Pride and Prejudice has maintained it's popularity due to it's uncanny relevance to modern day society, despite the manifold differences between the world today and back in 18th century England.
But even a book famed for it's universal appeal has a couple of WTF!? elements. This is a study guide of sorts, based on Pride and Prejudice, both the novel and the 2005 movie.
Synopsis (based mostly on the movie):
Elizabeth "Lizzy" Bennet lives with her family of middle-upper class gentry with some financial strain in Longbourn, near Meryton when a wealthy gentleman, his sister (in the book, two sisters and the husband of the eldest) and his closest friend rent Netherfield Park, the grandest house in the county. The gentleman in question is a Mr Charles Bingley, a very eligible bachelor of 5,000 pounds a year (That would be a lot. like 500,000 pounds in today's money.) and is immediately attracted to Lizzy's elder sister Jane Bennet, who is considered the beauty of the county. The sister (sisters and husband) are mildly aloof and condescending on the Bennets, however they take a liking to Jane, but Mr Bingley's friend, Mr Darcy, is blantantly rude and haughty towards the entire county, being an extremely wealthy man of double Bingley's income. Through his cold and condescending manner he manages injure Lizzy's pride through a casual jilt on her plainness ("not handsome enough to tempt me") and has seemingly earned forever her bad opinion of him, due to her habit of judging people based on first impressions. Mr Bingley falls blindly in love with Jane, but both Mr Darcy and Bingley's sisters are appalled at the lack of propriety shown by the rest of Jane and Lizzy's family: the relaxed and unsociable Mr Bennet, silly and narrow-minded Mrs Bennet, who's desperation to get her daughters married into good families drives her into actions that make her a social embarassment, Mary Bennet, the plain, dull, overachieving sister, and Catherine "Kitty" and Lydia Bennet, who are as silly and excitable as their mother. Mr Darcy is further concerned by Jane's apparent indifference to Mr Bingley, believing that a marriage between them would be as a result of unmatched levels of affection, and for the sole benefit of improving the Bennet's social standing. This is later revealed to be a misunderstanding of Jane's quiet and shy nature.
As the Bingley's and Jane grow close, Jane is invited to dine with the ladies of Netherfield Park, but through intervention by Mrs Bennet rides there on horseback in the rain, catches cold, and is forced to stay at Netherfield for several days. In order to tend to her, Lizzy hikes through mud to Netherfield, scandalising the prim and proper Bingley sisters. Caroline Bingley, the unmarried sister, grows jealous as Mr Darcy begins to pay Lizzy particular attention during her stay.
After Lizzy and Jane return to Longbourn they are visited by Mr Bennet's cousin who will inherit the Longbourn estate, due to the lack of male heir on Mr Bennet's part - which would leave Mr Bennet's widow and any unmarried daughters destitute and at the mercy of this said cousin upon Mr Bennet's death. Mr Collins, who is described as a silly, pompous and self-important man, intends to solve this dilemma by marrying one of Mr Bennet's daughters, thus creating peace between the families and obtaining a wife, which he believes is one of his very long list of things he must do as part of his role of clergyman. He is attracted to Jane, but after Mrs Bennet warns him (erronously) that she is soon to be engaged, he turns his attentions to Lizzy. Mr Collins soon proposes to Lizzy, but she cannot reconcile herself to the idea of marrying without love, let alone the idea of marrying someone she considers to be ridiculous and socially awkward, and rejects him. A wounded Mr Collins then leaves the Bennet's to stay with the Lucases, another family of minor gentry, and proposes to Lizzy's best friend, Charlotte Lucas. Lizzy is appalled when Charlotte accepts him, not out of love but for fear of becoming an old maid, the desire for her own home and financial security - plain, not wealthy and twenty-seven, Charlotte was considered far from an eligible for marriage and considered herself to have 'a lot to be thankful for'.
During Lizzy's awkward encounter with Mr Collins she meets Mr Wickham, a seemingly charming member of the militia stationed in Meryton for the winter. After witnessing a cold encounter between Mr Wickham and Mr Darcy, Mr Wickham recounts that he was a childhood friend of Mr Darcy, who's father bequeathed to him the rectory on their estate. He then goes on to claim that after old Mr Darcy died, the current Mr Darcy gave the living to another man, reducing Mr Wickham to the poor state he is in at the present. This fuels Lizzy's sympathy towards Mr Wickham, and also her hatred towards Mr Darcy.
