Pride and Prejudice
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pride and Prejudice, first published on 28 January 1813, is the most famous of Jane Austen's novels. It is the archetypical novel of the romance novel genre but is universally acclaimed by critics. Its opening is one of the most famous lines in English literature—"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Its manuscript was first written between 1796 and 1797, and was initially called First Impressions, but was never published under that title. Following revisions, it was first published on 28 January 1813.
- 2005: Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen and Donald Sutherland, directed by Joe Wright.
- 1940: Pride and Prejudice starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.
The novel opens with the line "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife". The arrival of such a man in the neighbourhood greatly excites Mrs. Bennet, whose sole interest in life is to see her five daughters married. The wealthy young man in question, Mr. Bingley, has leased the Netherfield estate and plans to settle for a while. His two sisters, a friend and his brother-in-law are staying with him.
The newcomers excite great interest locally, particularly amongst mothers of marriageable daughters. They attend a public ball in the village of Meryton, where Mr. Bingley shows himself to be amiable and unpretentious, dancing with many young ladies and demonstrates his admiration for Jane Bennet, the eldest of the five Bennet sisters, by dancing with her twice. His friend Mr. Darcy, however, makes himself unpopular despite his fine figure and income of £10,000 a year, being seemingly proud and disagreeable. Elizabeth Bennet, the independent, intelligent and spirited second eldest Bennet sister hears him say of herself "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me". Soon after, however, he acknowledges to Miss Bingley that Elizabeth is pretty and has fine eyes. Following the ball, Jane is invited for an evening to Netherfield, but catches a bad cold and is forced to stay for some days. Elizabeth walks the three miles to Netherfield to nurse her, further engaging Darcy's guarded attention and the not-so-guarded hostility of Miss Bingley, who has an interest in Darcy herself and is jealous of Darcy's regard for Elizabeth.
Mr. Collins, a clergyman and the cousin who will inherit the Bennet estate, arrives for a visit. Having a good living and "in want of a wife", he intends to marry one of his cousins, thus atoning for his position as entailed heir and healing the breach in the family. A pompous buffoon, Mr. Collins has been advised by his imperious patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (who is also Darcy's aunt), to find himself a suitable wife. Finding that Jane is destined for Bingley he immediately switches his sights to Elizabeth, who refuses him absolutely despite the threats and entreaties of her mother. Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's plain but very good friend seizes the opportunity of drawing Mr. Collins' attentions to herself and, to Elizabeth's surprise, he is accepted by her. Charlotte neither loves nor respects him, but wishes to escape the fate of becoming an old maid. Elizabeth does not regret the loss of her suitor, but is disappointed in Charlotte and is certain she will be unhappy as Mrs. Collins.
For some time Meryton has been home to a regiment of soldiers, delighting the giddy, youngest Bennet sisters, Kitty and Lydia. Elizabeth is introduced to a pleasant young officer, Mr. Wickham, who tells her that he has known Mr. Darcy from childhood, and has been cheated by him of a bequest by Darcy's late father. This reinforces Elizabeth's dislike of Darcy. Bingley leaves Netherfield with the rest of the party staying with him, dashing the hopes of Jane, who has fallen in love with him. Elizabeth encounters Darcy again on a visit to the newly wedded Mr. and Mrs. Collins as he arrives to visit Lady Catherine at Rosings Park, the estate to which Mr. Collins's living is attached. Elizabeth is unaware of Darcy's growing admiration for her and is astonished when he proposes to her. His offer is high-handed and condescending, and when he does so, he says he likes her "against his own will" and in spite of her objectionable family. He is stunned and mortified to be rejected. Elizabeth tells him he is "the last man in the world whom [she] could ever be prevailed on to marry." As reasons for her refusal, she cites his persuasion of Mr. Bingley to give up Jane, his treatment of Wickham, and his ungentlemanly conduct.
The next day, Mr. Darcy intercepts Elizabeth on her morning walk and hands her a letter before coldly taking his leave. In it, he justifies his actions over Bingley and Jane — he says he believed that Jane was indifferent to Bingley's advances and feared that his friend's heart would be broken if he continued to court her. Darcy also details his history with Wickham, who has misrepresented his treatment by Darcy and, shockingly, even attempted to seduce and elope with Darcy's young and vulnerable sister. Elizabeth is mortified that she has made an error in judgment and been prejudiced as she realizes the inconsistencies in Wickham's stories. New light is shed on Mr. Darcy's personality and Elizabeth begins to reconsider her opinion of him. Later, on holiday with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, Elizabeth is persuaded to tour Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's estate, on the understanding that he is away. To her embarrassment he returns unexpectedly; however, his altered behavior toward her — distinctly warmer than at their last meeting — and his polite and friendly manner toward her aunt and uncle — who have made their wealth in trade - she is persuaded that underneath his pride lies a true and generous nature. This impression is reinforced by the testimony of his staff who speak of his kindness towards them and his tenants. Her revised opinion is reinforced on meeting his sister Georgiana, a gentle, shy young girl upon whom he dotes.
Just as her relationship with Mr. Darcy is beginning to thaw, Elizabeth receives the dreadful news that her headstrong younger sister Lydia has eloped with Mr. Wickham, who has left his commission to evade gambling debts. She returns home, believing that this scandal can only further disgust Darcy, whatever he may feel for her personally. All is in chaos at home, particularly when it becomes apparent that Wickham has not married Lydia and the two are living together in London. Mr. Gardiner apparently traces them and arranges the wedding, delighting the foolish Mrs. Bennet. Only from a careless remark of Lydia's does Elizabeth discover that it was really Darcy who secretly intervened, buying Wickham's compliance and saving Lydia's reputation at great financial cost. This completes the reversal in Elizabeth's sentiments.
Soon after, Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennet are reunited by Darcy, and they become engaged. Lady Catherine discovers Mr. Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth, which threaten her long-cherished desire for him to marry her sickly and unattractive daughter. She pays Elizabeth an unannounced visit and brusquely tries to intimidate her into refusing such an engagement. Unfortunately for Lady Catherine, she then visits Darcy telling him of her visit to Elizabeth and Elizabeth's refusal of her demand, hoping to get him to give up the attachment. But instead this gives him the hope that if he proposes to Elizabeth again, she may accept him. He speedily returns to Netherfield and again asks Elizabeth to marry him, and this time she accepts.
Related works of film and literature
Pride and Prejudice has inspired a number of other works. Books inspired by Pride and Prejudice include: Mr Darcy's Daughters and The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston; Pemberley: Or Pride & Prejudice Continued and An Unequal Marriage: Or Pride and Prejudice Twenty Years Later by Emma Tennant; The Book of Ruth by Helen Baker; and Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, which started as a newspaper column before becoming a novel, was inspired by the then-current BBC adaptation; both works share a Mr. Darcy of serious disposition (both played by Colin Firth), a foolish match-making mother, and a detached affectionate father. The self-referential in-jokes continue with the sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Bride and Prejudice, starring Aishwarya Rai, is a Bollywood adaptation of the novel, while Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003) places the novel in contemporary times. The off-Broadway musical I Love You Because reverses the gender of the main roles, set in modern day New York City. The Japanese manga Hana Yori Dango by Yoko Kamio, in which the wealthy, arrogant and proud protagonist, Doumyouji Tsukasa, falls in love with a poor, lower-class girl named Makino Tsukushi, is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice.