Actions are most important in the case of Darcy. Due to his cold demeanor and less-than-friendly conversation, it's Darcy's actions that demonstrate his true character. He stops Bingley from proposing to Jane because he believes it to be a disadvantageous match, but remedies the situation as soon as he learns of Jane's true affection for Bingley. Even better, Darcy hunts down the runaway lovers, forces Wickham marry Lydia, pays off their debts, and then gives credit for the whole affair to Mr. Gardiner. His actions reveal him to be an honorable, caring man. Similarly, Wickham's actions show a lot about him. Seducing Lydia with no intention of marrying her? This guy is bad news.
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, 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. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, 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. (1.34).
Well, then, there you have it – signed, sealed, delivered, the Bennets are yours. Oh, Austen. You practically wrote our character analysis for us.
If Mr. Darcy was a rural farmer, he would have a radically different personality. A large part of his arrogance comes from his societal position; he knows he has it made and can afford to blow off people in a lower social position. This is also true of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
The other person worth mentioning here is our favorite buffoon, Mr. Collins. He occupies a sort of indeterminate position in the social scale. On one hand he owes his job to Lady Catherine, but on the other hand he is in a better social position than the Bennet family since all their stuff will automatically go to him when Mr. Bennet dies. What's really interesting about him is that he kind of transcends class altogether by doing this weird trick of borrowing Lady de Bourgh's status to boost his own. Check out how, when he proposes to Elizabeth, he stresses that one of the top things he has to offer is the awesomeness of being Lady de Bourgh's second most favorite lapdog. By constantly quoting her, he's doing something more than just hitching his wagon to her star – it's almost like he's trying to become her.
OK, it's true that we just totally said that characters are defined through direct description, but honestly? This is really few and far between because most of the characterization is done through dialogue. Almost every character in the novel gets to talk first and be summed up by the narrator later. Even the passage we quoted about the Bennets comes at the tail end of a long conversation, in which we pretty much learn everything that bit of description tells us.
So what happens when characters are defined primarily through dialog? Well, for one thing, the characterizations pretty much out of necessity become all about relationships between people – since, you know, that's who's doing the talking. Instead of worrying too much about the deep inner thoughts of each character, the reader is instead constantly comparing how A talks to B and how that's different from how she talks to C. What's really amazing is that the dialog is so good at pointing out what we need to know about the relationships between the characters that the narrator doesn't need to step in and tell us anything at all about it. Seriously, check this action out:
[Miss Bingley:] "How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer.
[Miss Bingley:]"You write uncommonly fast."
[Mr. Darcy:] "You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
[Miss Bingley:]"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!"
[Mr. Darcy:] "It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours."
[Miss Bingley:] "Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."
[Mr. Darcy:] "I have already told her so once, by your desire."
[Miss Bingley:] "I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
[Mr. Darcy:] "Thank you-but I always mend my own."
[Miss Bingley:] "How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent. (10.3-14)
Here, Miss Bingley is bothering the heck out of Darcy because she's got a thing for him and spends her days trying to get him to like her. Notice how the narrator doesn't do anything except fill in Darcy's silences. But we still get the whole picture here. Miss Bingley has clearly been at this a long time and is now so desperate for something – anything – to talk about, that she's down to pen-mending and writing in neat lines. Darcy is clearly totally uninterested and is so used to her deal that he feels no problem just straight-up ignoring her. We get all that from just a quick bit of perfectly pitched dialogue.