For detailed features about the characters in Pride and Prejudice, click this link.
Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine of the story, and often the lens through which the key events and characters are brought to us. Blessed with extraordinary wit, grace and physical beauty second only to her sister Jane, her creator Jane Austen considered Elizabeth ‘the most delightful creature ever to have appeared in print.’ Elizabeth is independent-minded and gives her opinions ‘very decidedly for so young a person.’ Her ‘liveliness’ arouses the eye and eventually the heart of Mr Darcy. Elizabeth is ‘headstrong’ yet also socially graceful, sensitive and conscious of her appearance in the eyes of others. This leads to her acute awareness of the social failings of some members of her family, particularly her mother and her sister, Lydia. She is the favorite of her father with whom she shares a ‘delight in the absurd’, yet this delight is often stretched to breaking point by the ridiculous spectacles her family seems determined to contrive for her embarrassment.
Aged ‘not one and twenty,’ Elizabeth has already decided that only the deepest love will induce her into matrimony. Having observed first-hand the stale, loveless relationship between her Mother and Father (who ironically did marry in part because of Mr Bennet’sinitial physical attraction to his future wife) Elizabeth refuses to wholly rule out marriage to the penniless Mr Wickham.She also turns down two potentially very advantageous proposals of marriage – firstly from her cousin Mr Collins, heir to the Bennet family’s estate; and secondly from Fitzwilliam Darcy, a nobleman with ‘a clear ten thousand per annum.’ Elizabeth’s one evident fault is her eagerness to judge on first impressions which unravel dramatically during the story.
For our features on the ‘delightful’ Elizabeth Bennet click here
The reader’s opinion of Mr Darcy follows Elizabeth’s. His transformation in her and our eyes stems partly from the presentation of new information, which suggests her earlier judgments were false, and partly some observable changes in Mr Darcy’s behavior. Darcy begins the novel as the very epitome of arrogance and pride. He is decided to be ‘the proudest most disagreeable man in the world.’ Inheritor of the grand Derbyshire estate of Pemberley, Mr Darcy belongs to one of England’s wealthiest and most well-connected families. Darcy arrives in Hertfordshire outwardly contemptuous of the society he finds and infamously dismisses Elizabeth Bennet as ‘not handsome enough to tempt me.’
Later our assessment of his behaviour is mitigated by further knowledge of his character. Mr Darcy describes himself ‘ill-equipped to recommend myself to strangers’ and his offish demeanor could be seen as partially a reflection of his lack of social confidence. He tells Elizabeth that, as an only son, he was ‘allowed, encouraged and almost taught’ to be ‘selfish and overbearing’ by his parents. He obviously suffers in this regard next to his charming and gregarious friend Mr Bingley, with his ‘happy manners’ and ‘lively’ personality.
Mr Darcy is later accused of more serious crimes than slighting lonely ladies at balls, however. Elizabeth hears of two offences which leave him quite irredeemable in her eyes. However, as the truths of these matters begins to reveal themselves, Elizabeth hears of another side of his character from the mouth of his housekeeper of Pemberley, who speaks of a kind and generous man, devoted particularly to the happiness and wellbeing of his young sister.
For all our dashing Mr Darcy posts click here
Mr Bennet is an ambiguous character. He is described as ‘so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice’. He is particularly fond of his daughter Elizabeth, who demonstrates the greatest ‘quickness’ of mind in his eyes. This is particularly interesting as another daughter, Mary, is in fact the most steadfastedly serious and studious of the girls. Mr Bennet involves himself only reluctantly in the schemes and affairs of his family, preferring the solitude of his private study. He considers his wife worthy of barely disguised contempt and his three youngest daughters to be the silliest girls in the country. Despite Elizabeth’s protestations, Mr Bennet’s reluctance and disinterestedness leads him to permit Lydia’s ill-fated visit to Brighton. However, Mr Bennet defends Lizzy’s decision to refuse Mr Collins’ hand in marriage, and it is through this special bond with Elizabeth that his character is redeemed. The reader is also inclined to look on him favorably due to the wit with which he engages his family relations, particularly Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins, neither of whom have the ‘quickness’ to recognize – let alone appreciate – his humour.
