Pride and Prejudice follows the lives of the five Bennet sisters and their parents, especially focusing on the second eldest daughter Elizabeth. Though weary of her mother's desperation to place each of her daughters in good marriages, Elizabeth finds herself drawn to Mr. Darcy, a proud and wealthy gentleman who is attracted to Elizabeth because of her intelligence and wit. Amidst the drama of their friends' and families' lives, both must overcome preconceived notions and expectations in this story that explores class, love, and social change.
The two youngest Bennet daughters, Lydia and Catherine, often visit their aunt, Mrs. Phillips, who lives in the town of Meryton. A militia regiment has recently arrived in Meryton. Mr. Bennet complains how foolish his daughters are for flirting with officers and talking of nothing else, but Mrs. Bennet does not consider the flirtations with the officers a cause for concern and often encourages their behavior.The Bingley sisters invite Jane to dinner. However, Mrs. Bennet will not allow Jane to use the carriage to go to Netherfield. Mrs. Bingley tells Jane to go on horseback, as it looks like rain and Mrs. Bennet hopes that Jane will have to spend the night at Netherfield. Jane does not like the idea, has no choice and travels to Netherfield on horseback.
The plan works. It does in fact rain and Jane gets wet, but she falls ill as a result of getting soaked and has to stay at Netherfield until her recovery. Elizabeth decides to go to Netherfield to visit Jane because there are no horses available, she walks. The Bingley sisters are horrified that Elizabeth walked such a long distance, and that her petticoat is dirty from the mud. Jane's condition intensifies and Elizabeth does not leave her bedside throughout the day. Because Jane wants Elizabeth to stay with her, Miss Bingley is obliged to invite Elizabeth to stay the night at Netherfield.
Mr. Bennet's estate entitles him to an income of two thousand a year. This estate is entailed away from the female line of the Bennet's, which means none of the Bennet daughters are able to inherit the estate, nor are they entitled to the income. Mrs. Bennet's income is described as suitable for her, but not large enough to support the daughters.
The two younger Bennet daughters, Lydia and Catherine are introduced in greater detail. They are described as being more "vacant" than their sisters, and as taking great pleasure in going to the hat shop in Meryton, a town less than a mile away from Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet's brother, Mr. Phillips, and his wife live in Meryton. Lydia and Catherine often walk to the Phillips' house in Meryton. A regiment has recently come to Meryton. Lydia and Catherine want nothing more than to go to their aunt's house in Meryton and find out about the officers in the regiment. Mr. Bennet calls Lydia and Catherine "two of the silliest girls in the county" because all they talk about is the officers in Meryton. Mrs. Bennet encourages their flirtations with the officers, she remembers having flirted with officers when she was young and sees nothing wrong with their behavior.
Jane receives an invitation to lunch with Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. Mrs. Bennet insists that Jane should go on horseback because it looks like rain, and if Jane gets wet, she will have to stay longer at Netherfield. It does indeed rain, but Jane becomes sick and must stay at Netherfield until she is well. Elizabeth decides to walk to Netherfield to visit Jane. Lydia and Catherine walk with her as far as Meryton. The Bingley party is very surprised to see Elizabeth at Netherfield, but she is invited to stay to look after Jane, who is described as "feverish." Jane is seen by a doctor; Elizabeth is invited to stay over at Netherfield to nurse Jane.
In chapter seven, the reader gets a much closer look at the youngest sisters in the Bennet family, Catherine and Lydia. The two sisters love to walk to Meryton to shop in the hat stores and chase after the officers of the local regiment. Because they like so much to participate in such activities, the two are described as having "vacant" minds. While Catherine and Lydia were in Meryton, they visited their aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. Upon their return to Longbourn, they talk about nothing except the officers. Mr. Bennet criticizes the silliness of Lydia and Catherine, but is characteristically detached from what is going on and makes no attempt to stop future trips to Meryton.In this chapter, Catherine and Lydia's characters represent the foolish woman and set up a future situation in which their actions get them into trouble. Catherine and Lydia stand as direct opposites to Jane and Elizabeth, who always seems to know the difference between what is acceptable, proper behavior and what is not. Mr. Bennet's character is further developed as the absent, sarcastic father who sees the faults of his daughters but makes no attempt to correct it. It seems enough to Mr. Bennet that he makes fun of them and criticize their behavior but the reality will turn out to be something much worse.
Mrs. Bennet's character is further developed as the foolish mother who also does not concern herself with the behavior of her girls. In fact, Mrs. Bennet considers it acceptable for the girls to act so frivolously and states that the girls should not be expected to "have the sense of their father and mother.'" The irony is that the girls actually do seem to have the sense of their father and mother, which is a direct result of their respective foolishness and indifference. Austen centers the novel around marriage and the family, two fundamental units of eighteenth century society. The failures of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in their parenting duties will eventually result in the disgrace of the family, and their nonchalance with regard to Lydia and Catherine's flirtations with the regiment officers foreshadows trouble for the future.