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Pride and Prejudice: Plot and Character Analysis

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  • 0:11 The Original Romantic Comedy
  • 1:52 Beginnings and Protagonists
  • 4:55 Antagonists
  • 6:59 The Bennets
  • 8:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Sjol
In this lesson, we'll go over the quintessential romantic comedy, Pride and Prejudice. We'll take a look at all of the factors conspiring to keep Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart as well as read some of Jane Austen's sparkling prose.

The Original Romantic Comedy

Any brief summary of Pride and Prejudice is going to sound pretty much like every romantic comedy you've ever seen - that's because it's kind of the first one. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy don't like each other when they first meet. They're forced to spend a lot of time together through contrived circumstances, and they end up falling in love and getting married. (I'm sorry if that was a spoiler, but you could kind of see it coming.)

Pick a movie: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Bridget Jones' Diary, Knocked Up, When Harry Met Sally. In all of these, it starts out rough then ends up being a wonderful union at the end. It's also not a coincidence that almost every Jane Austen novel has been made into a movie because we've got a way of thinking about that kind of plot now in movies; it's a sure box office winner. But Jane Austen was way more talented than your average Hollywood screenwriter. She kind of invented this plot; she invented the 'people don't like each other and then they fall in love' story.

She, actually, originally titled the book First Impressions, but she was forced to change it when she published it. This is interesting to know because it's kind of a handy way of remembering what Elizabeth and Darcy think of each other. The new title is Pride and Prejudice; the original title was First Impressions. Their 'first impressions' of each other are that Darcy is way too 'proud', and Elizabeth thinks he's too proud and is 'prejudiced' against liking him on further interaction.

So, that's a neat way to remember that their 'first impressions' of each other are 'pride' and 'prejudice.'

Beginnings and Protagonists

The Bennet family has five daughters, and because of this silly rule called an entail, none of the daughters can actually inherit the estate. So, basically, at least a few of the daughters have to find very rich husbands or else the family is going to be ruined (because the estate will have to be inherited by someone who's not directly in it). At the beginning of the novel, the prospect of this happening is actually looking up. They might meet someone rich because someone rich has moved into the neighborhood. That is Mr. Bingley. The novel begins with this pretty famous line that you should probably remember:

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.'

Jane Austen is known for her dry wit and sparkling dialogue, and this is arguably one of her most famous lines, so you should probably know it. It's also an interesting line because you get the sense that Jane Austen, herself, doesn't really believe that it's true (it definitely wouldn't be 'universal,' so that tips us off). But her characters do, so she's inhabiting their voice right off the bat in the opening of the book. This is something that's called free indirect discourse because she's expressing the thoughts and words of her characters, but she's not directly signaling it. So, she's not saying he said, she thought or they believed (which would be the most applicable in this situation). She uses this all the time in the book, but it's really prominent in this opening sentence. It's also a famous opening sentence!

So, everyone in the neighborhood is freaking out because this rich guy has moved in nearby to this place called Netherfield Hall. The Bennets are freaking out times five because they have five daughters who all might want to marry this guy.

Luckily for them, Mr. Bingley actually likes one of their daughters, Jane, who's the oldest one. She's really pretty, and she's really nice, so it kind of makes sense that he would like her. They end up hanging out and dancing a lot at this neighborhood ball, which they seem to have a lot of in this book.

Bingley has brought along with him his even richer friend, Mr. Darcy, and he tries to set him up with Elizabeth at this same ball. Darcy's kind of a tool at first. So, Bingley's like, 'You should hook up with Elizabeth,' and Darcy's like, 'No. She's kind of ugly. I don't like her.' Elizabeth overhears this and is justifiably upset; thinks he's kind of a jerk. She's not a big fan. But like in all romantic comedies, they begin to grow on each other. Darcy, eventually, acknowledges that Elizabeth is pretty and that she's actually really smart and fun to be around. Elizabeth learns that, while maybe Darcy isn't the most socially gifted guy in the world, he's actually really nice and decent. And he also has a lot of money. From this set up, it seems like the sister-sister, friend-friend double wedding thing is going to happen, and it's going be great.

Antagonists

There are, actually, a lot of people in the book who do not want this to happen and are actively (and inactively) trying to stop it. We're going to go over some of those people now; they're kind of the main antagonists in this book.

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