Pride and Prejudice Chapter 1: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Chapter 1 of Pride and Prejudice introduces us to the Bennet family, to the themes of marriage and wealth that will be central to the 1813 novel, and to Jane Austen's satirical tone. Read a synopsis of this chapter and then test yourself.

Pride and Prejudice Chapter 1: Setting the Stage

Early portrait of Jane Austen
JA portrait

If you can't personally quote the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, you probably know someone who can. Unusual among the first lines of literary classics, it's found a home on everything from fridge magnets to mugs to t-shirts. 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'

The line itself is quietly hilarious: the 'truth universally acknowledged' that every rich bachelor must be looking for someone to endow with all his worldly goods is, of course, a silly fantasy. By slyly asserting this in the opening of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen prepares the reader for the tone and themes of the book. Wealth and marriage are going to preoccupy its characters, for reasons as diverse as the characters themselves, and Austen is going to skillfully satirize this preoccupation. The remainder of the chapter deals with the specific rich man who is thought to want a wife, and introduces the Bennet family, with their five unmarried daughters.

Marriage Material

P&P

With the first quote, Austen implies that any wealthy young man is 'considered as the rightful property' of the unmarried young women whenever he moves into a new neighborhood. The connection between marriageability and net worth is discussed - and satirized - throughout the novel. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. As in all the conversations of this mismatched couple, Mrs. Bennet does most of the talking. Likewise typically, she is full of gossip - in this case about the new tenant of the nearby Netherfield Hall, Mr. Bingley, who is young, single, and rich. Mrs. Bennet is thrilled, exclaiming 'What a fine thing for our girls!' Mr. Bennet dryly inquires what business it is of theirs.

'My dear Mr. Bennet,' replied his wife, 'how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.'

'Is that his design in settling here?'

'Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.'

Even as Mrs. Bennet schemes for the marriage of her daughters, the incompatibility of the Bennets serves as a cautionary tale about the blind pursuit of marriage as a goal, assuming that it will bring happiness. Nor is this the only way that Austen uses this chapter to satirize social conventions surrounding marriage. While Mrs. Bennet insists that Mr. Bennet visit Mr. Bingley in order to open the family's acquaintance in the acceptable way, Mr. Bennet quips that he'll just write Mr. Bingley a note, 'to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls.'

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