Pride and Prejudice

Hook: Austen begins by masterfully 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 gives us a sense of conflict from the very first and lets us know that neither the wife in search of the fortune nor the man in search of the wife will find their goals so easily. Austen deepens the pull of her hook in her opening paragraph by further highlighting the juxtaposition of her opening statement with the realities of her plot, and then deepens it still further in the entirety of the opening scene, which introduces readers to the Bennet family in such a way that we not only grow interested in the characters, but also realize both the thrust of the plot and the difficulties of the conflict.

First Act: Austen introduces characters, settings, and stakes, all three, in the very first scene. Ten pages in, we’ve been introduced to all the major characters, given to understand the setting, and shown what’s at stake for the Bennett daughters if one of them can’t ensnare the unwitting Mr. Bingley. By the time we reach the first major plot point, we’ve gotten to know the sisters. The beauty and sweetness that will eventually win Jane a husband, the independence and strong opinions with which Lizzy drives the conflict, and the foreboding irresponsibility of the youngest daughter Lydia are all in place and ready for use 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 Lizzy has made up her mind to dislike Darcy—the two factors that will drive the entirety of the remaining story.

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

Inciting Event: The arrival of the Bingleys and Darcy in Meryton is the inciting event that starts the chain of events moving irreversibly.

Key Event: But the main character, Lizzy, doesn’t become involved with the inciting event until she meets and is rejected by Darcy at the Meryton assembly dance. This is the key event.

First Half of the Second Act: After Bingley dumps Jane and he, his sister, and Darcy leave Netherfield Park (the first major plot point), Lizzy and her sisters have no choice but to react. Jane goes to London to visit her aunt and to try discover why Bingley left. Lizzy, in the absence of Mr. Wickham, 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 attentions to her.

Midpoint: Austen makes readers sit up straight by hitting them with a humdinger of a midpoint. Not only does she give us an unexpected (or is it?) proposal from Mr. Darcy to Lizzy, she also smacks it out of the park by having Lizzy turn him down flat and cast in his face everything she hates about him. Up to now, the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy has been nebulous. Now, everything is out in the open, and both characters have ended their period of reaction with a set of strong actions that will force them to reevaluate both themselves and each other.

Second Half of the Second Act: After being pushed completely off balance by Darcy’s proposal and subsequent justification of his other supposed misdeeds, Lizzy 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 take place more on an internal platform than an external one. She is actively realizing her mistakes and owning up to them (first privately and then more or less publicly in her attempts to treat him with respect and kindness when they accidentally meet at Pemberley). This is a good example of how the second half of the second act can be used primarily as a time of catalytic epiphany and self-realization.

Third Plot Point: The third act opens with the dramatic discovery of Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham. As with the previous major plot points at the 25% and 50% marks, this one is a game changer. The Bennets’ lives will never be the same, not only personally with their loss of and worry for their youngest member, but also publicly since Lydia’s scandalous behavior will almost certainly ruin the other sisters’ ability to marry well. Even more importantly to Lizzy, she fears that Darcy’s abrupt behavior toward her after he hears the news is an indication she’s lost, once and for all, any chance she had of regaining his love. As a woman in early 19th century England, Lizzy isn’t capable of taking direct action to personally rectify the situation.

Third Act: But she does what she can by immediately leaving Lambton with her aunt and uncle and returning home to her stricken family.

Climax: As in most romantic stories, the climax of this classic novel is the moment in whichthe two leads finally come together, admit their love for each other, and resolve upon 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 Lizzy are at last alone on a walk, during which they’re able to put straight their former misconceptions, repent of their misconduct to one another (a personal turning point for each of them), and properly affiance themselves.

Resolution: After the climax in which Darcy and Lizzy proclaim their love for one another, Austen ties up her loose ends in a few neat scenes, which include the Bennets’ reaction to their engagement. From her perch as an omniscient and distant narrator, Austen then 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 final scene is a beautiful example of hitting a tone that sums up the story as a whole and leaves the reader feeling exactly how the author wants them to.

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