Pride and Prejudice Summary and Analysis
by Jane Austen
Volume I, Chapters 1-6
Volume I, Chapter 1 Summary:
The novel begins with a conversation at Longbourn, the Bennet household, regarding the impending arrival of Mr. Bingley, "a single man of large fortune" to Netherfield Park, a nearby estate. Mrs. Bennet sees Mr. Bingley as a potential suitor for her daughters, and attempts to persuade Mr. Bingley to visit him. There are five daughters in the Bennet family. Mr. Bennet seems to prefer Elizabeth, the second oldest, because of her intelligence, while Mrs. Bennet seems fonder of the oldest, Jane, because of her beauty, and the middle child, Lydia, because of her good humor.
Volume I, Chapter 2 Summary:
Without telling his family, Mr. Bennet pays a visit to Mr. Bingley. He surprises his family by slipping the news unexpectedly into a conversation, but disappoints them by eluding their barrage of questions about Bingley's character.
Volume I, Chapters 1-2 Analysis:
The opening chapters of the novel introduce the reader to the principal characters and set forth a skeleton of the plot. The main themes of the novel and the stylistic devices through which they will be conveyed are also evident from the outset.
The first line of the novel--"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife"--is among the most famous first lines in literature. It not only calls the reader's attention to the central place that marriage will have in the plot of the story, but also introduces the reader immediately to Austen's use of irony. While the focus of the line is on "a single man . . . in want of a wife," the real emphasis in the noveland in the society of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuriesis the need for young women to find a husband in possession of a good fortune. The purely economic, utilitarian motive for marriage will come under attack in the novel, as will, implicitly, the societal constraints which leave many women with little choice but to marry for the sake of economic survival.
Our first glimpse of the Bennett family is enough to provide us with a fairly accurate sketch of their characters. Mrs. Bennett is chatty, frivolous and obsessed with marrying off her daughters, while Mr. Bennett is rather detached and ironic, not overly involved with the cares of the family. Jane is beautiful, amiable and good-natured, and always assumes that others are as good-natured as she. Elizabeth, good-looking but not as beautiful as her sister, has a sharp wit and prides herself on her keen perception of others' characters.
From the very first pages of the novel Austen's tendency to favor dialogue over narration is clearly manifested. Critics have acclaimed Austen's ability to bring characters to life by having them reveal themselves to the reader through their actions and dialogue, rather than through detailed narrative descriptions. Critic George Henry Lewes, a contemporary of Austen, lauds her because "instead of description, the common and easy resource of novelists, she has the rare and difficult art of dramatic presentation instead of telling us what her characters are, and what they feel, she presents the people, and they reveal themselves."
Volume I, Chapter 3 Summary:
The ladies of the household meet Mr. Bingley and his friend from London, Mr. Darcy, at a ball at Meryton. Mr. Darcy is quickly judged as "the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world" because of his reserve and unwillingness to dance with anyone outside of his own party. When both Darcy and Elizabeth are sitting out a dance and Bingley attempts to persuade him to dance with her, Elizabeth overhears Darcy's reply "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me." Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, is judged to be entirely amiable. He danced first with Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's friend, but the only person with whom he danced twice was Jane. Upon returning home, Mrs. Bennet attempts to explain the event of the ball in detail to Mr. Bennet, but he is indifferent and even annoyed.
Volume I, Chapter 4 Summary:
When they are alone, Jane confides to Elizabeth that she admires Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth approves of him, although she points out that Jane never sees faults in others. While Elizabeth is critical of the snobbish behavior of Bingley's sisters, Jane insists that they are pleasing in conversation.
Bingley has a long-standing friendship with Darcy, in spite of their opposite personalities. Bingley is easy-going and open, while Darcy is haughty and reserved. While Bingley found the company at the Meryton ball to be quite amiable, Darcy saw no one with whom he wished to associate, and even though he assents to Jane's beauty, he complains that she smiles too much.
Bingley's sisters also tell him that they like Jane, and he feels "authorised by such commendation" to think what he likes of her.
Volume I, Chapters 3-4 Analysis:
The Meryton ball introduces the reader to the two main couples in the novel, and also foreshadows the differences in how their relationships will develop. Jane and Bingley are attracted to each from the outset, and their simple, amiable, easy-going natures prevent internal difficulties from hindering their attachment. The fact that Bingley seems to wait for his sisters' approval before feeling "authorised" to like Jane demonstrates how easily influenced he is by others' opinions and foreshadows external difficulties in the development of his relationship with Jane. Elizabeth and Darcy, however, hardly have the most favorable first impressions of one another. Elizabeth's quickness to judge Darcy and her pride in the accuracy of her perceptions will prevent from seeing the good side of his character until extraordinary events make her realize her mistake. Because of his pride and extreme class-consciousness, Darcy refuses even to consider Elizabeth as a dancing partner. The original title of the novel was, in fact, First Impressions. Indeed, the characters' first impressions of each other serve to mark the course of their future relationships.
