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The newcomers excite great interest locally, particularly amongst mothers of marriageable daughters. They attend a public ball in the village of Meryton, where Mr Bingley shows himself to be amiable and unpretentious, dancing with many young ladies and showing his decided admiration for Jane Bennet. His friend Mr Darcy, however, makes himself unpopular despite his fine figure and income of £10,000 a year, being proud and disagreeable. Of Elizabeth Bennet he is heard to say, "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me." Following the ball, Jane is invited for an evening to Netherfield, but catches a bad cold and is forced to stay for some days. Elizabeth comes to nurse her, engaging Darcy's guarded attention and the not-so-guarded hostility of Miss Bingley, who appears to have in interest in Darcy herself.
Mr Collins, a cousin who will inherit the Bennet estate as Mr Bennet's nearest male relative, arrives for a visit. He is also "in want of a wife", and intends to marry one of his cousins, thus atoning for his position as entailed heir and healing the breach in the family. A pompous buffoon of a clergyman, he has been ordered by his imperious patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (who is also Darcy's aunt), to find himself a suitable wife. Finding that Jane appears destined for Bingley he switches his sights to Elizabeth, who refuses him absolutely despite the threats and entreaties of her mother. Eventually, to Elizabeth's surprise, he is accepted by her friend Charlotte Lucas, who neither loves nor respects him, but wishes to escape the fate of becoming an old maid. Elizabeth does not regret the loss of her suitor, but is disppointed in Charlotte and unsure how happy she will be as Mrs. Collins.
For some time Meryton has been home to a regiment of soldiers, delighting the giddy, young Bennet sisters Kitty and Lydia. Elizabeth is introduced to a pleasant young officer, Mr Wickham, who tells her that he has known Mr Darcy from childhood, and has been cheated by him of a bequest by Darcy's late father.
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The next day, Mr Darcy intercepts Elizabeth on her morning walk and hands her a letter before coldly taking his leave. In it, he justifies his actions over Bingley and Jane, and reveals the true nature of Wickham, who has misrepresented his treatment by Darcy, and, shockingly, even attempted to seduce and elope with Darcy's young and vulnerable sister. New light is shed on Mr Darcy's personality and Elizabeth begins to reconsider her opinion. Later, on holiday with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, Elizabeth is persuaded to tour Pemberley, Mr Darcy's estate, on the understanding that he is away. To her embarrassment he returns unexpectedly; however, his altered behaviour toward her – distinctly warmer than at their last meeting – and his polite and friendly manner toward her aunt and uncle, begin to persuade her that underneath his pride lies a true and generous nature. Her revised opinion is reinforced on meeting his sister Georgiana, a gentle, shy young girl upon whom he dotes.
Just as her relationship with Mr Darcy is beginning to thaw, Elizabeth receives the dreadful news that her headstrong younger sister Lydia has apparently eloped with Mr Wickham, who has resigned his commission to evade gambling debts. She returns home, believing that this scandal can only further disgust Darcy with the idea of a connection with her family, whatever he may feel for her personally. All is in chaos at home, particularly when it becomes apparent that Wickham has not married Lydia and the two are living together in London. Mr Gardiner apparently traces them and arranges the wedding, delighting the foolish Mrs Bennet. Only from a careless remark of Lydia's does Elizabeth discover that it was really Darcy who secretly intervened, buying Wickham's compliance and saving Lydia's reputation at great financial cost. This completes the reversal in Elizabeth's sentiments, and she regrets having turned down his earlier proposal of marriage.
Lady Catherine discovers Mr Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth, which threaten her long-cherished desire for him to marry her daughter. She pays Elizabeth an unannounced visit and brusquely tries to intimidate her into refusing such an engagement. Unfortunately for Lady Catherine, her visit only serves to consolidate Elizabeth's intentions. Furthermore, Lady Catherine later visits Mr Darcy, and relates the entire conversation to him – giving him the hope that if he proposes to Elizabeth again, she may accept him. After ensuring the rekindling of Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet's relationship, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth become engaged.
The book ends with two marriages: Jane and Bingley's, and Darcy and Elizabeth's.