Meanwhile, Mr Darcy and Bingley's sisters have convinced Mr Bingley to leave Netherfield and go to London, and Caroline Bingley writes a heartbroken Jane a letter telling her of their departure, and hinting that she intends her brother to be matched with Georgiana Darcy, Mr Darcy's sister, and Mr Darcy with herself. Lizzy, convinced that Mr Bingley was taken away against his better judgement, sends a disillusioned Jane to London to find him. Lizzy grows lonely in the absence of her best friend and the departure of her sister to London, and so visits Mr Collins and the new Mrs Collins at his parsonage near Rosings Park, where she is introduced to the condescending and haughty Lady Catherine de Burgh, Mr Collins' patroness and her daughter, the extremely wealthy but sickly heiress Anne de Burgh. Whilst at Rosings Park Lizzy meets Mr Darcy, who is revealed to be Lady Catherine's nephew. He is accompanied by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who later slips that Mr Darcy deliberately separated his 'closest friend' (Mr Bingley) from an 'imprudent marriage', citing the 'lady's' (Jane) indifference and family.
During Lizzy's stay with the Collins' Mr Darcy visits her several times and attempts, unsuccessfully, to talk to her, with comically disasterous results. He later plucks up the courage to admit his love and admiration for her, and proposes, although her admits that he likes her against his better judgement, but he is willing to overlook ' her inferior birth and his rank'. Angry and insulted, Lizzy rejects him, citing his treatment of herself, her sister and of Mr Wickham, and claims that due to 'his arrogance and conceit and selfish distain of the feelings of others' makes him the last man that she could ever be 'prevailed upon' to marry. He leaves, humiliated and jilted, but returns bearing a letter.
In the letter Mr Darcy tells his side of Wickham's story: the old Mr Darcy had left Mr Wickham the rectory of the estate, with the intention of Mr Wickham entering the Church. Mr Wickham made it clear to Mr Darcy that he wasn't going to take orders and demanded instead the full monetary value of the living, which Mr Darcy gave him but was gambled away within weeks. Mr Darcy then refused a plea for more money, and then Mr Wickham cut off all ties with the Darcy family. He returned 'last summer' and declared a passionate love to 15 year old Georgiana Darcy, Mr Darcy's young, naive and highly eligible sister, and tried to persuade her to elope with him. After Mr Darcy stated his intentions of cutting Georgiana off from her generous dowry of 30,000 pounds upon her elopement, Mr Wickham vanished. Mr Darcy then defends his actions concerning Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet, saying that they were wrong, but 'in the service of a friend' and that he was driven by the Bennet's complete lack of propriety. Lizzy then rethinks her treatment and opinion of Mr Darcy, and also the behaviour of her family and how it affects them.
Lizzy returns to Longbourn to learn that Lydia has been invited as a companion to her aunt on a trip to Brighton. Lizzy tries to persuade her father into disallowing her scandalous younger sister to go, but Mr Bennet, convinced that Lydia's poverty will act as a deterrent against 'any real mischief', decides that exposing Lydia to society will teach her of her own lack of importance and inferiority. Lizzy than accepts an invitation from another aunt to be her companion on a tour of the Peak District. During their travels they tour Pemberley, Mr Darcy's estate, where Lizzy runs into a changed Mr Darcy, intent on showing Lizzy that he can be civil, caring and courteous. Lizzy also meets Georgiana Darcy, and finds her closer to her brother's description of her than that of Mr Wickham, thus prompting Lizzy to accept the credibility of Mr Darcy's letter.
Lizzy's tour is cut short when news reaches her that Mr Bennet has left for London because Lydia has run away with Mr Wickham, who is revealed to have no intentions of marrying her, and has disappeared without a trace, thus ruining the entire family. They depart immediately, but shortly after she returns Mr Bennet is sent a letter by their uncle, saying that he has found Lydia and Mr Wickham and that Wickham will agree to marry Lydia on the condition that Mr Bennet provides a dowry of 2000 pounds, which is equivalent to 100 pounds a year. Mr Bennet agrees and Lydia is married, but the family is puzzled as to why Wickham accepted Lydia on such a meagre dowry. Lydia then slips that Mr Darcy was at her wedding, which he funded along with Mr Wickham's monetary demands in exchange for marrying Lydia, which amounted to about an entire year of Mr Darcy's income.
After Lydia leaves it is revealed that Mr Bingley is returning to Netherfield, but his sisters will be staying in London. Soon after her returns he proposes to Jane, and Lizzy suspects that Mr Darcy may be behind Mr Bingley's return and proposal.
