The Bennett family had five daughters, and as they lived nearby an aunt and uncle as well as the Lucas family, who also had daughters, there was considerable visiting back and forth. The Bennett’s live in Longbourn manor, but it is entailed to a relative, and on the death of Mr. Bennett it is anticipated that they will be turned out, and they do not have a large income. A nearby manor, Netherfield, had just been rented by a certain Mr. Bingley, who with his two sisters and his good friend Mr. Darcy (repeatedly rumored to have an income of £10,000 [somewhere between $1 - 10 million in today’s money]). One of Mr. Bingley’s sisters was married, the other trying to win the hand of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bingley held a ball, and had a fantastic time dancing with all the girls of the neighborhood, taking a fancy to the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane. The fancy was quite returned, although Jane was not the sort that to be very expressive in public. Elizabeth, the second eldest, overheard Mr. Bingley attempting to get Mr. Darcy to dance, recommending to him that Elizabeth was quite handsome, but Mr. Darcy haughtily says that he hates dancing, and besides, there are no women besides Jane that are remotely handsome and anyway, they are quite beneath him. Elizabeth obviously takes a dislike to Mr. Darcy, and in wittily relaying her experience to the other women, they feel likewise. Mr. Darcy’s manner, which aside from being rather above the riff-raff of the nearly-commoners surrounding Netherfield, is also not talkative, which rather enhances the impression of pride one receives from him.
Mr. Bingley being quite taken by Jane, there is a succession of balls at Netherfield. On some occasions Mrs. Bennett and the young Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty Bennett, none of whom are strong thinkers or refined in manner, make remarks so unrefined that Elizabeth is quite embarrassed over their lack of class, especially as that definition of refinement, Mr. Darcy, happened to be present when they were made. This unrefinement is further evidenced by Lydia and Kitty swooning over the crisp red coats of the militia men that come to be stationed in nearby Meryton, and while not swooning, the other girls of the neighborhood also evidence a strong interest.
One of the soldiers is a quite well-spoken young man named Mr. Wickham,
and Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth get along rather well. One day she is there
when Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham accidentally meet in the street, and
observes fear from one and disgust from the other. Later Mr. Wickham tells
her how Mr. Darcy misused him, which Elizabeth could well believe, given
Mr. Darcy’s penchant for superiority and taciturnness.
Mr. Bennett’s cousin, Mr. Collins—to whom the Longbourn estate will belong upon Mr. Bennett’s death—comes to visit, seeking a wife. Having received a parish appointment from the wealthy Lady Catherine whom he constantly praises, he needed a wife. He decided he should start first with the daughters of the estate he would inherit, and during his stay he decided on Elizabeth, who he asks to marry him. Mr. Collins has, by this time, established himself as boring, officious, self-important, and rather fawning over people of status, and Elizabeth, who is sort of the opposite, turns this surprise invitation down. Mr. Collins is shocked that any girl would turn down such an invitation from someone blessed by the patronage of such a paragon of nobility as Lady Catherine. Elizabeth’s mother is furious with her for a month. Mr. Collins recovers quite quickly, though, and seeks out another. Elizabeth’s good friend Catherine Lucas encourages his attentions and they are shortly engaged. Elizabeth thought her friend had too much sense to marry someone with whom she could not be happy, but Catherine says that happiness in marriage is pretty random, but one does need money; her family, like the Bennett’s, have nothing that would support her, and she is 27, and Mr. Collins can at least support her.
Mr. Bingley and his entourage leave for London for the winter—and, it seems likely, rather longer—suddenly, which dashes Jane’s hopes. The unmarried sister, hitherto an apparently close friend of Jane, wrote a letter to Jane expressing her designs of getting Mr. Bingley to marry Miss Darcy. Charlotte invited her mother and Elizabeth to visit them, and as a “visit” always seems three to six weeks, they stayed at Mr. Collin’s vicarage for a while. True to Mr. Collin’s description, Lady Catherine condescended to invite them—frequently—over for dinner. Lady Catherine was the sort who always had an opinion on other people could improve their affairs.