Read our posts on the vexing Mr Bennet here
Mrs Bennet is presented unsympathetically in the novel. Her efforts to promote her daughters’ prosperity through advantageous marriages are usually counter-productive. In fact, almost every success comes despite the Bennet family matriarch’s embarrassing interventions. She is of ‘mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper’ and has an ironic tendency to complain about her supposedly silent suffering, and of course her embattled nerves.
Elizabeth is her least favorite daughter, while Lydia (who’s outrageously flirtatious manner threatens more than once to bring shame on her family) can seemingly do no wrong. However, the fears that motivate Mrs Bennet no doubt have foundation. When Mr Bennet passes on, Mr Collins, the heir to the Longbourn estate, may do as he wishes with the Bennet family. Mr Bennet appears disengaged with the real possibility that his daughters will be left penniless and without prospects, leading Mrs Bennet into still greater despair. While her methods are ludicrous and her manner is often insufferable, her motivations are harder to condemn.
Read more about Mrs Bennet here
Jane Bennet is the eldest and most beautiful of the Bennet sisters and the closest to Elizabeth. She is mild-mannered and possesses a most extraordinary moral goodness. Her affection for Mr Bingley is obvious to Elizabeth, yet her shyness and modesty prevent her from making her feelings truly known. Thus, she is perhaps insufficiently forthcoming in ‘securing’ him, as suggested by Elizabeth’s close friend, Charlotte Lucas.
She is keen to see goodness in all people, failing to see when others are plotting against her. Caroline Bingley’s duplicitous personality is quickly detected by Elizabeth, while Jane is unwilling to accept the obvious until it becomes absolutely undeniable. Likewise, when presented with contrary accounts of the unpleasant dealings between Darcy and Wickham, Jane attempts to find a middle way to redeem both characters. Elizabeth laughs this off; stating that there ‘is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man’.
Read our posts on the beautiful Jane Bennet here
Mary Bennet strives to give an impression of studied seriousness. She endeavors to play the piano and sing, but her weak voice and inappropriate choice of song give rise to embarrassment. She has nothing of a character ‘arc’ in the story, however, and is not centrally involved in any of the major points of the plot.
Find our posts on Mary Bennet here
Kitty is older than her sister Lydia, but is dominated by the forceful personality of her younger sibling. Kitty’s appetite for frivolity and flirtation is almost equal to her sister’s, yet she does not receive quite the same attention. While Lydia was invited to Brighton to accompany the Head of the Regiment’s wife, Kitty was left behind at Longbourn.
Lydia, at 15, is the youngest of the Bennet daughters and is the favorite of her mother whom she most closely resembles. She is flirtatious, impulsive and selfish. These ‘wild animal spirits’ prompt Elizabeth to fear ‘of the very great disadvantage to us all, which must arise from the public notice of Lydia’s unguarded and imprudent manner’.
Like Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley is a rich man, but while his wealth could be a ‘virtue’ it is not for this reason that he is so agreeable to those in Meryton. He is described as being ‘good looking and gentlemanlike’, ‘lively and unreserved’. These ‘happy manners’ convince Jane that he is ‘just what a young man ought to be’. Mr Bingley is without the snobbery of his sister, Caroline Bingley and lacks the pomposity and pride that Mr Darcy possesses. Early in the novel he declares that he could not perceive an angel more beautiful than Jane Bennet and his love for her is obvious. To his detriment and Jane’s, he is too easily swayed by Mr Darcy, his superior.
Check out our posts on the very agreeable Mr Bingley here
Caroline Bingley’s snobbish and haughty personality is only thinly veiled by civility. At first, only Elizabeth seems to see this and is ‘very little disposed to approve’ of her. Caroline’s feelings toward Jane are shallow ‘for her jealousy and dislike of one sister much exceeded her affection for the other’. Her jealousy of Elizabeth and her obvious desire to please Mr Darcy provokes desperate and destructive behavior. Towards the end of the novel she is ‘left to the all satisfaction of having forced [Darcy] to say what gave no one any pain but herself’.
