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Free Study Guide: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Free BookNotes

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The novel opens with an ironic statement about marriage, which is the axis around which the world of Longbourn turns: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife". Presently everyone in Longbourn, Hertfordshire, is excited about the fact that Mr. Bingley, an unmarried, rich young man, is to settle at Netherfield Park, a fine estate nearby. Mrs. Bennetís excitement is extraordinary, for she has five daughters that she wants to have married, especially the older ones. Her mind is fired with matrimonial speculations, and she tries to persuade her husband to pay a visit to Mr. Bingley as soon as he arrives. Mr. Bennet pokes fun at his wifeís impetuosity and jokes that he will give the newcomer a carte blanche so that he can marry any one of their daughters, including the little Lizzy. Mrs. Bennet is nettled and accuses her husband of having no compassion for her poor nerves.


The first sentence of this chapter is one of the famous ones in English literature because of its masterful irony, its humorous tone, and its foreshadowing of the entire novel. It would appear from the formal opening words, "it is a truth universally acknowledged", that the novel is going to dedicate itself to lofty ideals. The second half of the sentence, however, reveals that the "universal truth" is nothing more than a social truth, which ironically is not a truth at all, but a misrepresentation of social facts. A man with a fortune does not need a wife nearly so much as a woman, who has no means of outside support in the 19th century, is greatly in need of a wealthy husband. The entire novel is really an explanation of how women and men pursue each other prior to marriage.

It is apparent from this chapter that the novel is to center on character development and relationship and to investigate with great detail the behavior and manners of the landed middle-class society of 19th century England. The family is the heart of the middle-class, and its preservation is vital. Marriage, the key subject matter of the book, is extremely important in order to continue the family and to supply stability and economic well-being for the women of the time.

At the beginning of the chapter, Mrs. Bennet is, as usual, displaying her stupidity and vulgarity. Her husband mercilessly mocks her silliness. It is obvious that Mrs. Bennet is a woman with little understanding and uncertain temperament, while her husband is shown to be serious, sarcastic, and cynical. He laughs at her total preoccupation with finding suitable husbands for her five daughters. Jane and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters, are embarrassed by their motherís lack of class and blush every time she opens her mouth. Mrs. Bennet does, however, provide some entertainment to her lazy and heartless husband.



Mr. Bennet is one of the first callers on Mr. Bingley, and he withholds this information merely to vex his wife. Still in the dark about her husbandís visit, Mrs. Bennet seems ludicrously desperate to have her husband call on the new neighbor, and her husbandís incessant talk about Mr. Bingley seems to rub salt over her wounds. As Mrs. Bennet grows more impatient and irritated with her husband, he casually informs his wife and daughters about his visit. They are all astonished at his promptness, and Mrs. Bennet is full of praise for him. She remarks that he is an "excellent father." Mr. Bennet, disgusted with his wifeís outburst, leaves the room to take refuge in his study.


The second chapter is filled with unimportant events, but through them the author shows how important Mr. Bingleyís arrival is to the country village. Everyone seems to be excited that a man of means is to live amongst them. The Bennets are particularly excited. Mr. Bennet is one of the first persons to visit Bingley at Netherfield Park, but he chooses to keep his visit a secret from his family. Mrs. Bennet, unaware of the visit, grows impatient and irritated with her husband for not greeting the eligible newcomer. Mrs. Bennet also reveals her preference for Lydia, her youngest daughter who is vain and stupid, and for Mary, the third daughter who pretends to be scholarly and reflective and is actually pompous and silly.

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