Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Contributed by Tereasa Jacob
Chapter 1-4
Summary

Summary: Chapters 1–2

A wealthy young gentleman named Charles Bingley has decided to rent Netherfield Park, a manor house situated near Longbourn, the home of the Bennet family. There are five unmarried daughters in this family and Mrs. Bennet, the mother, is a foolish woman who loves gossip. She is a person who would certainly agree with the novel’s opening passage:  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Mrs. Bennet says that her husband must call on Bingley immediately, hoping that the young gentleman will eventually marry one of her daughters. Mr. Bennet, who enjoys teasing his wife and family, pretends that he does not intend to make the visit. He does soon visit Bingley, however, without his wife and daughter’s knowing.  Mrs. Bennet and her daughters are excited when Mr. Bennet reveals the truth. 

Summary: Chapters 3–4

Joyful and wanting to learn more, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters ask Mr. Bennet many questions about Bingley. Bingley returns Mr. Bennet’s visit a few days later, but he does not meet the Bennet girls. He is called away to London before having the chance to have dinner with the Bennets. He returns to Netherfield quickly, bringing his two sisters, his brother-in-law, and a gentleman called Mr. Darcy, his friend.

Bingley and his guests attend a ball in Meryton, the town nearby. The Bennet girls and their mother are also there. Bingley and Jane dance twice. Elizabeth hears Bingley say that Jane is “the most beautiful creature” he has ever beheld. When he suggests to Darcy that he should dance with Elizabeth, the latter gentleman refuses, saying “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” He says that he does not wish to pay attention to women who are “slighted by other men.” Understandably, Elizabeth develops an immediate dislike for Darcy. Most of the people in the neighborhood also dislike him, because of his arrogance and refusal to dance with women who aren’t rich or well-bred. Unlike him, Bingley is liked by everyone he meets. 

After the ball, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters tell Mr. Bennet all about the ball. He is bored by all the details and begs her to stop. Alone upstairs, Jane tells Elizabeth how pleasantly surprised she was that Bingley chose her for two dances. Elizabeth tells her sister that she underestimates her own beauty. Both Jane and Elizabeth agree that Bingley’s sisters could have better manners, but Jane says that they are more charming when you talk to them more closely.  Elizabeth doesn’t think this could really be true. She knows how good-natured her sister is, and how she tends to think the best of everyone.

We learn more about Bingley’s background: he has one-hundred thousand pounds that he inherited from his father but he still wishes to rent his house rather than buy one. Bingley and Darcy have a longstanding friendship that has persisted despite their different temperaments. Bingley is sociable, cheerful, and eager to like everyone. Darcy, although more clever, is less tactful and much less friendly. At the Meryton ball, he finds the people dull and says that Jane smiles too much.  Bingley’s sisters say that Jane is “a sweet girl”. This helps Bingley to feel reassured about his own opinion of her.

Analysis

Pride and Prejudice opens with the sentence, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. This establishes the importance of financially and socially advantageous marriage, which was an integral part of the culture of Regency England. The story begins with Mr. Bingley and his fortune’s arrival in the area. He represents the possibility of an advantageous marriage and the wealth and social connections that would come with it.   The novel’s opening sentence has significance beyond its declarative meaning. Not only does it say that a wealthy man must want a wife, it implies that single women need husbands, preferably wealthy ones. 

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