History: This book was published in 1813. Though the book's setting is uniquely turn of the 19th century, it remains a fascination of modern readership, continuing to remain at the top of lists titled "most loved books of all time", and receiving considerable attention from literary critics. This modern interest has resulted in a number of dramatic adaptations and a plethora of books developing Austen's memorable characters further.
Plot: As the novel opens, Mr Bingley, a wealthy young gentleman, rents a country estate near the Bennets called Netherfield. He arrives in town accompanied by his two fashionable sisters and his good friend, Mr Darcy. While Bingley is well-liked in the community, Darcy begins his acquaintance with the town with smug condescension and proud distaste for all of the country people. Bingley and Jane begin to grow close despite Mrs Bennet's embarrassing interference and the opposition of Bingley's sisters, who believe Jane to be socially inferior. Elizabeth is stung by Darcy's haughty rejection of her at a local dance and decides to match his coldness with her own wit.
At the same time, Elizabeth begins a friendship with Mr Wickham, a militia officer who relates a prior acquaintance with Darcy. Wickham tells her that he has seriously been mistreated by Darcy. Elizabeth immediately seizes upon this information as another, more concrete reason to hate Darcy. Unbeknown to her, Darcy finds himself gradually drawn to Elizabeth.
Just as Bingley appears to be on the point of proposing marriage, he leaves Netherfield, which leaves Jane confused and upset. Elizabeth is convinced that Bingley's sisters have conspired with Darcy to separate Jane and Bingley.
Before Bingley leaves, Mr Collins, the male relative who is to inherit Longbourn, makes a sudden appearance and stays with the Bennets. He is a recently ordained clergyman employed by the wealthy and patronizing Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Though he was partially entreated to visit by his patroness, Collins has another reason for visiting: he wishes to find a wife from among the Bennet sisters. He immediately enters pursuit of Jane, however when Mrs Bennet mentions her preoccupation with Mr Bingley, he turns to Elizabeth. He soon proposes marriage to Elizabeth, who refuses him, much to her mother's distress. Collins immediately makes another proposal and marries Elizabeth's close friend, Charlotte Lucas, who invites Elizabeth to stay with them.
In the spring, Elizabeth joins Charlotte and her cousin at his parish in Kent. The parish is adjacent to Rosings Park, the grand manor of Mr Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, where Elizabeth is frequently invited. While calling on Lady Catherine, Mr Darcy encounters Elizabeth and after several further meetings, he admits his love of Elizabeth and proposes to her. Insulted by his high-handed and insulting manner of proposing, Elizabeth refuses him. When he asks why she should refuse him, she confronts him with his sabotage of Bingley's relationship with Jane and Wickham's account of their dealings.
Deeply shaken by Elizabeth's vehemence and accusations, Darcy writes her a letter justifying his actions. The letter reveals that Wickham cheated him and in order to exact revenge and acquire part of Darcy's fortune, he attempted to seduce Darcy's young sister Georgiana, almost persuading her to elope with him. Darcy also justifies his actions towards Bingley and Jane by explaining that as Jane did not visibly show any reciprocal interest in his friend, his aim in separating them was mainly to protect Bingley from heartache. Darcy also admits he was concerned about the potential disadvantageous association with Elizabeth's embarrassing mother and wild younger sisters. As a result of the letter, Elizabeth is prompted to question both her family's behaviour and Wickham's credibility, and comes to the conclusion that Wickham is not as trustworthy as his easy manners would indicate and her early impressions of Darcy may not have been accurate. Soon after receiving the letter Elizabeth returns home.
Elizabeth tells her father that Darcy was responsible for uniting Lydia and Wickham. Some months later, during a tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth visits Pemberley, Darcy's estate. Darcy's housekeepers, an old lady that has known Darcy since childhood, presents Elizabeth and her relatives with a flattering and benevolent impression of his character. Unexpectedly, Darcy arrives at Pemberly as they tour its grounds. He makes an effort to be gracious and welcoming to them, thus strengthening Elizabeth's newly favourable impression of him. Darcy then introduces Elizabeth to his sister Georgiana. He treats her uncle and aunt very well, and finds them of a more sound character then her other relatives which he previously dismissed as socially inferior.
Elizabeth and Darcy's renewed acquaintance is cut short when news arrives that Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia has run away with Wickham. Initially, the Bennets believes that Wickham and Lydia have eloped, but soon it is surmised that Wickham has no plans to marry Lydia. Lydia's antics threaten the family's reputation and the Bennet sisters with social ruin. Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle hurriedly leave Derbyshire, and Elizabeth is convinced that Darcy will avoid her from now on.
Soon, thanks to the intervention of Elizabeth's uncle, Lydia and Wickham are found and married. After the marriage, Wickham and Lydia make a visit to Longbourne. While bragging to Elizabeth, Lydia comments that Darcy was present at the wedding. Surprised, Elizabeth sends an inquiry to her aunt, from whom she discovers that Darcy was responsible for both finding the couple and arranging their marriage at great expense to himself.
Soon after, Bingley and Darcy return to the area. Bingley proposes marriage to Jane, and this news starts rumors that Darcy will propose to Elizabeth. Lady Catherine travels to Longbourn with the sole aim of confronting Elizabeth and demanding that she never accept such a proposal. Elizabeth refuses to bow to Lady Catherine's demands. When news of this obstinance reaches Darcy, it convinces him that her opinion of him has changed. When he visits, he once again proposes marriage. Elizabeth accepts, and the two become engaged.
Elizabeth and Darcy settle at Pemberley where Mr Bennet visits often. Mrs Bennet remains frivolous and silly, and often visits the new Mrs Bingley and talking of the new Mrs Darcy. Later, Jane and Bingley move from Netherfield to avoid Jane's mother and Meryton relations and to locate near the Darcys in Derbyshire. Elizabeth and Jane manage to teach Kitty greater social grace, and Mary learns to accept the difference between herself and her sisters' beauty and mixes more with the outside world. Lydia and Wickham continue move often, leaving their debts for Jane and Elizabeth to pay off. At Pemberley, Elizabeth and Georgiana grow close, though Georgiana is surprised by Elizabeth's playful treatment of Darcy. Lady Catherine stays very angry with her nephew's marriage but over time the relationship between the two is repaired and she eventually decides to visit them. Elizabeth and Darcy also remain close with her uncle and aunt.
Review: this is the most tolerable of all Austen's books for me. The plot is the same, but the language is readable, and characters not so boring. A major theme in much of Austen's work is the importance of environment and upbringing on the development of young people's character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world, and a further theme common to Jane Austen's work is ineffectual parents.
Opening Line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Closing Line: "With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them."
Quotes: "I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man."