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Overlapping Plot

A modern feature of Pride and Prejudice is the use of overlapping plots. The main romance runs in parallel with the romance of Bingley and Jane. The marriage of Charlotte and Mr Collins deepens our understanding of the theme of marriage, then Lady Catherine (Rosings, Kent, Vol. 2) provides the vital narrative link between Hertfordshire (Longbourn and Netherfield, Vol. 1) and Derbyshire (Pemberley, Vol. 3).

As one plot line is suspended, another is introduced (typically via a new character such as Wickham or Mr Collins) and we discover the hidden links. Austen uses coincidence – as many novel writers do. It is a neat device to ensure that Mr Bennet’s estate is entailed to a pompous clergyman whose living is in the gift of Lady Catherine, who happens to be Darcy’s aunt. Also Wickham, the anti-hero who runs away with Elizabeth’s sister Lydia, has earlier failed to do the same with Darcy’s sister Georgiana. This is yet another coincidence but this is how fictional worlds work: we can see them as an intensification of reality.


Letters as structural device

The twenty-eight letters in the novel help the story to progress. They tell us about events at which characters were not present; summarise complicated events, such as the search for Wickham and Lydia; and remind us of the influence or role of characters who are not physically present. They also reveal a good deal about character by allowing us to ‘hear’ different voices, for example Mr Collins or Mr Darcy.

Letter writing was a key method of communication in Jane Austen’s time and she and her family exchanged hundreds of letters when they were apart. However it was restricted by people’s ability not only to write but also to afford the postage – most poor people could not.

Many of the letters in this novel are mentioned but not included – such as the letters from Mr Gardiner, who thoughtfully keeps his wife up to date with events, unlike Mr Bennet. However, there are also key letters that move the story on: for example the letters from Jane with the shocking news. There are also letters which further reveal characters, such as the letter from Lydia exclaiming, ‘What a good joke it will be!’ (p. 239). Mr Collins’s letter underlines the seriousness of the situation for the other sisters: ‘For who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family’ (p. 244). Fortunately there is narrative irony in this, as the answer to Lady Catherine’s question is … her own nephew!

Pride and Prejudice contains a very large number of letters. This is not surprising since letters were an essential means of communication at that time. Also Austen had enjoyed reading ‘epistolary novels’ which consisted of letters only.

Replies are sent to Mr Collins’s, Lady Catherine’s and Mrs Gardiner’s letters.


Romantic novel structure

You can look at the structure of Pride and Prejudice and identify the now-familiar format of the romantic novel. The heroine, who is lively and attractive but not glamorous, becomes acquainted with the hero, who is, in some way, mysterious or even threatening. She is repulsed but he is captivated. Events and feelings force them apart but we know they are really being drawn together. She is distracted by a false lover, but when his wickedness is exposed her eyes are opened to the hero’s virtues. But it all seems too late: there are apparently insuperable obstacles to their being united, until the hero secretly takes decisive action and intervenes.

Story structure. Colonel Fitzwilliam could not have told Elizabeth about Darcy’s interference between Bingley and Jane at a worse moment.

This romantic novel may seem to have a simple ‘happy ever after’ ending but you should relate this to its wider themes. The final chapter mirrors a society which has achieved a state of relative peace and stability. After misunderstanding and turmoil, old prejudices have been banished by the formation of new alliances. Some things cannot be improved. Neither Mrs Bennet nor Lady Catherine will achieve true gentility and the Wickhams will continue to pursue their flimsy dreams, but Pemberley appears to offer a glimpse of an ideal world. You may feel that Austen’s decision to end with the focus on the Gardiners is an effective way of linking the themes of a good marriage, responsible family members and true gentility.


Location as structural device

A achange of place in the novel invariably signals a major development in the plot. Settings vary between public (a ball) and domestic (at home). Walks are a useful opportunity to be able to speak more freely.

Make a list of the novel’s key episodes and events and link them to the locations where they happen.

The three volumes of the novel each have a different main location.
Volume 1 – Longbourn (and its neighbourhood), Volume 2 – Rosings (and Hunsford Parsonage), Volume 3 – Pemberley



The Bennets’ home is the centre of the first volume: it is never described from the outside as its appearance would already be familiar to Elizabeth – and her point of view is central to the novel. What is important is the way that Longbourn feels. It is the location for unsatisfactory family life and lacks long-term security. Longbourn is relatively isolated and can be cut off when the weather is bad. Nearby country houses include Netherfield Park and Lucas Lodge; in the small town of Meryton there are some shops, the Assembly Room and Mr and Mrs Philips’s home. It is not surprising that the presence of the Militia makes such a difference to Kitty and Lydia.



