Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the most famous of Jane Austen's novels. It was written between 1796 and 1797, and was called First Impressions. Revised in 1811, it was published two years later in 1813 by the same Mr Egerton, of the Military Library, Whitehall, who had brought out Sense and Sensibility. Like its predecessor, and like Northanger Abbey, it was written at Steventon Rectory.
This story deals with issues surrounding marriage in the early 19th century, though many issues are universal. The main character is Elizabeth Bennet, 21 years old, possesed of a quick mind, sharp wit, and keen sense of justice. Elizabeth's father, Mr Bennet, spends much of his time hiding in his study, a refuge from Elizabeth's mother, Mrs Bennet, who is determined to see all five of her daughters successfully married to a gentleman able to support a wife. This is particularly important to Mrs Bennet; the Bennet family estate is entailed to a male relative, due to the lack of male heirs in the Bennet family. The cousin, Mr Collins, is a clergyman who tends be portrayed as wordy and snobbish. Having been rejected by Elizabeth, Mr Collins ultimately marries Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's best friend. Mrs Bennet's hopes are, however, raised by the arrival in the district of a wealthy young man, Mr Bingley, and his handsome but proud friend, Mr Darcy, to whom Elizabeth immediately takes a dislike.
Elizabeth is wooed by Mr Wickham, whom she considers "gentlemanlike", and whose side she takes in his quarrel with Mr Darcy, who has gradually come to admire Elizabeth. Mr Wickham ultimately proves himself to be of poor character by seducing Elizabeth's youngest sister, and to her surprise Mr Darcy rescues the situation. It eventuates that Mr Darcy was aware of Wickham's defects in character, as his sister was also seduced by him; despite being in love with Elizabeth, he chooses not to tell her about Wickham so as to not unduly influence any decision she might make. Ultimately Elizabeth sees through the flaws in Mr Darcy, realizes that she loves him, and accepts his proposal of marriage, despite there being social condemnation of the match due to Elizabeth's 'low connections'.
The story is a deep analysis of character. Every character is finely crafted, generally to contrast with others, and demonstrates a point about the social niceties of love and marriage. Charlotte, Elizabeth's best friend, is a very practical woman. She marries Mr Collins to ensure herself a happy and comfortable life. As a result, Elizabeth comes to a much dimmer view of her. It's debatable whether this is an example of Elizabeth's prejudice or Charlotte's lack of passion. Frequently Elizabeth is blinded by her own prejudice, particularly her prejudice against Mr Darcy's pride, from where the title of the novel comes.
Pride and Prejudice has been the subject of many radio and television dramatisations, the best-known being the 1996] version starring Colin Firth as Darcy. A Hollywood film version of the 1940s starred Laurence Olivier in the role, and Greer Garson as Elizabeth. Darcy has become the model for the most successful romantic heroes over the past two centuries.