Mrs. Bennet is all in a flutter. A wealthy, single young gentleman has just bought Netherfield Park, an estate quite nearby to the Bennet family's house at Longbourn. His name is Bingley, he has five thousand a year (FIVE THOUSAND A YEAR!!!) and he loves to dance. What a fine thing that would be for one of the five Bennet girls!
When the Bennet family meets the illustrious Mr. Bingley at a public ball, it soon becomes evident that Mr. Bingley is smitten with Jane, the lovely and sweet eldest Bennet daughter. Elizabeth, the witty and sparkling second eldest, is (in direct contrast) quite un-smitten with Mr. Bingley's sisters (the snobbish Louisa and Caroline) and his friend, the proud and disagreeable Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet, though impressed by Mr. Darcy's ten thousand a year, deems him ill-favored after he refuses to dance with her daughters.
Mr. Bingley, however, may prove to be a very superior match for Jane, and Mrs. Bennet does all in her power to bring it about. When Jane is invited to visit Netherfield and is taken ill, it seems the perfect chance for her to remain at Netherfield (near Mr. Bingley!) until she recovers. Worried about her sister, Elizabeth goes to Netherfield as well, and has to endure Mr. Bingley's uppity sisters' rudeness and Mr. Darcy's puzzling remarks while she waits for Jane to recover. When they are finally able to depart, Jane is starry-eyed with thoughts of Mr. Bingley, but Elizabeth says she has never been so glad to leave a place in her life.
Mrs. Bennet is in another flutter. Mr. Bennet's distant cousin, the Rev. Mr. Collins (entailed heir to Longbourn) is paying a visit to the Bennets. His pompous remarks and high opinion of himself provide much mirth for Elizabeth and her father, while endearing him to Mary (the pious-minded middle sister) and boring Kitty and Lydia (the two youngest) out of their minds. To speak plainly, Mr. Collins has come to seek a wife—and he has his eye on Jane, but after hearing that she may very soon be engaged, he turns his attentions to Elizabeth.
On a visit to the nearby town of Meryton, the Bennet girls meet a young officer by the name of George Wickham, a charming and ingratiating young man who seems quite taken with Elizabeth. At a card party, he tells her his story—how he had once been the protege of Mr. Darcy's father, but had been cut off without a cent by Mr. Darcy when the kind father passed away. This does not increase any favorable opinion Elizabeth may have had of Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Bingley hosts a ball at Netherfield Park, and though Elizabeth had hoped to see Mr. Wickham there, he is not present. Mr. Darcy, however, is there in all his haughty glory, and to Elizabeth's shock and mortification, he actually asks her to dance. She cannot in politeness refuse, so they stand up together and suffer through a dance in which Elizabeth has to do almost all the talking. And the evening only gets worse—Elizabeth's entire family contrives to embarrass her during the dinner entertainment, from Mary's nerve-grating singing to Mr. Collins' pompous in-your-face introduction to Mr. Darcy.
The next morning, more humiliations are in order. Mr. Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth, confident that she will accept him. Horrified and disgusted, she refuses his offer, and invokes her mother's wrath—if she had accepted, she would have been able to inherit Longbourn. Mr. Bennet sides with his daughter, but Mr. Collins, deeply offended, leaves the house to throw himself upon the hospitality of the Lucas family.
The news reaches Longbourn that Mr. Collins has proposed to Charlotte Lucas and she—wonder of wonders—has accepted him. Elizabeth's shock over this unexpected turn of events is soon forgotten in light of Jane's distressing news. Mr. Bingley's snooty sisters have, with Mr. Darcy's help, dragged Mr. Bingley off to London, with no intention of coming back again.
Jane is left in low spirits, though she tries her best to hide her disappointment from her family. Mrs. Bennet's brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, come to spend Christmas at Longbourn, and when they depart they take Jane with them to London. Jane has no opportunity to see Mr. Bingley, however, and the short visit she has with Miss Bingley is enough to make her understand that Miss Bingley quite despises her.
Mr. Wickham takes a regretful farewell of Elizabeth—he is all but engaged to marry a certain Miss King with a large fortune—and Elizabeth sets out with Sir William and Maria Lucas to visit Charlotte and Mr. Collins at the Hunsford parsonage in Kent. While there, she meets with the high-and-mighty Lady Catherine de Bourgh and has a surprise encounter with Mr. Darcy, who is visiting his aunt (who happens to be Lady Catherine). Mr. Darcy is accompanied by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is quite taken with Elizabeth and inadvertently lets it slip that Mr. Darcy was partially responsible for separating Jane and Bingley. This news makes Mr. Darcy's unexpected proposal of marriage all the more abhorrent. Angered at his prideful way of asking for her hand, remembering his alleged harshness to Wickham and hurt by his callous treatment of her sister's romance, Elizabeth makes it clear that Mr. Darcy is the last man in the world whom she could ever marry.