Austen uses much more detail to describe the Collins’s and Lady Catherine’s homes as her heroine (Elizabeth) is seeing them for the first time. Rosings is often described in terms of cost. Generally, however, Austen uses settings to shed light on characters and their behaviour. For example when Miss de Bourgh and Mrs Jenkinson stop outside the parsonage, Maria Lucas gets excited, Sir William stands and bows, the Collinses go to the gate and Elizabeth comments that Miss de Bourgh is ‘abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all this wind’ (Vol. 2, Ch. 5, p. 132). The secluded walks in Rosings Park offer Elizabeth the chance for a new and relaxed relationship with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Seeing her in a different place helps Darcy to see her in a different light: ‘You cannot have been always at Longbourn’ (Vol. 2, Ch. 9, p. 149).

Check the weather in Volume 1. How does it affect the Bennets’ daily lives?


Austen rarely uses much space describing locations for their own sake. The descriptions of Rosings, for example, are memorable mainly for the comic effect of Elizabeth listening to Mr Collins numbering the fields and trees in each direction – ‘every view was pointed out with a minuteness that left beauty entirely behind’ (Vol. 2, Ch, 5, p. 130) – and give an impression of materialism. In contrast, the approach to Pemberley is seen through Elizabeth’s eyes and her responses are interwoven with each new sight. The journey takes her from the woods, into the park then reveals an eye-catching view of the house: ‘Elizabeth … had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste … at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!’ (p. 200)

Pemberley dominates the third volume although only three chapters take place there. It is presented as ideal in terms of beauty, wealth, taste and social relationships. We have already been prepared by Miss Bingley’s scattered comments in Volume 1 but are still able to share Elizabeth’s delighted surprise: ‘They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!’ (Vol. 3, Ch. 1, p. 200).

Darcy in his own house seems quite different from Darcy at Netherfield or Rosings. He is quick to introduce Elizabeth to the closest member of his own family, his sister. But Elizabeth can make Pemberley a true family home again (Vol. 3, Ch. 19, p. 321).


Elizabeth visits Kent (Rosings and Hunsford Parsonage) in Volume 1 and Derbyshire (Pemberley and Lambton) in Volume 3.

Location and Setting – Longbourn
1 of 2
How does Mrs Bennet answer Mr Collins when he asks who cooked the dinner?
‘... her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen  .’ (Vol. 1, Ch. 13, p. 54)

Location and Setting – Longbourn
2 of 2
At home the Bennets often find it hard to keep out of each other’s way. Where does Mr Bennet expect to find peace?
‘In his library  he had always been sure of leisure ...’ (Vol. 1, Ch. 15, p. 58)

Location and Setting – Living in the countryside
1 of 2
How does Mrs Bennet try to use transport problems to her advantage when Jane is invited to Netherfield?
‘You had better go on horseback  , because it seems likely to rain ...’ (Vol. 1, Ch. 7, p. 24)

Location and Setting – Living in the countryside
2 of 2
How does Mr Darcy describe the country neighbourhood?
‘... a very confined and unvarying  society.’ (Vol. 1, Ch. 9, p. 34)

Location and Setting – Hunsford Parsonage and Rosings
1 of 2
In Mr Collins’s opinion what is the most beautiful view in the entire country?
‘... none were to be compared with the prospect of Rosings  ...’ (Vol. 2, Ch. 5, p. 130)

Location and Setting – Hunsford Parsonage and Rosings
2 of 2
Why does Elizabeth think she keeps meeting Darcy on her favourite walks in Rosings Park?
‘It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance  .’ (Vol. 2, Ch. 10, p. 151)

Location and Setting – Pemberley
2 of 2
How does this make Elizabeth feel?
‘... that to be mistress  of Pemberley might be something!’ (Vol. 3, Ch. 1, p. 200)

Location and Setting – Pemberley
1 of 2
What does Elizabeth think of the landscape and the views?
‘Every disposition of the ground was good  .’ (Vol. 3, Ch. 1, p. 201)

Throughout Pride and Prejudice, Austen pays particular attention to the manner and style of many of the characters' homes or estates. A small-scale home like the Bennets' is presented as a suitable, if modest, dwelling place in which to raise five daughters. Though it's somewhat plain, it's still respectable. In contrast, larger manors like Bingley's at Netherfield Park, Lady Catherine's estate of Rosings, or Darcy's palatial home of Pemberley are showcases for their owner's enormous wealth and are conspicuous symbols of social prestige. Elizabeth's reaction on first seeing Pemberley and her imagining how it would be to live there illustrates that even her calm, cool sense of detachment is awed by the beauty and size of the estate. In a way, houses and estates function as the outward signs of their owner's inward character. They carry an almost spiritual significance. Rosings may be grand, but it does not possess the tasteful elegance of Pemberley. Elizabeth's elevation from Longbourn to Pemberley marks not only a rise in her social position, but an advance in her moral growth as well.
Houses Quotes in Pride and Prejudice

The Pride and Prejudice quotes below all refer to the symbol of Houses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Pride Theme Icon ). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Pride and Prejudice published in 2002.

Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Related Characters: Elizabeth (Eliza, Lizzy) Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Related Symbols: Houses
Marriage Theme Icon Class Theme Icon
Page Number: 235 Cite
Explanation and Analysis:
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At end of volume 1
The structure of the novel begins to shift to a new storyline which will move the action from Elizabeth’s home neighbourhood to Kent.