See our posts on the haughty Caroline Bingley here
Mr Collins is a newly ordained clergyman and is Mr Bennet’s cousin. As Longbourn is entailed away from the female line, Mr Collins is set to inherit the estate after the death of Mr Bennet. He is of little intelligence, decidedly smug and has a comical sense of self-importance. Elizabeth is vindicated in her early prediction that he is an ‘oddity’ and later sums him up as ‘a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man’. Mr Collins is blind in his servitude towards his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose instruction that he should marry causes the former to make proposals of marriage to Elizabeth and Charlotte within three days.
Find all our posts on the ridiculous Mr Collins here
On the surface Mr Wickham is a charismatic man with ‘a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address’. He is a good conversationalist and is able to induce the sympathies of all who will hear about his allegedly abominable treatment at the hands of Mr Darcy. Like Elizabeth, Mr Wickham is intuitive and able to read those around him. However, unlike Elizabeth, he uses these skills selfishly and without scruple. Despite being ‘blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends’, Mr Wickham is revealed to be a gamester and spendthrift, adept at exploiting young women.
For our posts on the caddish Mr Wickham look here
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Lady Catherine is a fearsome character with staggering arrogance, and an extremely high sense of her own authority. She feels that her rank is a passport to controlling the lives of those around her. Her self-importance leads her dramatically to confront Elizabeth in her own home about her rumored engagement with Mr Darcy. Lady Catherine’s behaviour is, on occasion, embarrassing to Mr Darcy. This, of course, mirrors Elizabeth’s reaction to her mother’s actions.
The Lucas Family
Sir William Lucas is father to Charlotte Lucas and has recently been elevated to the rank of Knighthood. His behaviour reflects his ‘good breeding’ and he is ‘by nature inoffensive, friendly and obliging’. Lady Lucas is described as being ‘a very good kind of woman’ and Maria Lucas, Charlotte’s sister, a ‘good humored girl’.
Charlotte Lucas is Elizabeth’s ‘intimate friend’ and the eldest of the Lucas children at 27. She is described as ‘plain’ and by her own admission is ‘not romantic,’ asking for ‘only a comfortable home’. In accepting Mr Collins’ proposal she shocks and disappoints Elizabeth, who initially declares it to be ‘impossible’. To the modern reader, Charlotte’s acceptance of Mr Collins’ hand is almost unforgivable but is perhaps more realistic than Lizzy’s marriage to Mr Darcy.
You can read more on Charlotte Lucas here.
Georgiana is Mr Darcy’s younger sister and after the death of her father is in his and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s care. Mr Wickham tells Elizabeth that she is proud and ‘too much like her brother’ but Elizabeth discovers that she ‘was only exceedingly shy’. Miss Darcy is ‘tall’ and ‘graceful,’ and has manners that are ‘unassuming and gentle’.
Colonel Fitzwilliam is also a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and is a son of Mr Darcy’s Uncle. Colonel Fitzwilliam proves to be very pleasing, in contrast to Mr Darcy, and is easily able to enter into conversation with ‘Mrs Collins’ pretty friend’, Elizabeth. It is Colonel Fitzwilliam who innocently informs Elizabeth of Mr Darcy’s involvement in separating Mr Bingley from Jane.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner
Mrs Bennet’s brother, Mr Gardiner, is a ‘sensible’, ‘gentleman-like man’ and Mrs Gardiner a ‘great favorite with all her Longbourn nieces’. They are willing to give Jane a change of scene and invite her to stay with them in London. They also delight Lizzy by asking her to accompany them on their trip to the lakes. Mr and Mrs Gardiner also greatly assist their niece, Lydia, after her ‘infamous elopement.’
Mrs Phillips is similar to her sister, Mrs Bennet – shallow and gossip mongering. Mrs Phillips lives in Meryton and, with the arrival of the militia in town, is ‘productive of the most interesting intelligence.’
Mr and Mrs Hurst
Mrs Hurst is Mr Bingley’s sister, and Caroline’s constant partner in mocking the Bennet family. With her husband (‘a man of more fashion than fortune’) they stay with the Bingleys at Netherfield, with Miss Hurst considering the estate ‘her home when it suited her.’