the bat in the opening of the book. This is something that’s called free indirect discourse because she’s expressing the thoughts and words of her characters, but she’s not directly signaling it. So, she’s not saying he said, she thought or they believed (which would be the most applicable in this situation).
She uses this all the time in the book, but it’s really prominent in this opening sentence. It’s also a famous opening sentence!So, everyone in the neighborhood is freaking out because this rich guy has moved in nearby to this place called Netherfield Hall. The Bennets are freaking out times five because they have five daughters who all might want to marry this guy.Luckily for them, Mr. Bingley actually likes one of their daughters, Jane, who’s the oldest one.
She’s really pretty, and she’s really nice, so it kind of makes sense that he would like her. They end up hanging out and dancing a lot at this neighborhood ball, which they seem to have a lot of in this book.Bingley has brought along with him his even richer friend, Mr. Darcy, and he tries to set him up with Elizabeth at this same ball. Darcy’s kind of a tool at first. So, Bingley’s like, ‘You should hook up with Elizabeth,’ and Darcy’s like, ‘No.
She’s kind of ugly. I don’t like her.’ Elizabeth overhears this and is justifiably upset; thinks he’s kind of a jerk. She’s not a big fan. But like in all romantic comedies, they begin to grow on each other. Darcy, eventually, acknowledges that Elizabeth is pretty and that she’s actually really smart and fun to be around. Elizabeth learns that, while maybe Darcy isn’t the most socially gifted guy in the world, he’s actually really nice and decent.
And he also has a lot of money. From this set up, it seems like the sister-sister, friend-friend double wedding thing is going to happen, and it’s going be great.
There are, actually, a lot of people in the book who do not want this to happen and are actively (and inactively) trying to stop it. We’re going to go over some of those people now; they’re kind of the main antagonists in this book.First of all, we have Bingley’s sisters, who like Jane because she’s really pretty and likeable. There’s really nothing not to like about her, except that she doesn’t come from money. Bingley’s sisters really want him to settle down with someone of much higher social status.
They’ve picked out Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. She’s 16, so that’s a little ehh, but that’s how they rolled back then. Bingley’s single sister, Caroline, really wants this to happen. She’s awful; she’s like the worst person ever.
She has the hots for Darcy, so she wants her brother to marry his sister, so she can have a better chance with him. That seems to make sense to her; it doesn’t really make sense to me but whatever. We’ll just go with it. So, Bingley’s sisters don’t want him to marry Jane, and they have someone else picked out for Darcy.The next person who does not want this to happen: Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She’s Darcy’s aunt, and she’s kind of old and cranky and nasty, and she’s awful.
She wants Darcy to marry her daughter (who’s his cousin; again, things were kind of weird back then) to keep their family fortunes all together. She’s super rich, but she’s horribly ostentatious, and her house is really tacky.Another person who is getting in the way of Elizabeth’s marriage is Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is Mr.
Bennet’s cousin, and he’s actually the rightful heir to the estate (remember the entail prevents the daughters from inheriting it). He actually proposes to Elizabeth, sort of as a gesture of ‘We’ll keep this in the family.’ But he’s super annoying and weird, and she denies his proposal.
She still isn’t into Darcy, but she’s like ‘No. I don’t want to marry you.’ He actually ends up marrying her best friend, so it works out okay for him in the end. So, those are the people who are actively trying to mess things up.
The rest of the Bennet family inactively messes things up.
They don’t have a lot of money, so people don’t want their sons to marry into their family. But they’re also kind of terrible and embarrassing – all of them. Mr. Bennet’s okay; he sort of stays out of things.
He’s nice, but he doesn’t really take action. Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth and Jane’s mom, is obnoxious, a hypochondriac; she’s really embarrassing and doesn’t realize it. Mary is their middle daughter.
She’s just a boring know-it-all. She’s always trying to show off with these ‘accomplishments’, like she plays the piano really badly. Kitty, another sister, is all right but kind of boring; you forget about her. Lydia is a huge problem. She’s the youngest; she’s 15. She ends up eloping with a soldier and bringing all kinds of shame on the family.
They’re already not such a good family and she does this, which isn’t so good.Despite all of these things, Elizabeth and Darcy do end up falling in love with each other.How it happens is kind of interesting: Elizabeth is hanging out with her aunt and uncle touring around the countryside, and they end up going for a tour of Darcy’s fancy house, which is called Pemberley. Rather than being ostentatious and tacky- like, remember, Lady Catherine DeBurgh’s house that is not that exciting – Elizabeth finds that it’s in really good taste. It’s large, but it’s well-proportioned and balances with nature. Austen describes it:’… and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!’She starts to think, by seeing his house, that Darcy might actually not be a proud, rich tool but maybe someone who’s kind of nice with bad social skills to deal with. Then he helps her family sort out the whole Lydia-marrying-the-soldier mess and that wins him points in Elizabeth’s book.
They all end up happily ever after in the end.
That’s basically what happens. To run through it real quick: In the end, the Bennets are happy.
They are avoiding ruin that the entail might have brought because their daughters did marry well. Bingley’s sisters are kind of upset because Bingley married Jane, and Darcy didn’t marry Caroline; he married Elizabeth. Lady Catherine is really upset because she thinks the Bennets are awful and bring disgrace. Maybe they do, but who cares what she thinks. Most importantly, Elizabeth and Jane are happy – partially because they’re married to great men and also because they don’t have to hang out with their awful family anymore.
They’re also rich, so that’s a plus. That’s Pride and Prejudice in a nutshell!