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IGCSE English Literature Course Sample

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Pride and Prejudice

Chapter One

 

IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife[1].

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, 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[2] to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park[3] 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[4] to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to


 

[1] This is probably one of the most famous opening sentences in the whole of English Literature. What Jane Austen is saying is that it is common knowledge that if a man is rich and single, he will be in need a wife. She is being ironic of course: a rich unmarried man may not have any intention of getting married, but this will not stop people making plans for him as a potential husband for their daughters! This humorous statement sets the tone for the whole book and introduces one of its most important themes.

[2] His lady = his wife, Mrs Bennet.

[3] Netherfield Park is a large house and estate near to Longbourn, where the Bennet family lives.

[4] Chaise-and-four = a smart carriage drawn by four horses. This is an indication of the young man's wealth.

take possession before Michaelmas[1], and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."

"What is his name?"

"Bingley."

"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!"[2]

"How so? How can it affect them?"[3]

"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[4] 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."[5]

"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."[6]

"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 neighbourhood."

"It is more than I engage for[7], I assure you."


 

[1] Michaelmas = the feast day of St Michael on the 29th September. It marks the beginning of autumn.

[2] Mrs Bennet is assessing Mr Bingley with a view to his marrying one of her daughtes; the attraction is his wealth. It's hard to be exact but £4,500 a year would be roughly equivalent to about £100,000 today.

[3] Mr Bennet pretends not to know what she is talking about. Throughout the book he delights in deliberately misunderstanding and misleading his wife.

[4] Design = intention.

[5] In the early 19th C, people behaved in a far more formal way than they do today. It would be socially unacceptable for the Bennet family to visit Mr Bingley if Mr Bennet, as head of the family, hadn't introduced himself to him first.

[6] Again, Mr Bennett entertains himself by making out that his wife is the most handsome of the family. As expected, Mrs Bennett, takes his comment literally.

[7] That's more than I want to do.

"But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment[1] it would be for one of them! Sir William and Lady Lucas[2] 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[3], 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[4]."

"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[5]."

"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[6] than her sisters."

"Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing[7] 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[8]."

"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 neighbourhood."

"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 parts, sarcastic humor, reserve[9],


 

[1] Establishment = marriage.

[2] William Lucas was recently knighted, hence his title.

[3] Over-scrupulous = too fussy.

[4] Mr Bennet says he will send a letter with Mrs Bennet informing Mr Bingley that he can marry any of his daughters. He means it as a joke, of course, but here we see that his favourite daughter is 'my little Lizzy'.

[5] Here Mrs Bennet reveals that Lizzy is not her favourite daughter.

[6] Quickness = intelligence.

[7] Vexing = annoying.

[8] Here we are introduced to another of Mrs Bennet's characteristics: her nerves. Mr Bennet's reply shows that this is not the first time he has had to listen to her complain about her nerves.

[9] Reserve = keeping himself to himself.

and caprice[1], 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[2]. She was a woman of mean understanding[3], little information[4], 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[5].

 

 

 

Summary of Chapter One

Mrs Bennet learns that Netherfield Park, a large country estate, is being rented by a rich, young man called Mr Bingley. She tries to persuade her husband to visit Mr Bingley, hoping that this introduction will lead to him getting to know the family and perhaps marrying one of her daughters.

 

 

 


 

[1] Caprice = A random, playful act.

[2] She is easier to understand.

[3] Mean doesn't have the meaning we give to it today. Here it means 'small'. So it means that Mrs Bennet's ability to understand things is very small.

[4] Little information means she doesn't have much knowledge or education.

[5] Solace was visiting and news = her comfort was visiting friends and gossip.

 

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