Soon after Jane's engagement Lady Catherine de Burgh arrives at Longbourn unexpectedly, anxious to clarify that rumours, inadvertently spread by Mr Collins, of Lizzy's engagement to Mr Darcy are false. After much verbal abuse on Lady Catherine's part Lizzy admits that she is not engaged to Mr Darcy, but refuses to promise that she will never enter into an engagement. When news of his aunt's vist reaches Mr Darcy he allows himself to hope that Lizzy will give him a second chance, and proposes again, which Lizzy accepts.
Miss Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Bennet (later Mrs Elizabeth Darcy): The main female protagonist of the novel/movie, and the love interest of Mr Darcy. The second and favourite of Mr Bennet's daughters, Lizzy is described as being moderately beautiful, twenty years old, headstrong, stubborn and quick to judge.
Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, Esq.: The main male protagonist of the novel/movie, and the love interest of Elizabeth Bennet. A man of large income and vast property, he is initially proud, cold and haughty but shows that he can be caring and compassionate towards those he cares about. He is described as being tall, handsome and twenty-eight years old.
Mr Bennet: The father of the five Bennet sisters, Mr Bennet seems quietly resigned to his fate as a financially strained gentleman with five unmarried daughters and no male heir. He is particularly close to Lizzy, but he has little patience with his wife or the rest of his daughters, although he does not attempt to change them, being merely content with teasing and gently joking about them.
Mrs Bennet (nee Gardiner): The mother of the five Bennet sisters, Mrs Bennet is a narrow-minded, silly and excitable woman who does not understand her husband, her daughters or her own ridiculousness. She is particularly close to Lydia, but is immensely proud of being the mother of Jane, who is considered the most beautiful lady in the county. Her business in life is to get her daughters married, to save both them and herself from poverty upon Mr Bennet's death.
Miss Jane Bennet (later Mrs Jane Bingley): The eldest of the Bennet sisters at twenty-two, and the love interest of Mr Bingley, Jane is the foil of Lizzy's character, being calm, quiet, tolerant, shy and reserved. After whethering out the family dramas of the novel, she accepts Mr Bingley's proposal. Lizzy is closest to Jane of all the sisters.
Miss Mary Bennet: The middle of the Bennet sisters at age eighteen or nineteen, she is considered the plainest of them all, and thus strives to distinguish herself through literary and musical accomplishments, but she is described as having 'neither genius nor taste'. In the movie it is hinted that she has a crush on, or at least admires, Mr Collins.
Miss Catherine 'Kitty' Bennet: The second youngest of the Bennet sisters at age seventeen, she is as silly and irresponsible as her flighty younger sister. Despite being two years older, she is passed over in the fateful decision to take Lydia to Brighton.
Miss Lydia Bennet (later Mrs Lydia Wickham): The youngest of the Bennet sisters (although the first to be married) at fifteen, she is described as being flighty and headstrong. She sparks scandal when she runs away with Mr Wickham, but due to Mr Darcy's intervention it is patched up as an elopement, after a monetary deal allows a wedding to take place. Lizzy is scandalized at Lydia's lack of care of the concern and near-ruin she caused her family.
Mr Charles Bingley: A wealthy bachelor new to the neighbourhood, he is the closest friend of Mr Darcy and the brother of the haughty Caroline Bingley and Louise Hurst, and the love interest of Jane. Easily persuadable and naive, he is convinced by his sisters and Mr Darcy of Jane's indifference and unsuitability as a bride, but he later returns to Netherfield and proposes.
Miss Caroline Bingley: The unmarried sister of wealthy bachelor Charles Bingley, Caroline Bingley is proud, snide and fashionable, and a condescendingly friendly companion to Jane Bennet. She expresses distaste towards the Bennet family and assits Mr Darcy in removing her brother from their company and back to London.
Mr William Collins: a pompous, socially-awkward and self-important clergyman, Mr Collins is a cousin of the Bennet's and, as the closest male relative of Mr Bennet, the heir to the Longbourn estate. He attempts unsuccessfully to find a bride amongst the Bennet sisters, and eventually marries Lizzy's best friend Charlotte, who accepts him out of want of financial security. He boasts endlessly about his patroness, the Lady Catherine de Burgh.
Miss Charlotte Lucas (later Mrs Charlotte Collins): Plain, unwealthy and too old to be considered an eligible bride, Charlotte Lucas is Lizzy's sensible, practical friend who accepts Mr Collins' proposal out of want of financial security. Charlotte accepts the gravity of her situation as an unmarried woman with no money, whilst Lizzy does not.
