Pride and Prejudice


Austen begins by hooking us with her famous opening line:

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

The subtle irony creates a sense of conflict from the very first and hints that neither the wife in search of the fortune nor the man in search of the wife will reach their goals so easily. Austen deepens the pull of her Hook into her opening paragraph by further highlighting the juxtaposition of her opening statement with the realities of her plot. She deepens it still further throughout the opening scene, which introduces the Bennet family in such a way that we not only grow interested in them, but also learn both the thrust of the plot and the difficulties of the conflict.

First Act: Ten pages in, we’ve met all the major characters, learned about the setting, and seen what’s at stake for the Bennet daughters if one of them can’t ensnare the unwitting Mr. Bingley. By the time we reach the First Plot Point, we’ve gotten to know all the sisters. The beauty and sweetness that will eventually win Jane a husband, the independence and strong opinions with which Elizabeth drives the conflict, and the foreboding irresponsibility of the youngest daughter Lydia are all in place and ready to be developed later in the story. We’ve also been introduced to the Bingleys, Darcy, and Wickham. Before the First Act is over, Bingley is in love with Jane, and Elizabeth has made up her mind to dislike Darcy—the two factors that will drive the story to come.

Inciting Event: Although Elizabeth and Darcy spar at the Meryton assembly dance, forming opinions of each other they will spend the rest of the story trying to overcome, the true Inciting Event is the scene in which Elizabeth becomes the Bingleys’ guest while her sister Jane is staying there as an invalid. This sequence “brushes” Elizabeth against the main plot conflict by initiating her relationship with Darcy. From here, their paths will become more and more intertwined.

First Plot Point: After the ball at Netherfield Park, Darcy and the Bingley sisters convince Mr. Bingley to return to London and forget his growing affection for Jane. Much has already happened in the story. Jane and Elizabeth have stayed over at Netherfield. Lydia and Kitty have become enamored of the militia. Wickham has turned Elizabeth against Darcy. And Mr. Collins has proposed to Elizabeth. Then everything changes at the 25% mark when Darcy and the Bingleys leave. This is the event that breaks Jane’s heart and infuriates Elizabeth against Darcy. It also changes the story’s landscape, since several prominent characters are no longer in the neighborhood for the Bennets to interact with as they did throughout the book’s first quarter.

First Half of the Second Act: After Bingley leaves Netherfield Park at Darcy’s prompting (the First Plot Point), Elizabeth and her sisters can do little except react. Jane goes to London to visit her aunt and to discover why Bingley left. In the absence of Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth pays an extended visit to her friend Charlotte (the new Mrs. Collins). While there, she again meets Mr. Darcy and is forced to react to his perplexing attentions.

Midpoint: Not only does Austen give readers an unexpected proposal from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth, she also raises the stakes by having Elizabeth turn him down flat and cast in his face everything she hates about him. Up to now, Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship has been nebulous. Now everything is out in the open. Both characters have ended their period of reaction with strong actions that will force them to reevaluate themselves and each other.

Second Half of the Second Act: Elizabeth is pushed off balance by Darcy’s proposal and subsequent explanation of his supposed misdeeds. She then spends the Second Half of the Second Act realizing she’s misjudged him and that, indeed, she’s falling in love with him. Her actions in this segment are primarily internal. She actively realizes her mistakes and owns up to them, first privately and then more or less publicly in her attempts to treat Darcy with respect and kindness when they accidentally meet at Pemberley. This is an example of how the Second Half of the Second Act can be used primarily as a time of catalytic epiphany and self-realization.

Third Act: After learning the terrible news that her youngest sister Lydia has scandalously run away with the scoundrel Wickham, Elizabeth returns home from her interlude with Mr. Darcy at Pemberley. The Third Act is a whirlwind of revelations, as Wickham mysteriously marries Lydia and Darcy’s aunt descends upon Elizabeth with demands that she promise never to marry her nephew. The plot and theme in this story are exceptionally tight with no loose pieces. Everything that was set up in the First Act and developed in the Second comes to fruition in the Third, as Elizabeth must recalibrate her opinions of Mr. Darcy in a realization of his worthiness and her love for him. Everything is complicated nicely with the dramatic doubt of whether her folly, not to mention Lydia’s, has forever compromised her ability to be with him.

Third Plot Point: Just as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy begin to grow closer while spending time at his Pemberley estate, word comes that Elizabeth’s youngest sister Lydia has run away with the scoundrel Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth must return home, not only fearing the worst for her sister and her family, but also believing Lydia’s scandalous actions have caused Mr. Darcy to revile her family forever.

Climax: As in most romantic stories, the Climactic Moment of this classic novel occurs when the two leads come together, admit their love for each other, and commit to a long-term relationship. After Darcy’s gallantry in patching up Lydia’s elopement with Wickham and his efforts to reunite Bingley and Jane, he and Elizabeth are at last alone on a walk, during which they put straight their former misconceptions, repent of their misconduct to one another, and get engaged.

Resolution: After Darcy and Elizabeth proclaim their love for one another in the Climax, Austen ties up her loose ends in a few tidy scenes that include the Bennet family’s reaction to the engagement. From her perch as an omniscient and distant narrator, Austen caps her story with a final witty scene in which she covers the book’s two culminating weddings and comments on Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley’s future lives together. Her Resolution is a beautiful example of hitting a tone that sums up the story and leaves readers feeling exactly how she wants them to.

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