The novel opens with Mrs. Bennet trying to persuade Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley, a rich bachelor who has arrived in the neighbourhood. After some verbal sparring with Mr. Bennet baiting his wife, she believes he will not visit. A little while later, he does make the visit to Netherfield, Mr. Bingley's rented house, much to the delight of Mrs Bennet and her daughters. The visit is followed by an invitation to a ball at the local assembly rooms that the whole neighbourhood will attend.
At the ball, Mr. Bingley is open and cheerful, popular with all the guests and appears to be very attracted to Miss Jane Bennet (the Bennets' eldest daughter), with whom he dances twice. His friend Mr. Darcy is reputed to be twice as wealthy; he is haughty and aloof and his manners cause everyone to turn from interest to a decided dislike of him. He declines to dance with Elizabeth, stating that she is not pretty enough to tempt him. She finds this amusing and jokes about it with her sisters. Mr. Bingley's sister, Caroline, later invites Jane to visit.
When Jane visits Miss Bingley, she is caught in a rain shower on the way and comes down with a bad cold. Elizabeth visits the ill Jane at Netherfield. There Darcy begins to be attracted to Elizabeth, while Miss Bingley becomes jealous, as she has desires on Darcy herself.
Mr. Collins, a cousin of Mr. Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, visits the Bennet family. He is a pompous and obsequious clergyman who intends to marry one of the Bennet girls. When he learns that Jane may be engaged to Mr. Bingley, he quickly decides to propose to Elizabeth, as the next in both age and beauty.
Elizabeth and her family meet the dashing and charming George Wickham, who singles out Elizabeth and tells her how Mr. Darcy deprived him of a living (position as clergyman in a prosperous parish with good revenue that, once granted, is for life) promised to him by Mr. Darcy's late father. Elizabeth's dislike of Mr. Darcy is confirmed.
At a ball at Netherfield, Elizabeth dances with Mr. Darcy. Other than Jane and Elizabeth, several members of the Bennet family show a distinct lack of decorum. Mrs. Bennet hints loudly that she fully expects Jane and Bingley to become engaged, and the younger Bennet sisters expose the family to ridicule.
Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, who rejects him, to the fury of her mother and the relief of her father. Shortly after, they receive news that the Bingleys are suddenly leaving for London with no plans to return. After his humiliating rejection by Elizabeth, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas, a sensible young woman and Elizabeth's friend. Charlotte is slightly older and is grateful to receive a proposal that will guarantee her a comfortable home. Elizabeth is aghast at such pragmatism in matters of love. Heartbroken, Jane goes to visit her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner at an unfashionable address in London. There, it becomes clear that Miss Bingley does not want to resume their friendship and Jane is upset, though very composed.
In the spring, Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are invited to Rosings Park, the imposing home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, patroness of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy's wealthy aunt. She expects Mr. Darcy to marry her daughter. Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are also visiting at Rosings Park. Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth how Mr. Darcy managed to save a friend from a bad match. Elizabeth realises the story must refer to Jane and is horrified that Darcy has interfered. Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth declaring his love for her. She rejects him angrily, stating that she could not love a man who has caused her sister such unhappiness and further accuses him of treating Mr. Wickham unjustly. The latter accusation angers Mr. Darcy and he accuses her family of lacking propriety and suggests he has been kinder to Bingley than to himself.
Later, Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter, explaining that Mr. Wickham had refused the living and was given money for it instead. Wickham proceeded to waste the money and when impoverished, asked for the living again. After being refused, he tried to elope with Darcy's 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, for her large dowry. Darcy also writes that he believed Jane, because of her reserved behaviour, did not love Mr. Bingley. Darcy apologises for hurting Jane and Elizabeth.
Some months later, Elizabeth and the Gardiners visit Darcy's estate in Derbyshire, Pemberley (after Elizabeth ascertains that the owner will not be there). On a tour, Elizabeth hears the housekeeper describe him as being kind and generous. When Mr. Darcy returns unexpectedly, he is exceedingly gracious and later invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners to meet his sister and Mr. Gardiner to go fishing. Elizabeth is surprised and delighted by their treatment. She then suddenly receives news that her sister Lydia had eloped with Mr. Wickham. She tells Mr. Darcy immediately and departs in haste, believing she will never see him again since Lydia's disgrace has ruined the family's good name.
After an agonising wait, Mr. Wickham is somehow persuaded to marry Lydia. With some veneer of decency restored, Lydia visits her family and tells Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was at her wedding. Mrs. Gardiner informs Elizabeth that it is Mr. Darcy who made the match, at great expense and trouble to himself and hints that he may have "another motive" for doing so.
Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield and Bingley proposes to Jane who accepts him. Lady Catherine, having heard rumours that Elizabeth intends to marry Darcy, visits Elizabeth and demands that she promise not to accept his proposal. Elizabeth refuses and the outraged Lady Catherine leaves. Darcy, heartened by Elizabeth's response, again proposes to her and is accepted. Elizabeth has difficulty in convincing her father that she is marrying for love, not position and wealth but in the end Mr. Bennet is convinced.