Lady Catherine de Burgh: Proud, condescending, self important and haughty, Lady Catherine de Burgh is the meddlesome aunt of Mr Darcy and the patroness of Mr Collins. She plans to have her daughter, the wealthy but sickly heiress to very extensive property, Anne de Burgh, married to Mr Darcy, and is scandalized at rumours that Elizabeth, a woman of 'inferior birth', has become engaged to her nephew.
Mr George Wickham: A leiutenant in the militia based in Meryton, Wickham squandered away the generous living provided by the Bennet family and won Mr Darcy's hatred by attempting to run away with Mr Darcy's beloved sister, Georgiana. Through his superficial but effortless charisma and charm, he attempts to woo Lizzy and successfully seduces Lydia into running away with him with no promise of marriage.
Miss Georgiana Darcy: The quiet and amiable younger sister of Mr Darcy, she is considered to be an extremely wealthy and eligible heiress and prospective bride. Young and naive, she was almost convinced by Mr Wickham, who was after her 30,000 pound dowry, to elope with him, but was left deserted and heartbroken after Mr Darcy warned Wickham that he would not receive a penny of Georgiana's inheritance. She is musically gifted, and becomes close to Lizzy.
The WTF bits:
Marriage, 18th century style: Marriage in 18th century England was of paramount importance in maintaining and elevating the social and financial circumstances of your family. For women, marrying well was the only way of gaining financial security, and the very few independently wealthy women were often widows of the rich and famous of England.
The idea of a 'gentleman': Mr Bingley, Mr Darcy and Mr Bennet are all considered to be gentlemen in that they do not work in a particular trade, but instead amass their income through the profits of their property and the money and interest accumlated on a family account given to them by the Crown, which may have been several generations back. Mr Darcy is the richest, with an annual income of 10,000 pounds, which I guess would be roughly 1 million pounds in todays money, which comes from his wealthy family, connections and his vast property. Mr Bingley is also considered to be highly eligible, but his wealth is smaller and more recent, totalling 5,000 pounds a year (500,000 pounds). Mr Bennet's income is relatively modest, which I calculate based on Lydia's dowry to be about 2,000 pounds per year. (200,000). Mr Wickham, Mr Collins, Mr Gardiner and Colonel Fitzwilliam would not have been considered gentlemen - Mr Wickham claims he intended on entering the Church and inheriting the rectory of the Darcy's estate, in which case his income would be provided by the Church - this fate is instead the livelihood of Mr Collins, who is the clergyman Mr Wickham claims he wanted to be. Mr Gardiner is stated to be a businessman, and Colonal Fitzwilliam as well as Mr Wickham have military careers.
Dowry: It was tradition for a woman to be given a certain amount of money upon her marriage, from which her yearly income was drawn from - this was to secure her and her husband's financial security should he lose his income or predecease his wife. A dowry was roughly triple a bride's father's annual income (Mr Darcy's income was 10,000 pounds, and his sister Georgiana's dowry was 30,000 pounds.) Georgiana's 30,000 (3 million pounds) pound inheritance would amount to a yearly income of 1,500 (150,000) pounds a year on a five percent interest - this was considered an extremely generous income for a woman. Lydia's allowance 100 pounds (10,000 pounds) a year was relatively meagre, with the sum of her dowry amounting only to 2,000 pounds (200,000 pounds). Mrs Bennet is hopeful that her daughters will attract suitors who will not need dowries - 2,000 pounds would be of no significance to rich men such as Mr Bingley or Mr Darcy. Should all of the Bennet sisters require incomes of 100 pounds a year, Mr and Mrs Bennet's income would be reduced to 100-200 pounds a year (10,000-20,000 pounds). In addition, if Mr Bennet dies before Mrs Bennet she would be utterly destitute, as none of her daughters would be able to support her and Mr Bennet's income passes not to her but to Mr Collins. In the book and the 1995 TV serial it is revealed that Lydia's dowry, which was upon Mr Wickham's demand in exchange for marrying her and saving the family from social ruin, is actually double of each of the sisters' intended dowry - All the girls were set aside only 50 (5000) pounds a year, or a dowry of 1000 pounds.
