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Pride and Prejudice | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Plot Summary

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth plot summary of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


A New Tenant at Netherfield

Pride and Prejudice opens with the news that a wealthy young man, Charles Bingley, is arriving at Netherfield Park, a large estate. The news is met with great excitement by the members of the Bennet family, who live in the neighboring estate of Longbourn, in a village of the same name. To Mrs. Bennet, the news is especially welcome. As the mother of five unmarried daughters, her most pressing goal is to see each of her offspring married. The sisters—Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia—are intrigued by this new arrival and thrilled when the family is invited to attend a ball where Mr. Bingley will appear.

At the ball, Jane, the eldest Bennet daughter, and Mr. Bingley form a mutual attraction. One of Mr. Bingley's friends, Fitzwilliam Darcy, also attends the ball. His aloofness and his insulting behavior toward Elizabeth, the second oldest Bennet sister, stand in contrast to Mr. Bingley's gracious and cheerful manner.

As the weeks unfold, at various events, Mr. Darcy is intrigued by Elizabeth, but she maintains a poor impression of him based on his earlier behavior. However, a courtship between Jane and Charles Bingley seems to be developing, and the Bingley sisters invite Jane to visit Netherfield. On her way there, she is caught in a rainstorm and subsequently falls ill. Elizabeth sets out for Netherfield to tend to her sister. Her appearance and stay at Netherfield creates some tension for Mr. Bingley's sister Caroline, who jealously notices Mr. Darcy's growing interest in Elizabeth. Caroline considers herself a better match for the wealthy gentleman.

Courtship and Complications

One of Mr. Bennet's cousins, Mr. Collins, visits the Bennet home. Mr. Collins, a clergyman from Hunsford, stands to inherit the Bennet estate, Longbourn. This arrangement, called an entail, is the result of laws requiring estates to be passed down to male relatives. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins's patroness—the person who has helped him achieve his position as a clergyman—has instructed him to marry one of the Bennet daughters. He proposes to Elizabeth. She finds him pompous and obnoxious and flatly turns him down, against her own mother's wishes. Deeply offended, Mr. Collins next proposes to Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas. She accepts his proposal.

The Bennet sisters meet a group of militia officers who are stationed near their home. Elizabeth becomes interested in a handsome soldier, George Wickham, who tells her about his past relationship with Mr. Darcy. Wickham explains how cruel Darcy was to him, even cheating him out of money. This information confirms Elizabeth's bad impressions of Mr. Darcy.

Mr. Darcy and the Bingleys leave Netherfield unexpectedly to go to London. Jane is upset because she had hoped her relationship with Mr. Bingley would blossom. When Jane travels to London shortly thereafter, Caroline Bingley treats her rudely, and Jane fails to see Mr. Bingley at all.


Elizabeth travels to visit her friend Charlotte, who is now married to Mr. Collins. While visiting her friend, Elizabeth sees Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins's patroness, who is also Mr. Darcy's aunt. During Elizabeth's visit to the Collins' home, Darcy makes several appearances. During one of his visits, he shocks Elizabeth with a clumsy marriage proposal. She refuses him, telling him that she finds his superior attitude and his intervention in Jane's affair intolerable. She also accuses him of conspiring to keep Jane and Mr. Bingley apart. Finally, she scolds him for his cruel behavior to Wickham.

After Elizabeth's refusal, Darcy reappears with a letter that explains everything. He tells her that he did encourage Bingley to separate from Jane because he did not think they were truly serious about each other. He also reveals Wickham as a scoundrel.

Elizabeth begins to rethink her feelings about Darcy. When she arrives home, she snubs Wickham. At this time, the local militia is to relocate to Brighton. Lydia, particularly consumed by flirtation with the officers, is upset. She successfully begs her father to allow her to stay with a family friend in Brighton for the summer.

During the summer, Elizabeth goes on holiday as well, this time with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. They travel to the north of England, in the neighborhood of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's estate. Once reassured that Darcy is not anywhere nearby, Elizabeth feels free to explore Pemberley and its exquisite buildings and grounds. Just as her attitude about him becomes even more favorable, Darcy shows up unexpectedly. He treats Elizabeth and the Gardiners graciously and encourages Elizabeth to spend time with his sister, Georgiana. During the course of this visit, Elizabeth receives shocking news from home. Her youngest sister, Lydia, has apparently eloped with Wickham. Knowing that Lydia's actions could potentially disgrace the Bennet family, Elizabeth confides her news to Darcy, then rushes home.

A Scandal

Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet search for Lydia and Wickham. Eventually, Gardiner locates them and reports that a benefactor has arranged for Wickham to marry Lydia in exchange for receiving an annual income, thus saving the Bennet family from scandal. The family is relieved. Elizabeth later learns that Mr. Darcy is the source of the money that will be paid to Wickham. She is mortified that her family has caused such a scandal but also touched by Darcy's intervention.

After a brief return to Longbourn, George and Lydia Wickham leave for the north of England, where Wickham is now stationed. Soon after, Mr. Bingley returns to Netherfield and seeks out Jane once again. He proposes to her, and the family is thrilled. Darcy has also reappeared and seems uncomfortable around Elizabeth. Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes to Longbourn and, to Elizabeth's astonishment, tries to extract a promise from her to refuse any proposal from her nephew. Elizabeth does not agree to this, even though no proposal has been made. A short time later, Darcy tells Elizabeth that his feelings for her have not changed, and he asks her to marry him. She gladly accepts. The two older Bennet sisters are married to the two friends and settle near each other, making a happy ending to the novel.

Pride and Prejudice Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The Bennets learn of a wealthy new neighbor, Mr. Bingley.

Rising Action

2 The Bennets attend a ball. Bingley dances with Jane.

3 Bingley's friend Darcy behaves snobbishly to Elizabeth.

4 Mr. Collins visits Longbourn in order to find a wife.

5 Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, but she refuses him.

6 Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte and they marry.

7 The Bingleys and Darcy depart for London. Jane is upset.

8 Elizabeth goes on holiday with the Gardiners.


9 Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, but she refuses him.

Falling Action

10 A letter from Darcy makes Elizabeth rethink prejudices.

11 Lydia runs off with Wickham. Darcy pays him to marry her.


12 Darcy marries Elizabeth, Bingley weds Jane.

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