IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not. “But it is,” returned she, “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife, impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise-and-four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh, single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune—four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome? You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design? nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better; for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party.”
“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grownup daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
“In such cases a woman has not often much beauty to think of.”
“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighborhood.”
“It is more than I engage for, I assure you.”
“But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them! Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account; for in general, you know, they visit no new-comers. Indeed, you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you do not.”
“You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.”
“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humored as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”
“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he. “They are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.”
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
“Ah, you do not know what I suffer!”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighborhood.”
“It will be no use to us if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty I will visit them all.” Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick tarts, sarcastic humor, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
Having “poor nerves” in this case suggests that Mrs. Bennet is inclined to have panic attacks; however, she clearly uses her nervousness to control other people. If things do not go her way, she becomes something of a hypochondriac who suffers from more than just anxiety: “‘Ah,” as she says to Mr. Bennet, “‘you do not know what I suffer!’” To her, nervousness is almost a sort of illness. She uses this “illness” to manipulate others because she expects them to do whatever it takes to make her feel better.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
“Abuse” in this case means speaking against or putting down as opposed to physical abuse. Of course, Mrs. Bennet is being hypocritical; though Mr. Bennet has openly favored Elizabeth over his other daughters, Mrs. Bennet has just done the same thing by favoring Jane and Lydia.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Mr. Bennet is being prideful but not as obviously as Mrs. Bennet. His refusal to take Mrs. Bennet seriously suggests that he feels he is above (or too good for) his wife’s concerns. When she urges him to visit Mr. Bingley for the sake of his daughters, he tells her that she and the girls should go on their own—which would have been quite scandalous—and jokes that Mr. Bingley would probably prefer Mrs. Bennet.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
The themes of pride and prejudice have already begun to take shape in Mrs. Bennet’s character by the end of the first chapter. For example, she exhibits prideful behavior when she implies that her daughters are more deserving of Mr. Bingley than other eligible daughters in the neighborhood. She is also being prejudicial because she believes other girls, such as the Lucases, are inferior to her daughters—though she doesn’t have any real reason for thinking this way.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
“Bingley” is the name of one of a town in northern England that prospered during the Industrial Revolution.Though we are not told whether Mr. Bingley comes from Bingley the town, his name strongly associates him with the growth of industrial manufacturing. This further supports our identification of the Bingleys with the nouveau riche (newly rich people who made their fortunes from trade) because they probably made their money from manufacturing.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Austen may have chosen the name “Netherfield” because the Bingleys are not truly aristocratic. They acquired wealth through trade, so they would have been considered nouveau riche: newly rich people who are not actually part of the aristocracy (the highest social class besides royalty). The nouveau riche were controversial in Austen’s time because, though they had a lot of money, they were not members of the noble landed gentry that passed down their wealth over centuries.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Netherfield Park is a fictional estate located in Hertfordshire, a county just north of London. “Nether” means “lower” or “lower in position,” so it’s a strange choice for a wealthy man like Mr. Bingley.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
“Caprice” means an unpredictable or inconsistent change of mood, behavior, or opinion. Mr. Bennet is capricious because his feelings and thoughts tend to change without apparent reason, sometimes on a whim.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Michaelmas is the Christian Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (as it is traditionally named by the Anglican Church). St. Michael is one of the primary angelic warriors who fought against Satan and is considered a protector against the darkness of night. It was believed that evil, or at least negative energy, intensified in the dark. Families would therefore require strength during the darker months of the year, so Michaelmas is celebrated (in Western churches) on September 29—right as the days begin to noticeably shorten. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Feast usually celebrates Saints Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and the archangels.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
A “chaise-and-four” is a carriage (or chaise) that is drawn by four horses. It was a standard mode of transportation for families that were well-off, though not extraordinarily wealthy. The fact that Mr. Bingley owns a chaise-and-four indicates that he is both financially stable and socially respectable.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
That is, Mrs. Bennet’s priorities and interests are fairly trivial. Though her instinct to secure sensible marriages for her daughters is well-founded, it does not seem to be based on intelligent reflection. Instead, she just seems self-involved and silly.— Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
Mrs. Bennet is not an intelligent or perceptive person; instead, she is concerned with frivolous things like neighborhood gossip, parties, and other social matters. Her shallowness contributes to her lack of self-awareness in social situations—or even in her own family.— Stephen Holliday
The word “mean” is being used here to describe something average, mediocre, or unremarkable. Though the word is not always negative, it is clearly being used to disparage Mrs. Bennet: she is small-minded and unable to understand anything particularly complicated. Interestingly, she does seem to understand that her daughters will be financially destitute if they do not marry men like Mr. Bingley (men who are respectable and well-off).— Stephen Holliday
In other words, Mrs. Bennet's mind is not as complicated or difficult to understand as Mr. Bennet’s. Though she has an “uncertain temper,” her opinions and behaviors are otherwise a lot more consistent and predictable.— Stephen Holliday
Four thousand pounds a year is roughly equivalent to $400,000 US dollars. Trying to understand the current buying power of currency in Austen’s day is difficult. However, from a literary standpoint, buying power is not as important as Austen’s overall message that it is important to have a comfortable level of wealth.— Stephen Holliday
Michaelmas is also one of the English quarter days—one of four days each year on which servants are hired and rents are due. The other three quarter days are Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer Day (June 24), and Christmas Day (December 25).— Stephen Holliday
The initial comic exchange that arises between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet provides us with an early allusion to the themes that directly relate to the novel’s title. While “pride” and “prejudice” certainly figure prominently (and in more complex ways) later on, Mr. Bennet is here shown to be detached and prideful while Mrs. Bennet is completely prejudicial.— Jamie Wheeler
This humorous, tongue-in-cheek beginning sets the tone for the entire novel. Though it often deals with serious issues, such as the financial dependency of women in a patriarchal society, the novel is generally lighter fare than other Austen novels: as Austen herself admits in a personal letter, it is “rather too light, and bright, and sparkling.”— Jamie Wheeler