To hunsford

The change of location brings a change of storyline and moves the plot forward.
Insight into the Collins’s home life expands the theme of marriage in order to gain a home and financial security.


3 Volumes

practical reason for the novel being divided into three volumes.
To suit the library market at the time as this was how most people liked to read novels

Chapters 1-3
The Bennets at home; Meryton assembly (25 K)
Chapters 4-6
Meryton assembly post-mortem; Charlotte, evening at Sir William's (35 K)
Chapters 7-9
Jane to Netherfield, later also Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet (42 K)
Chapters 10-12
Elizabeth and Jane at Netherfield, in Ch. 12 they go home (36 K)
Chapters 13-15
Mr. Collins arrives; Collins at Longbourn; excursion to Meryton (32 K)
Chapters 16-18
Elizabeth and Wickham; the Netherfield ball (72 K)
Chapters 19-21
Mr. Collins's proposal, its aftermath, the Bingley departure from Netherfield (41 K)
Chapters 22-23
Mr. Collins and Charlotte, Mr. Collins's return (25 K)

Volume II:
Chapters 24-26
Elizabeth and Jane, the Gardiners at Netherfield, Jane to London (38 K)
Chapters 27-29
Elizabeth to London, to Kent, and at Rosings (37 K)
Chapters 30-32
Darcy and Elizabeth at Rosings (30 K)
Chapters 33-35
Elizabeth and Col. Fitzwilliam, Darcy's proposal and letter (50 K)
Chapters 36-38
Letter post-mortem, Rosings after Darcy's departure, Elizabeth to London (32 K)
Chapters 39-42
Elizabeth and Jane go home, Lydia's Brighton scheme, Elizabeth and the Gardiners to Derbyshire (52 K)

Volume III:
Chapters 43-45
Elizabeth at Pemberley, the Darcys with Elizabeth at Lambton, Elizabeth with Mrs. Gardiner at Pemberley (61 K)
Chapters 46-48
Letters from Jane; Elizabeth and the Gadiners to Longbourn; Mr. Gardiner to London, Mr. Bennet to Longbourn (65 K)
Chapters 49-51
Letter from Mr. Gardiner; Lydia's wedding approaching; Lydia and Wickham at Longbourn (46 K)
Chapters 52-54
Mrs. Gardiner's lettter to Elizabeth; Darcy/Bingley to Netherfield; Darcy/Bingley at Longbourn (51 K)
Chapters 55-57
Jane's engagement; visit of Lady Catherine; Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth (48 K)
Chapters 58-61
Elizabeth and Darcy; family approves; wrap-up; the weddings (53 K)

The three-volume novel was standard in Austen’s time as it suited the users of the circulating libraries. Note how Austen uses the form to develop the plot. Each volume has a new main location which allows characters to behave in slightly different ways. The changes have all been set up in advance: for example Mr Collins spoke about the grandeur of Rosings and Lady Catherine in the first volume (Ch. 16, p. 62) and already, in this second volume, there has been mention of the summer tour which will finally take Elizabeth to Pemberley.


Time as structural device

1. Volume 1 begins in autumn (Michaelmas) and Elizabeth visits Hunsford in March (Volume 2). Volume 3 begins with Elizabeth and the Gardiners setting out on a holiday in Summer

The resumption of social conventions such as visiting helps restore the calm surface of life. Notice also how Bingley’s return to Netherfield deliberately echoes the opening of the novel thus helping to emphasise how much has changed in the process and also what has remained the same.

As the novel reaches its conclusion, it is worthwhile looking back at the opening chapters. In some ways, this episode is a repeat. Elizabeth and Darcy meet face to face but this time there are no witty remarks. The proud Mr Darcy, who has been attracted to Elizabeth from the outset, is overcome with shyness, while the previously self-confident Elizabeth can feel only doubt and despair. Comparing the two situations with suitable quotations or supporting detail is known as cross-referencing and may gain you extra marks.


Settings historical context

Pride and Prejudice is set at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution was in its earliest stages. Most people still lived in small towns or villages. Roads were poor and only the better off were likely to travel for pleasure, as the Gardiners and Elizabeth do in Volume 3.

War going on
Soldiers in meryton because England is at war with France


Elizabeth’s journey of self growth as structure

Elizabeth Bennet is the only character who is present throughout the novel. One way of looking at its structure is to note how she moves away from her home and family to meet new people in new settings – on a journey of self-knowledge.



Three-volume narrative follows events in chronological (time) order. Letters move action forward. Changes of location prompt plot developments. Various points of view plus omniscient narrator.


Last chapters

They provide a review and commentary on the novel’s characters and events.
Austen briefly maps out the characters’ futures.
Austen gives a summary of the characters and their future situations. Mrs Bennet, despite having her wildest dreams fulfilled, remains as silly as ever, but the lives of all members of the families are altered in some way by the marriages. Make a table with three columns listing whose lives and characters improve, whose become more difficult and who remains unchanged by events.