It turned out that Mr. Darcy was destined by his father to marry Lady Catherine’s daughter, and he visits Lady Catherine with his friend Colonel Fitzwilliam for a few weeks. Lady Catherine’s daughter is quite sickly, which Lady Catherine explains is why she never had the ability to develop any artistic talents, and Mr. Darcy does not seem to be very fond of her. The Colonel seems to be attracted to Elizabeth, though, and they get along well. Mr. Darcy is his usual rather quiet self, with verbal sparring by Elizabeth on the occasions their two parties intersect.
To her astonishment, Mr. Darcy proposes to her the day before he leaves. Mr. Darcy relates that despite her rather unrefined family, he cannot get her out of his mind, and he is quite in love. Elizabeth is quite offended and gives him a stronger piece of her mind than had been her wont, saying that he was arrogant, accused him of engineering his friend Mr. Bingley’s distancing from Jane, and accusing him of mistreating Mr. Wickham, and between the two, having quite the worthless character. Mr. Darcy leaves, but delivers her a letter the next day in which he gives a sort of apology for his arrogance, an explanation that neither Mr. Bingley nor himself had seen much enthusiasm on Jane’s side, and explains his side of the story regarding Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth had remarked to Jane that she did not act very excited in Mr. Bingley’s presence, so she could well believe their conclusions. Mr. Darcy’s portrait is one where he fulfills every honor and obligation he had to Mr. Wickham, who insisted on being a ne’er-do-well, to the point where Mr. Darcy cut him off. Since details of Mr. Darcy’s account match details given by Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth is forced to conclude that Mr. Wickham is most likely a very well-spoken scoundrel. And as she sees Mr. Darcy’s character through the actions he recounts in his letter, she begins to see him in a better light. But most importantly, his letter convinces her that she has had a blind spot of prejudice, despite thinking herself quite free of it, which humbles her greatly.
Elizabeth had been invited on a trip to the Lakes [in northwestern England] by her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in the summer, but events made that plan unworkable and her aunt and uncle made plans to visit Mrs. Gardiner’s old haunt in the northeast of England. They had a grand time visiting the attractions, and as they were nearby Pemberley—Mr. Darcy’s grand estate—Mrs. Gardiner wanted to visit it. Elizabeth sent a message inquiring if the owners were at home, and on receiving a reply that they were away and not expected for two days, so acquiesced. Pemberley was full of lovely view and walks, and Elizabeth somewhat wistfully imagined a different life where she were mistress there. She also inquired of the loquacious housekeeper, who had known Mr. Darcy since he was a young boy, about Mr. Darcy’s character, receiving glowing recommendations, beyond that a servant might normally make. And her discreet inquiry into the situation with Mr. Wickham seemed to corroborate Mr. Darcy’s story as well. Just as they were leaving, Mr. Darcy drove up, having had to come early, and there was an awkward greeting between them. Mr. Darcy showed them around a bit, invited Mr. Gardiner to come fishing any time before he left, and told Elizabeth that his sister would love to meet her if she were free tomorrow.
Elizabeth visits and finds Miss Darcy to be lovely and not at all stuck up as she had anticipated. Mr. Darcy seems to be a gentlemen, albeit rather awkward around her. Mr. Bingley, having returned with the party, mentions that he had not seen her since the ball on November 26, the precision of recall of which suggested to Elizabeth that he definitely had been attached to Jane, and strengthened her suspicion that his sister had been part of the cause of them leaving in order to separate Mr. Bingley from Jane. Some small amount of dinner parties were exchanged, with the result that Mr. Darcy’s standing improved in Elizabeth’s eyes, along with information from Mrs. Gardiner’s old acquaintances that Mr. Darcy was a fine man and definitely generous, and that his word was definitely to be trusted over Mr. Wickham’s. Elizabeth begins to hope that Mr. Darcy still has feelings for her, but her previous, very conclusive remarks on the subject of Mr. Darcy’s matrimonial proposal, along with his continued awkwardness make her regret her prejudice in never having bothered revising her initial dislike of him.
Before Elizabeth left on her trip, her younger sister Lydia was invited to a visit by one of the wives of the Meryton regiment, which was leaving for Brighton. She was all excited, and left Kitty rather disappointed for not getting to go, for she dearly wanted to spend more time with the dashing soldiers in their neat lines. At the end of the trip, Elizabeth receives a letter from Jane saying that Lydia and Wickham eloped one night for Scotland—not even having married, although Lydia had communicated that she was sure it would happen, so it did not much matter to her when. The Colonel (the husband of the woman she was staying with) immediately sent out to find them, but all he could conclude was that they had gone to London).
