The novel is centred on the Bennett family who live at Longbourn in Hertfordshire, near to the town of Meryton. Mrs Bennett busies herself with trying to marry off her five daughters; as the estate is 'entailed' it will pass to his cousin, Mr Collins, when he dies, and his girls will inherit nothing. The arrival of Charles Bingley at Netherfield nearby excites the neighbourhood. He is well liked and almost immediately falls in love with Jane, the eldest Bennett sister. However, his two sisters and friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, are deemed proud and disagreeable, and Elizabeth in particular is repulsed by their arrogant behaviour.
Mr Collins unexpectedly calls on the Bennetts and expresses his intention of marrying one of his cousins. He is opinionated and unpleasant, constantly pandering to Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who presented him with his living. Meanwhile, George Wickham, a young officer in the Militia garrisoned in Meryton arrives. Elizabeth is attracted to him and when he tells her of unjust treatment from Darcy her dislike of the man intensifies. Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth, but when refused he turns his attentions to Charlotte Lucas, and to the surprise of Lizzie she accepts. Soon after the Bingleys and Darcy leave for London, Elizabeth suspecting this to be a plot to separate Charles and Jane.
Jane is invited to London to stay with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners. She meets with Caroline Bingley but her offhand manner makes it clear that her acquaintance is undesirable. Elizabeth visits Charlotte and is depressed by her friend's loveless marriage. Lady Catherine's insolence disgusts Elizabeth and she is glad when Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam arrive. Darcy is bewitched by Lizzie and proposes to her; however, his reference to their differing rank offends Elizabeth and she accuses him of being ungentlemanly, depriving her sister of happiness and mistreating Wickham. Darcy justifies himself in a letter, exposing Wickham as a liar, and she is forced to concede the truth of his remarks, even those concerning her family's vulgarisms.
She returns to Longbourn dismayed that her father has allowed her youngest sister Lydia to follow the Militia to Brighton. She takes a trip with her aunt and uncle to Derby shire, only agreeing to visit Pemberley, Darcy's estate, when told the family is away. She is astonished to hear from the housekeeper how much the local people love and respect him, and is shocked further when his unexpected return sees him behave in an amiable and courteous manner towards herself and her aunt and uncle. Elizabeth begins to warm towards him, but she then receives news that Lydia has eloped with Wickham, disgracing the family. It is doubtful they will marry, but these are dispelled by a letter from Mr Gardiner. When visiting, Lydia lets slip that Darcy was at the wedding, and when urged to tell all by Elizabeth, Mrs Gardiner explains that he organized the whole matter. He arrives soon after with Bingley, who makes a successful proposal to Jane. Lady Catherine unexpectedly visits and demands to know if the rumour that Darcy and Elizabeth are engaged is true. Although Elizabeth tells her it is false, to Lady Catherine's annoyance she does not promise never to accept if he should. Darcy is heartened when he hears of this and is encouraged to propose again. This time Elizabeth accepts.
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