The book focuses on Fitzwilliam Darcy's initial visit to Hertfordshire during the opening chapters of Pride and Prejudice , as seen from his viewpoint. The book begins as he arrives in the town of Meryton, to stay at Charles Bingley's estate of Netherfield. Darcy expects to be bored by provincial manners and society, and he finds that is the case at a local town ball. To his surprise, however, he becomes fascinated by Elizabeth Bennet, whom he has accidentally offended due to her inadvertently overhearing a tactless comment that he made about her to Bingley.
Darcy is uncomfortable in his current surroundings, and he worries about his sister Georgiana, who is vulnerable following an unpleasant encounter with George Wickham. Amidst attempts of unwelcome advance by Bingley's sister Caroline, he finds himself repeatedly thrown into Elizabeth's company, particularly when her sister Jane falls ill whilst visiting Netherfield, forced to stay until she recovers. Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth's lively spirit, generous nature and confident refusal to be cowed by her social 'betters'. However, Elizabeth is without money or fine connections, and she has embarrassing and 'unfortunate' relations who make her unsuitable for a wife. Meanwhile, protective of his friend, the somewhat naive and easily trusting Bingley, Darcy attempts to warn him off from an 'unfortunate' and hasty relationship with Jane Bennet whilst struggling with his own feelings for Elizabeth.
Eventually, Darcy determines to explore his feelings for Elizabeth despite his misgivings, resolving to both make amends and attempt to charm Elizabeth during a ball that Bingley is holding. Unfortunately, despite the assistance he receives from his personal valet Fletcher, fate has conspired against Darcy: Wickham has recently moved into the area, joined the local militia and become acquainted with Elizabeth. As such, when he dances with Elizabeth at the ball, Darcy meets with extremely cold and unfriendly treatment from her. He realizes that Wickham has managed to poison Elizabeth against him with false tales of their previous dealings, and that she (and others in the village) have become distant towards him because of their perceptions of his arrogance and of Wickham's charming nature and lies.
Too proud to set the record straight, Darcy refuses to defend himself. Worse, Bingley's unguarded behaviour towards Jane Bennet, her mother's tactless gloating and more examples of ill-breeding from her family strengthen Darcy's conviction that he must prevent his friend's potential ruin at all costs. Darcy dissuades him from marrying Jane Bennet, detecting in her no hint of regard for his friend beyond politeness. Realizing that his intervention (were she to learn of it) would permanently alienate Elizabeth, still Darcy resolves to act in what he sees as the best interests of his friend. The next day, as the Netherfield party return to London, Darcy sows the seeds of doubt in Bingley's mind about Jane's regard for him, convincing Bingley not to return to Netherfield and declare his intentions to Jane. The novel ends with Darcy resolving to harden his heart and forget about Elizabeth.