Elopement: Marrying without permission (eloping) and living together without being married (running away) was considered highly improper and scandalous behaviour in 18th century England, and often resulted in the woman's dowry being cut off, the man losing his job or sources of income and the disgrace of both families, particularly the woman's. Mr Wickham is mentioned in the book/movie as attempting to run away twice - once with Mr Darcy's sister, Georgiana, and with Lydia Bennet, Lizzy's youngest sister. The first attempt with Miss Darcy was intended to be an elopement, in which case Mr Wickham would have unrestricted access to Georgiana's generous dowry. He abandons Georgiana when Mr Darcy reveals his intentions of cutting off Georgiana's dowry should she attempt to elope with him. Mr Darcy is distressed at the hurt and damage this attempted elopement and subsequent abandonment of his sister, then only fifteen years old, and this cements his hatred towards Mr Wickham. The second time Mr Wickham runs away is with Lizzy's sister Lydia, but due to her poverty he has no intentions of marrying her, unless the Bennet family can pull together a significant monetary bribe and pay for the wedding, which they cannot afford. The two hide in London so that they cannot be found and Lydia taken away by force, but Mr Darcy tracks then down and bribes Mr Wickham with a year's income, and also funds their wedding, thus changing the deeply disgraceful idea of a 'fallen sister' who has 'run away' into a less scandalous elopement.
The politics of dating: Lizzy Bennet and, indeed, Jane Austen grows up in a very different world than we do. There were strict rules when it came to men and women - what kind of men/women you could meet and what you could do with them, what you must do, what you should do and what you should not do. For example, regardless of rank, it was the role of a gentleman to rise from his seat and bow when a lady entered a room, and not be seated again until the lady sat down first. There were also very few socially-acceptable opportunites for men and women to touch, skin on skin - of course kissing, embracing and pre-maritial sex was completely out of the question. Such rare opportunities for holding hands are dancing and helping a lady into her carriage or onto her horse - these moments are greatly exaggerated as they are very exciting moments that we would now consider trivial and everyday encounters. It was much more acceptable for women where were acquaintances or close friends to hold hands, link arms or embrace each other in public...less so for men, a tradition that continues today.
Accomplished women: A great emphasis was put on 'accomplished' women - normally rich ladies such as Georgiana Darcy or Caroline Bingley who are elegant, fashionable, fluent in the 'modern languages', read widely, and are accomplished in needlework,drawing and music, and avoid scandal and maintain a high standard of propriety. The Bennet sisters, in the absence of a governess, a tutor or frequent trips to town for the 'benefit of the masters' were given a standard education for women of their middle-upper class rank - they learned to read and write in English and perhaps French, and were trained in embroidery and more practical needlwork such as making clothes, and perhaps very basic history, geography and biology classes at the hands of their father. Other activities considered necessary for an 'accomplished woman' were largely optional for the Bennet sisters - Lizzy replies that her sisters do not draw and only she and Mary know how to play the pianoforte 'a little, and very poorly.'
Inheritance: Inheritance of fortune and property was often entailed to the male line - this is the case of Mr Bennet's estate, which would be given to Mr Collins instead of the Bennet sisters or Mrs Bennet. Charlotte Lucas, the daughter of a benighted gentleman, is also not an heiress as she has brothers who will inherit her father's income, and so she marries as she does not want to be a burden on her family. Georgiana Darcy has a generous dowry, but she will not inherit Pemberley on Mr Darcy's death - they will go either to his male children, or his female children in the absence of both male heirs or an male entailment, or to a male relative, who would be responsible for Mr Darcy's widow, unmarried children and Georgiana, if she is unmarried. A possible glitch in this plan is that Mr Darcy is legally Georgiana's guardian as well as her brother, as she was underaged at the time of her father's death. This would make Georgiana his ward as well as his sister, and a possible heiress to his lands and fortune.
Titles: Because there are five Bennet sisters, Jane Bennet would have been addressed as 'Miss Bennet' and the rest as 'Miss Elizabeth' or 'Miss Mary'. Alternately, Jane would have been 'the eldest Miss Bennet' and then her sisters as 'the second Miss Bennet' and 'the third Miss Bennet' and so on.
Lady Catherine de Burgh, with her title as 'Lady', would have been addressed as 'Ma'm' or 'Your Ladyship' during conversation.
Upon marriage women took their husband's last name, as is customary today, and would have been referred to as 'Mrs Jane Bingley', 'Mrs Bingley' or 'Mrs Charles Bingley' - this latter style is rarely used today.
That's it. That's all I can think of. If you're a student, I hope this helps. If you're not, I hope I bored you thoroughly.