Mr. Darcy cannot bear to have Elizabeth thinking evil of him in regard to Mr. Wickham, so he writes her a detailed letter, explaining how Wickham squandered his inheritance and even attempted to elope with Mr. Darcy's younger sister Georgiana—most certainly, he is not a man to be trusted. Mr. Darcy offers no excuse for his interference with Jane and Bingley, though he does point out that he did not think Jane returned Bingley's affections. Elizabeth is still irritated, though she admits that she misjudged Wickham.
Back home again, Elizabeth learns that Wickham is not to marry Mary King, but that the entire regiment is removing to Brighton. Kitty and Lydia are heartbroken, begging their father to let them go to Brighton too, while Mrs. Bennet eggs them on. Mr. Bennet is firm in his refusal, however, until Colonel Forster's wife invites Lydia to accompany her to Brighton. Lydia is ecstatic and Elizabeth is skeptical, but Mr. Bennet gives his consent.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner return to take Elizabeth traveling with them into Derbyshire, which happens to be Mr. Darcy's neighborhood. They decide to go visit the grand estate of Pemberley (Mr. Darcy's house... fancy that) because the family is said to be away from home. The grounds are beautiful, and Elizabeth muses to herself that she might have been mistress of it all. But the visit comes to an abrupt pause when Elizabeth runs into Mr. Darcy himself, home early from his travels and dripping wet from a plunge in Pemberley's pond. Both are terribly embarrassed, but after a hasty change into dry clothes, Mr. Darcy plays the perfect host and is warm and welcoming to Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle. Elizabeth, hardly able to comprehend this change in manner, is nonetheless beginning to think more kindly of the man she once considered insufferable.
Mr. Darcy, his sister Georgiana and Mr. Bingley pay a visit to Elizabeth and her relations at the Lambton inn, inviting them to spend an evening at Pemberley. Mr. Darcy is captivated by Elizabeth's playing and singing, and even the snide comments of Mr. Bingley's sisters (also present, unfortunately) cannot disturb his attitude of deep admiration.
Elizabeth, too, is finding herself warming to Mr. Darcy. But before she can put her scrambled thoughts in order, two alarming letters arrive from Jane. Lydia has eloped with Mr. Wickham, and no trace of the couple can be found. It is hoped that they are married, but no one can be sure. Mr. Darcy happens upon Elizabeth just as she receives the letters, and in her distress she blurts out the whole story to him. Later, she regrets this action, sure that he will never think well of her or her family again. She and the Gardiners hurry home, to find Mrs. Bennet in hysterics. Mr. Gardiner sets off to join Mr. Bennet and track down Lydia and Wickham as Mr. Collins comes to pay a pompous, patronizing call. But Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner's efforts are to no avail, and Mr. Bennet returns home, blaming himself.
A letter arrives from Mr. Gardiner, announcing that Lydia and Wickham have been found, and that Wickham has agreed to marry Lydia. Mr. Bennet, guilt-stricken, is convinced that Mr. Gardiner must have laid out a great deal of money in order to bring this about, and cannot imagine how he will ever repay him.
Before Lydia and Wickham depart, Wickham attempts to make amends with Elizabeth, who is willing to be civil to him for the sake of family peace. No sooner have the Wickhams departed than the news arrives that Mr. Bingley is returning to Netherfield. Jane insists that she is not affected by Bingley's return, but Elizabeth thinks differently. And when Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley come to call, Jane is quite calm, and says she is indifferent to him. But Mr. Bingley feels nothing of the sort toward her—after Mr. Darcy has explained his misdeeds in separating Bingley from Jane, Bingley asks Mr. Darcy's blessing on his marriage to Jane. After receiving it, he promptly proposes to Jane and is happily accepted.
The Bennets are startled one afternoon not long after this by the arrival of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who wastes no time in confronting Elizabeth with a rumor she has heard of Elizabeth being engaged to her nephew, Mr. Darcy. Shocked, Elizabeth refuses to confirm or deny such an accusation, though she defends her family to the irate Lady Catherine and reminds her that the Bennets and the Darcys are all gentlefolk and therefore equals. Lady Catherine departs in a huff, but the rumor has gotten around—even Mr. Collins has heard of it and sends Mr. Bennet a letter cautioning Elizabeth against the folly of such a match. Elizabeth claims to be excessively diverted by such nonsense, but secretly she wishes it were not such a strange idea to her father.
Mr. Darcy calls again, and Elizabeth gets up the courage to thank him for what he did for Lydia. He says that he did it only for Elizabeth's sake, and asks her point-blank if she could reconsider his proposal. She replies joyfully that her feelings are quite the opposite from what they were last April, and they share mutual apologies for past behavior. Mr. Bennet and Jane are both shocked by the news of Elizabeth's engagement, but they agree that Mr. Darcy must be a worthy man or Elizabeth would not have accepted him. And so the story ends, with a double wedding of two sisters and two best friends... and they all lived happily ever after.
(Except Lydia and Wickham. And Lady Catherine. But they don't count.)