Pride and Prejudice is a love story that is both humorous and deeply serious. It is primarily concerned with the Bennets, a family with five daughters ranging in age from twenty-two to fifteen. The family children live well but know that when their father dies they will lose their home and property to their cousin Mr. Collins, simply because the family has no male heir. Mrs. Bennet, a comically deluded woman, believes that her main business is to arrange for her children to marry rich or, at worst, reputable gentlemen. Her husband, a genial wit, refuses to support her schemes but rarely hinders them. As a result, when experiences with bachelors of varying worth lead to problems and new emotions, the daughters must struggle on their own, without parental guidance.
The novel portrays two remarkable characters with whom generations of readers have fallen in love: Elizabeth Bennet, the talented, independent second daughter, and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a haughty aristocrat who sees through Mrs. Bennet’s manipulations and believes the Bennet family to be beneath him. In turn, Elizabeth develops a blinding prejudice against Darcy and puts him down as no one has dared before. Their relationship-a combination of attraction and contempt-is certainly one of the most exciting in all literature.
Through its vivid characters, Pride and Prejudice contrasts many human qualities: depth and superficiality; honesty and dishonesty; pride and humility; independence and servile compliance; selfishness and generosity. Most important, Austen contrasts weak, dense people with those who can recognize their own foibles and thus mature. It is the latter group that the writer sees as the moral leaders of her society.