Pride and Prejudice Chapters 1-7 Summary

Pride and Prejudice famously begins: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." This quotation sets the stage for the rest of the novel, which centers around the Bennet daughters and their search for husbands. Austen says this as a rather tongue-in-cheek statement, more or less mocking social norms and the importance placed on marriage. As the novel develops, it becomes clear that Austen supports marriage for love, not money or convenience. In the novel, this idea-whether to marry for love or money-is an issue that many of the female characters must deal with.

Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to the Bennet family. The family consists of a husband and wife-Mr. and Mrs. Bennet-and their five daughters. From oldest to youngest, the daughters are: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. In this chapter, Mrs. Bennet in particular is excited because she has heard that a new neighbor- who also happens to be wealthy and single-has moved into a nearby estate, Netherfield. She insists that her husband go introduce himself to this new neighbor, a Mr. Bingley, so that the girls may, in turn, be introduced to him. In this society, it would be rude and unacceptable for the girls to meet Mr. Bingley without a proper introduction. Mr. Bennet teases his wife in this chapter and into the next, as is his habit, but soon reveals he has already introduced himself to Bingley. Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed at this news and tries to arrange for Mr. Bingley to come to dinner at their home, Longbourne. Bingley's busy schedule unfortunately gets in the way.

However, Bingley and several of his friends appear at the next neighborhood ball, causing quite a stir. Bingley's guests include his two sisters- Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst-as well as his brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, and a good friend, Mr. Darcy. Everyone at the party is charmed by Mr. Bingley.

Rumors fly about Darcy's wealth but, soon enough, everyone in the neighborhood is put off by his standoffish and gloomy manners. Darcy at one point even offends Elizabeth. At the ball, Bingley remarks that Darcy should dance because there is a scarcity of male dancers and many ladies don't have dancing partners. He suggests that Darcy dance with Elizabeth. Darcy refuses and, within earshot if Elizabeth, remarks she is "barely tolerable" or, in other words, not very attractive. This, or course, does nothing to improve Elizabeth's opinion of him.

After the ball a few days later, Elizabeth meets her friend and neighbor, Charlotte Lucas. They discuss Darcy's comment at the ball. Charlotte reports that generally everyone in the neighborhood regards him as too proud and arrogant. Word has it that he never dances or associates with anyone outside of his social circle.

On the flip side of this, Charlotte and Elizabeth discuss how Jane danced twice with Bingley. He paid no one else as much attention, so it seems that he is interested in Jane. Indeed, this interest seems to grow in subsequent chapters. At one point, Elizabeth and Charlotte meditate on this growing attraction. Charlotte worries that Jane, who is shy and modest, might seem indifferent in her attraction to Bingley and thus scare him away. Charlotte thinks Jane should act quickly and secure Bingley in marriage before he loses interest. She argues there is plenty of time after someone is married to get to know their spouse. Elizabeth disagrees, arguing people should marry for love up front. This conversation is quite revealing about their characters and will prove important later on in the novel.

Meanwhile, at the next ball, Mr. Lucas-Charlotte's father-tries to get Darcy to dance with Elizabeth. Though Darcy seems amenable this time, Elizabeth refuses. After she departs, Darcy confides to Caroline that he is becoming attracted to Elizabeth. Caroline mocks him for this confession and, especially, makes fun of Elizabeth's family. This is something Caroline will continue to do for several reasons. On the one hand, though the Bennet family is upper class like the Bingleys, they are on a lower end of the upper-class spectrum. On the other hand, Mrs. Bennet is perceived as overbearing and silly by many people around her, while the youngest daughters are equally as silly. For these reasons, Caroline seems to think she is better than them and, thus, will continue to mock them.

In the following chapters, the two youngest Bennet daughters, Kitty and Lydia, begin spending a lot of time in the nearby town of Meryton. A militia is stationed there, and the girls enjoy going to flirt with the soldiers. This will become a favorite pastime of theirs throughout the novel.

Eventually, Jane receives in invitation from the Bingley sisters to visit them at Netherfield. As she prepares to leave, it looks like it's going to rain. Ever the schemer, Mrs. Bennet refuses to give Jane the coach for her drive to Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet reasons that, if it does rain, Jane will have to stay longer at Netherfield and, thus, spend more time with the Bingleys. As it turns out, this plan doesn't go quite according to Mrs. Bennet's expectations. It begins to rain as Jane makes her journey, and she gets completely soaked. As a result, she catches a cold and is forced to stay overnight at Netherfield. Elizabeth goes to visit her sister and becomes annoyed with the Bingley sisters poke fun at her family. Darcy and Bingley, however, do stick up for her.

In beginning to read, Pride and Prejudice, it is important to understand some of the historical context in order to see the bigger picture. The novel takes place in the early 1800s in England. During this time period, upper class women, like the Bennet daughters, had few options in life. However, in order not to become a burden to their family, woman usually married during or before their early twenties. Women did not work but, instead, were keepers of the household. The Bennet daughters will inherit very little after their father eventually dies because, according to societal traditions, all money and property goes to the nearest male relative. Because or this, it's easy to see why Mrs. Bennet is eager to marry her daughters off. Essentially, she is concerned about their future. She may seem overbearing and overeager, and perhaps she is; however, her daughter's future is at the heart of her concerns.

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