Upon receipt of this letter, Elizabeth and the Gardiners immediately return to Longbourn where there is all kinds of panicked excitement, as well as the discovery that Mr. Wickham had left behind some £1000 of gambling debt. Mr. Bennett had left for London to search for Lydia, and was joined by Mr. Gardiner. She was not to be found, and the family was distraught. Mrs. Bennett was distraught at the disgraceful thing her daughter had done, and despaired of any of the daughters being even considered by someone with any class. Elizabeth, had told Jane about Mr. Darcy’s revelations about the poor character of Mr. Wickham, but had not said anything else, in order to give Mr. Wickham the chance to have changed his character, but now she regretted with sadness that she had not. Elizabeth also wrote off any potential attachment to Mr. Darcy, knowing that if Mr. Darcy was horrified at the unclassy behavior of her mother, he would hardly want to attach himself to a family with such a public disgrace as a daughter who had eloped with a ne’er-do-well.
Against all expectations, Mr. Gardiner wrote that they had discovered the location of Lydia, with the help of Mr. Darcy who had arrived one day, and that they had indeed been living together. Mr. Wickham was persuaded to marry Lydia (which he had originally had no intent of doing) for the payment of his debt, the assignment of a large sum of money to Lydia, a small stipend for Lydia, and the promise of securing an military position for Mr. Wickham. Upon receiving this news, Mr. Bennett, who been prevailed upon previously to return to Longbourne, was relieved that the situation was resolved, but despairing that there was no way to repay Mr. Gardiner for his expenses in settling the matter.
Elizabeth could not understand why Mr. Darcy would be involved, so she wrote to Mrs. Gardiner asking why. Mrs. Gardiner replied that it was Mr. Darcy who located Mr. Wickham, and who negotiated the resolution, and who paid for everything. She concluded by saying that she thought very highly of Mr. Darcy as a result of their time at Pemberley, and she was so presumptuous as to suggest that Mr. Darcy’s fault could be amended by a prudently chosen wife and that he had—very slyly in her opinion—made a point of not mentioning Elizabeth. Elizabeth could hardly believe that the very well-bred and classy Mr. Darcy would even consider attaching himself to such a tainted family, but the evidence did seem to point that way.
News soon came that Mr. Bingley and his entourage had returned to Netherfield, and having presumably been informed by Mr. Darcy of Jane’s true feelings, Mr. Bingley prompted called on Jane. There affections were renewed and an engagement was quickly settled on. To Elizabeth’s surprise, Mr. Darcy arrived back from London several days later. On a walk where Elizabeth’s younger sisters and had hastened on ahead, leaving the two of them alone. Elizabeth gathered her courage and thanked him for the service he had rendered to her family. He assured her it was not for her family’s sake that he had done it, and that his feelings had remained unchanged, and bade her tell him if hers had likewise remained. Elizabeth “now forced herself to speak; and immediate, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make here receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”
They apologized for their previous behaviors, and discussed the things that had ultimately brought them together. Lady Catherine had visited Elizabeth, instructing her not to marry Mr. Darcy, as she had heard rumors of a proposal and she felt he belonged to her daughter. Elizabeth, not saying that she had thought she had no chance, flatly refused to not marry him, which incensed Lady Catherine, who was not at all used to being denied her desires. So she went to Mr. Darcy to talk him out of marrying Elizabeth, which let him know that Elizabeth likely had some attachment for him—if she did not, his experience told him that she would have eloquently expressed her distaste of him to Lady Catherine.
Mr. Darcy asked Mr. Bennett for permission to marry Elizabeth, and after talking with Elizabeth to ensure that she really did love and admire him—given that up until that point he had heard her say nothing positive to say about him—he gave his permission. When Elizabeth told her mother, she was shocked to the point of being unable to talk, but came around to the idea easily enough. Mr. Darcy’s rumored £10,000 may have had something to do with that.
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth married and were happy. Miss Darcy loved Elizabeth, and even learned that one could banter with one’s husband. Mr. Bingley and Jane were happily married as well, and settled down in an estate not too far from Pemberley.