The ball reinforces what we have already begun to see about the characters of Jane and Elizabeth. Thus while Jane assures Elizabeth that Bingley's sisters are pleasant once they have been engaged in conversation, Elizabeth, judges them to be haughty and dislikes them immediately.
Volume I, Chapter 5 Summary:
Sir William Lucas and his family live near Longbourn, and Sir William's eldest daughter Charlotte is a close friend of Elizabeth. The day after the ball Charlotte and Lady Lucas go visit the Miss Bennetts to talk over the ball. They speak about general admiration for Jane's beauty and Bingley's attraction to her, and then go on to criticize Darcy's pride and his treatment of Elizabeth. Mary makes a remark about universality of pride in human nature and its differentiation from vanity.
Volume I, Chapter 6 Summary:
Bingley's sisters, while not desirous of become better acquainted with Mrs. Bennett and the younger Bennet sisters, begin to become better acquainted with Jane and Elizabeth. Jane is pleased by their attention, but Elizabeth is still critical of them. The mutual regard of Jane and Bingley for one another is evident to Elizabeth, though Jane's composure and "uniform cheerfulness of manner" prevent her regard for him from becoming obvious.
Charlotte remarks that it may not be such a good thing that Jane's affection is guarded, because it may cause discouragement in Bingley. Charlotte believes that a woman should show more affection than she feels in order to make a man form an attachment to her, and thinks that "happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."
Mr. Darcy begins to take an interest in Elizabeth, attracted by her dark eyes and the "easy playfulness" of her manners. Before conversing directly with her, he listens on a conversation between Elizabeth and Sir William Lucas. Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy, in spite of the entreaties of Sir William. Darcy mentions his admiration for Elizabeth to Miss Bingley, who is vainly attempting to attract his admiration to herself. Miss Bingley responds by satirically criticizing Bennett family.
Volume I, Chapters 5-6 Analysis:
Charlotte's comments to Elizabeth about Jane's manner of dealing with Bingley reveal that Charlotte has a much more pragmatic view of marriage than Elizabeth, and foreshadow her future decision to marry for purely economic purposes. Charlotte is critical of Jane's reserve in showing her regard for Bingley, and thinks that once she is secure of his affection there will be plenty of "leisure for falling in love as much as she chuses." Elizabeth, on the other hand, disagrees with Charlotte, commenting that her advice is good "where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married," but stating that she and Jane believe marriage should be based on love. Charlotte has a somewhat cynical view of marriage. She asserts that "happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance," and that "it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life." Elizabeth simply laughs at Charlotte's comments, telling her "You know you would never act in this way yourself." Yet subsequent events prove Elizabeth's judgment to be in error.
Elizabeth's blindness to Darcy's regard for her is caused by the harsh judgment of him which she formed at the ball: "to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable no where, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with." Her refusal to dance with him is a way of avenging her pride, injured from his refusal to dance with her at the ball.
Miss Bingley's jealousy of Elizabeth also begins to come to the fore. She attempts to win Darcy's favor by commenting on how "insupportable" it is to spend time with "such society," but he surprises her by saying that he is quite happy, "meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow." On finding out that Elizabeth is the object of his admiration, she begins to speak about what it would be like to have Mrs. Bennett as a mother-in-law, indirectly drawing his attention to the differences in class between his family and Elizabeth's. The barriers of class difference, however, are not nearly so powerful a hindrance to the relationship of Elizabeth and Darcy as are the internal barriers of their own pride and prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice Essays and Related Content
- Pride and Prejudice: Major Themes
- Pride and Prejudice: Essays
- Pride and Prejudice: E-Text
- Pride and Prejudice: Questions
- Pride and Prejudice: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Jane Austen: Biography
- Pride and Prejudice Summary
- About Pride and Prejudice
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 1-6
- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 7-14
- Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters 15-23
- Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters 1-10
- Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters 11-19
- Summary and Analysis of Volume III, Chapters 1-10
- Summary and Analysis of Volume III, Chapters 11-18
- Related Links on Pride and Prejudice
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources