Mrs. Bennet has five daughters and a big problem: none of them are married, there isn't much fortune to go around, and—thanks to a quirk of English property law—they'll all be kicked out of their house when Mr. Bennet dies. Enter Mr. Bingley, a rich, single man who moves into their neighborhood and takes a liking to the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane.
But don't save the date quite yet: Mr. Bingley might be easygoing and pleasant, but his sisters are catty snobs and his controlling friend Mr. Darcy isn't about to let Mr. Bingley marry beneath him. When they all meet up at a local ball, Mr. Darcy lets everyone around him know just how dumb and boring he finds the whole thing—including our new BFF and protagonist, the second Bennet daughter, Elizabeth.
It's clear to everyone that Mr. Bingley is falling in love with Jane, but Jane keeps her feelings on the down low, against the advice of Lizzy's good friend Charlotte Lucas. And, surprising no one, Mr. Darcy finds himself strangely attracted to Lizzy. The two get even more opportunities to snip at each other when Lizzy goes to Mr. Bingley's house to nurse her sister, who's gotten sick on a wet horseback ride over for dinner.
And now it's time to meet Bachelor #3: Mr. Collins. As Mr. Bennet's closest male relative, Mr. Collins will inherit the estate after Mr. Bennet's death. Mr. Collins has decided that the nice thing to do is to marry one of the Bennet girls in order to preserve their home. Unfortunately, he's a complete fool and Lizzy hates him on sight. Also unfortunately, he sets his sights on her.
As for the two youngest Bennet sisters, the militia has arrived in town and they're ready to throw themselves at any military officers who wander their way—like Mr. Wickham, who rapidly befriends Elizabeth and tells her a sob story about how Mr. Darcy totally ruined his life, which Elizabeth is happy to believe. Oh, and Mr. Collins's boss, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, just so happens to be Mr. Darcy's aunt. Small world!
Not too long after this, all the Bennet girls (including middle sister Mary, who's too wrapped up in books to notice boys) head to a ball at Netherfield (a.k.a. Mr. Bingley's mansion). It's kind of awful. Darcy, of all people, asks Elizabeth to dance, and Lizzy's entire family is unbearably embarrassing—like her mom loudly announcing that they all expect Bingley to marry Jane.
But it gets worse when Mr. Collins proposes the next morning. Elizabeth refuses, obviously, but hold your pity: Charlotte Lucas shows up to "help out," by which we mean "get Collins to propose to her instead." It works, which is good news for the 27-year-old Charlotte, who's too poor and plain to expect anything better; but bad news for Elizabeth, who can't believe that her friend would actually marry the guy—even when Charlotte explains that she's really out of options, here.
And then more bad news arrives: Jane gets a letter from Miss Bingley basically breaking up with her on her brother's behalf. Jane is super bummed, and she goes to stay with her aunt and uncle in London to get over it (and just maybe see Bingley, who's off to the big city). Elizabeth travels too: she's off to visit the newly married Charlotte, who seems to be holding up well. One problem: Mr. Darcy is on his way to visit his aunt, who's also, you might remember, Mr. Collins's boss.
Darcy almost acts like he's glad to see Lizzy, and even comes to visit her at Charlotte's house, but Lizzy is not having it: she learns from Mr. Darcy's friend that Bingley was going to propose to Jane until Darcy intervened. And that's exactly the moment Darcy chooses to propose. Can you guess how it goes?
Not well. During the proposal, mixed in with Darcy's "I love you" are some "I am so superior to you" comments, which, not surprisingly, don't go over so well. Elizabeth has some choice things to say to him, and the next day he hands her a letter with the full story about Wickham (he's a liar, a gambler, and he tried to elope with Darcy's underage sister) and Jane (Darcy was convinced Jane was just a gold-digger). Cue emotional transformation.
When Lizzy gets him, she finds that Lydia, the youngest of the Bennet girls, has been invited to follow the officers to their next station in Brighton. Elizabeth thinks this is a Very Bad Idea, but Mr. Bennet overrules her. Big mistake, as we'll find out soon.
But first, it's time for Elizabeth to accompany her aunt and uncle on a trip to Derbyshire, which, incidentally, is where Mr. Darcy lives. Uh-oh! Oh, but he's out of town. Phew. They visit his estate (Pemberley) as tourists—you can do that kind of thing in England—and Lizzy is impressed. Darcy's housekeeper also has nothing but compliments for her master. Weird, right? It gets weirder when they run into Darcy who's home early, and he's actually polite and friendly.
Before we can start practicing our wedding toasts, disaster strikes: Elizabeth learns that Lydia has run off with Wickham. This scandal could ruin the family, so Elizabeth's uncle and father try to track the renegade couple down. Elizabeth's uncle saves the day and brings the two young 'uns back as a properly married (and unapologetic) couple. When Lydia lets slip that Darcy was at her wedding, Elizabeth realizes that there's more to the story and writes to her aunt for more information.
Here's the full story: Darcy saved the Bennet family's honor. He tracked down the couple and paid off Wickham's massive debts in exchange for Wickham marrying Lydia. Why would he possibly do that? Well, we have some ideas—but we don't get to find out right away. First, Bingley comes back and finally proposes to Jane. And then, Lady Catherine visits Longbourn to strong-arm Elizabeth into rejecting any proposal from Darcy, which obviously doesn't work.
When Lizzy and Darcy finally get some alone time on a walk, we get the moment we've all been waiting for: they clear up all their past misunderstandings, agree to get married, and then make out in the rain. (Oh wait, that was the movie version.)
And they all live happily ever after. More or less.