The Bennets of Longbourn have five daughters, all unmarried—Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Mrs. Bennet wants to get them all married as soon as possible, and so she is excited to hear that an eligible and wealthy young man, Mr. Bingley, is renting the nearby manor of Netherfield Park. Mr. Bennet visits Mr. Bingley, and the Bennet family goes to a ball where Mr. Bingley and some companions are present. Mr. Bingley is immediately smitten with Jane, and he dances with her a great deal that evening. Mr. Darcy, his friend, however, refuses to dance with Elizabeth, saying she is not handsome enough. Everyone thinks that he is very arrogant and proud.
Elizabeth is very charming and intelligent, however, and Darcy cannot help but be struck by that when he sees her at other social functions over the coming weeks. He keeps this a strict secret, however, and has no intentions of ever acting on his feelings. Bingley continues to be enchanted with Jane. When Jane visits Bingley and his sisters at Netherfield and falls ill as result of riding in the rain, she has to stay there for several days. Elizabeth worries about her sister, with whom she is very close, and she walks through the dirt and mud of the fields to visit. She arrives at Netherfield with a muddy dress and boots. Miss Bingley, Charles’ Bingley’s sister, holds Elizabeth in disdain because of this. Miss Bingley cannot help but notice that Darcy seems to pay a lot of attention to Elizabeth, and this increases her dislike and spite. Soon after Elizabeth and Jane leave Netherfield and return home, Mr. Collins visits Longbourn. Mr. Collins is the young man who will one day inherit Longbourn, the Bennet estate. The estate is “entailed,” which means that it can be inherited only by male heirs. Mr. Collins, a young clergyman, is a foolish, pompous man. He is very taken with the Bennet sisters. He soon proposes marriage to Elizabeth, and she refuses his offer. He can barely believe her answer. The other sisters during this time have been spending their time paying attention to militia officers who are posted nearby. One of these officers is a handsome young man called Wickham. Wickham takes a liking to Elizabeth, and he tells her that his inheritance has been stolen from him by a person she knows: Darcy.
Jane is upset and disappointed when the Bingleys and Darcy go to London for the winter. It is another great shock to the family when it is discovered that Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas are engaged. Charlotte Lucas is a daughter of Sir William Lucas, a knight who lives nearby. She has no money of her own and will never have any, and this is reason why she considers Mr. Collins to be an eligible match. Elizabeth is shocked and disappointed at Charlotte’s decision, but Charlotte explains that she feels she is too old to be picky and needs to marry Mr. Collins for financial reasons. After Charlotte marries Mr. Collins, Elizabeth promises she will visit them after they move away. Later in the winter, Jane visits friends in London. She hopes to see Mr. Bingley while she is there. Mr. Bingley does not visit her, however, and while Miss Bingley does, she is very rude. It appears that the marriage prospects of all the Bennet girls are very poor.
After their marriage, Charlotte and Mr. Collins live near the grand estate of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins’s patron. We find out that Lady Catherine is also Mr. Darcy’s aunt. When Darcy visits Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he encounters Elizabeth. He finds himself drawn to her, and he visits the Collins’s home several times as she is staying there. On one of these visits when he finds Elizabeth alone, he proposes marriage to her. Elizabeth immediately refuses, telling him that she finds him unpleasant and arrogant. She declares she knows that he pressured Bingley to give up his courtship of Jane and that he stole Wickham’s inheritance. Soon after this, Darcy sends Elizabeth a letter in which he admits that did pressure Bingley to give up thinking of Jane but says he did so because he felt their attachment was not very strong. He claims that Wickham is lying about his story of disinheritance, and that it was Wickham’s plan to elope with Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s young sister, that caused them to cease their connection.
This letter makes Elizabeth think and reevaluate her perspective a bit. When she returns home to Longbourn, she changes her manner towards Wickham, becoming more reserved. Lydia and Kitty, the younger Bennet girls, are upset because the militia will soon be leaving gown. Wickham’s regiment is to be stationed at Brighton, and Lydia gains permission from her father to go to that city for the summer and stay with an old colonel and his wife. In the summer, Elizabeth travels with the Gardiners, relatives of the family, to the North. They eventually find themselves near Darcy’s estate, Pemberley. After ensuring that Darcy is away, Elizabeth agrees to visit Pemberley and view the grounds and building. She is delighted by what she sees. Darcy’s servants say that he is a kind and generous master. To Elizabeth’s shock, Darcy arrives. He is very cordial to her. Darcy doesn’t allude to his marriage proposal, and he kindly entertains Elizabeth and the Gardiners. He invites Elizabeth to meet Georgiana, his sister.
Elizabeth soon receives a letter from home, communicating that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. The couple has completely disappeared, and it is feared that they are living together unmarried. Elizabeth rushes home, horrified at the disgrace which the situation could inflict on the Bennet family. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner search for Lydia but are unable to find her. Mr. Bennet comes home with this sad news. Soon Mr. Gardiner sends a letter saying that Lydia and Wickham have been found, and that Wickham has agreed to marry Lydia on the condition that he is given an annual income. At this point, the Bennets assume that Mr. Gardiner must have been the source of the money used to pay off Wickham, but we will eventually find out that Darcy was the person to provide this money and save the Bennet family.
After Lydia and Wickham marry, they visit Longbourn for a brief visit. Mr. Bennet does not enjoy seeing his daughter or new son-in-law. The young couple then travel to the North of England for Wickham’s new assignment. It is soon after this that Bingley returns to the area and begins to court Jane again. Darcy visits Bingley at Netherfield, and he visits the Bennets. Bingley proposes to Jane, and everyone is happy except for his snobbish sister. Lady Catherine de Bourgh surprises everyone by visiting Longbourn. She gets Elizabeth alone and announces that she has heard that Darcy is planning to marry the young lady. Lady Catherine is outraged by the very idea of this, as she feels that Elizabeth Bennet is a highly unsuitable match. She tries to make Elizabeth promise that she will refuse Darcy. Elizabeth says that she is not engaged to Darcy but declines to promise that she would refuse him. Soon after this, while Elizabeth and Darcy are walking together, Darcy declares that his feelings are the same as they were in the spring and that he still wants to marry Elizabeth. Elizabeth joyfully accepts his proposal.