Pride and Prejudice is a very engaging read, and contains a lot more action than Sense and Sensibility. Part of that is that the latter describes the boring parties in detail, while the former glosses over the details of the numerous and enjoyable balls while relating in detail only those parts necessary for the story. There are also a good deal more characters, who have different names and titles depending on their relationship to the speaker, which can make the relationships confusing at times. The characters change scenery a lot, as well; apparently the life of the gentry involved spending weeks at a time at one’s friends. Certainly no one does anything resembling work; the closest is Mr. Collins, who is responsible for the church service and allusions to his Sunday performance is the closest to actually doing something that it gets. It does give more context to The Great Gatsby, which I found strange because who spends all day, every day hanging out with friends in a sort of ongoing low-key party? I guess when the interest on your fortune is most people’s idea of an impressive job salary, there really isn’t anything to do except hang out with friends.
Pride and Prejudice also has more and deeper themes than Sense and Sensibility does. Instead of just the one contrast between sense and romance, Pride and Prejudice takes two people who appear to contrast, only for them to discover that they are both the same (both in the pride and in their amiability). It also explores what happens in real-life marriages and how people respond. Mr. Bennett married Mrs. Bennett for her looks and didn’t realize her lack of mind until they had been married several years, at which point he simply retreated to books and mocking his wife at an intellectual level that she could not understand. Charlotte sees marriage as simply practical: a happy marriage is luck, but here I can be certain of being provided for (implicit in that is, being provided for at my expected standard of living). Lydia follows Miss Sensibility’s route, but with the more usual consequences than in the earlier novel.
This also leads to the characters being more vivid and believable. Mr. Bennett’s preference for his second daughter makes more sense by the end of the book, and you also get a glimpse into the unexpressed and underlying pains of the family. But the characters also act their age more. It takes strong imagination for Miss Sense to be the stated 19 years old; she seems a lot more like 25 at the minimum, because she is too wise. In contrast, Elizabeth, while very sensible, also acts very girly at times, and enjoys the balls and visitors at Meryton for the pure pleasure of it as much as her more flighty younger sisters, even though she is more restrained and cultured about it.
The portrayal of Mr. Collins made the trajectory of Christianity in England make more sense to me. I’ve wondered how England could go from virtually 100% Christian to 4% Christian in a century, while in the same time period the U.S. is still 30% Christian or so; likewise, attitudes of the Church being obsolete had never made much sense to me. Nobody says Buddhism is obsolete, why would Christianity be any different? In both the books, but especially this one, Austen portrays that job of vicar being simply a minor title that was given to whoever the landowner wished (assuming they were in the clerical profession). It was a grant of title and income, and had nothing to do with their relationship with or devotion to God. It is easy to see why churchman who owed his whole income to a proud noble would be such a boot-licker as Mr. Collins, but it is also easy to see how people would have no interest in a church presided over by such people, and how one could see such a system as obsolete once the feudalist system decayed.
Likewise, the British reactions to World War I, especially in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (“theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do or die”) and Voyage to Arcturus, which portrays soldiers being sent into battle by commanding officers who simply ordered, but did not know what they were doing. Mr. Wickham seems to have no qualifications to be a military officer, yet he gets appointed to one because Mr. Darcy has money. In the days when you could really only kill your enemy if he was close enough to be able to kill you maybe this was not such a drawback because the commander still had value by providing organization of the soldiers. But by WWI, you could be killed randomly from a distance without having much ability to prevent it except by being smart enough and informed enough to be somewhere else, and a commander who knew nothing also provided no value; there is no value in organizing a group that can be randomly killed.
Quite aside from any cultural insights, the story arc is quite good and well-paced. I think Jane Austen falls under the category of Mystery, used in the ancient Greek sense of “something hidden or not yet revealed”: you know Mr. Darcy will turn out to be different than appearance initially portray him as, but that information is not revealed yet. As who he really is made manifest, the reader gets to participate in Elizabeth’s procession from outrage to uncertainty to regret. And also you get really curious how the characters are going to react to the situation, at least in my case, because I live in a completely different culture and legitimately have no idea how that even really perceives the situation. The resolution is very satisfying because the process has brought you there.