Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Summary, Characters and Themes

Pride and Prejudice is the most famous work of Jane Austen and is definitely one of the most important novels in the world of literature. Austen’s writing talent was praised by Walter Scott, Virginia Woolf, Richard Arlington and many others. Her language is smart and beautiful, the rural England of the XVIII century that hosts the events of this novel is marvelously depicted, and the relationships of the characters develop like an intriguing and graceful dance. The love story of Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who managed to overcome their pride and prejudice, is the story with a happy ending so many people crave.

Pride and Prejudice Setting: Cultural and Historical Background of the Story

The author doesn’t specifically divulge the time at which the novel takes place. Historically, it’s a known fact that Jane Austen had written the book between 1796-1797, but it was only published in 1813. The writer edited the novel before it was published, which means that the book reflects the customs and traditions of the 1790s up until the 1810s. The events begin in September and unfold during one calendar year.

For the readers, it’s important to keep in mind the cultural background of those times: this was the period when wealth was measured in estate, status was both a privilege and a duty to upkeep, and women enjoyed much less freedom than they do today. Female children were considered to be a burden, unless they could marry someone who could take care of them—and preferably their family as well. The vicious cycle was manifested in the fact that, unless a girl is born into a rich family, her chances of finding a rich husband were pretty much non-existent. Men often took advantage of their position and made most of women’s decisions for them.

Pride and Prejudice Book Characters

The story develops around the five Bennet daughters and their friends, who have several candidates for their husbands, but not all of them play an important role in the text.

Key Characters

Despite his wealth, Mr. Bingley is a quite simple man, who doesn’t like to brag about his status. He is described at the beginning of chapter 3 to be “good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.” Bingley is an open-minded and positive man who enjoys talking to and meeting interesting people. He is sincere and follows his feelings. His friend is quite the opposite of him; Mr. Darcy carries a lot of pride and is convinced of his uniqueness and importance. He keeps to himself and likes to be around the chosen circles. The nature of the relationships of the two young men reflect their personalities. Jane Bennet and Bingley are both simple and trusting; they like each other from the start and are clear about their feelings. Jane is the eldest of her five sisters, and is probably the most trusting and naïve. She is beautiful and sweet.

Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship is different. They both have extraordinary personalities and chose to have a love/hate relationship. Elizabeth Bennet is a bright young woman; she is independent, smart, quick-witted and true to herself. She is stubborn and persisted:

“Though her manner varied, however, her determination never did” (Chapter 20).

Her elegance and tenderness show up, even when covered by her pride. Darcy’s prejudice repels her and turns sympathy into dislike. Their dialogues, initiated through mutual interest towards each other, quickly turn into a verbal duel between their two strong personalities. The couple will have to work out their differences to finally be together in the end.

But character is not the only thing that gets in the way of the couples reuniting. Mr. Collins takes advantage of the situation in which he will inherit the Bennet’s home, and wants to marry Elizabeth to “save” her. William Collins is a “tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal” (end of Chapter 13). He is a shallow and uninteresting man, who knows how to please, but doesn’t know how to be pleasant. Despite his downsides, he gets to marry Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte was “a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven” (Chapter 5), and being single at that age put a lot of pressure on her. Mrs. Bennet even used to say that “Lucases are a very good sort of girls… It is a pity they are not handsome!” (Chapter 9).

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