Pride and Prejudice


³It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife².(pg.1) The first sentence of Jane Austen¹s Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the most famous opening of all English comedies concerning social manners. It encapsulates the ambitions of the empty headed Mrs. Bennet, and her desire to find a good match for each of her five daughters from the middle-class young men of the family¹s acquaintance: ³The business of her life was to get her daughters married, its solace was visiting and news.²(pg. 3) In this, she receives little help from her mild and indolent spouse, who regards her aspirations with a tolerant and witty cynicism. The main strand of this story concerns the prejudice of Elizabeth Bennet against the apparent arrogance of her future suitor, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and the blow to his pride in falling in love with her. Though a satisfactory outcome is eventually achieved, it is set against the social machinations of many other figures; the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the fatuous Mr. Collins; the younger Bennet daughter, Lydia; and her lover, Wickham, with whom she scandalously elopes. It is often pointed out that Austen¹s novels emphasize characterization and romanticism, but in Pride and Prejudice the emphasis is on the irony, values and realism of the characters as they develop throughout the story.
Jane Austen¹s irony is devastating in its exposure of foolishness and hypocrisy. Self-delusion or the attempt to fool other people are usually the object of her wit. There are various forms of exquisite irony in Pride and Prejudice, sometimes the characters are unconsciously ironic, as when Mrs. Bennet seriously asserts that she would never accept any entailed property, though Mr. Collins is willing to. Often Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth serve to directly express the author¹s ironic opinion. When Mary Bennet is the only daughter at home and does not have to be compared with her prettier sisters, the author notes that: ³it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.² (pg.189) Mr. Bennet turns his wit on himself during the crisis with Whickham and Lydia: ³let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.²(pg. 230)
Elizabeth¹s irony is lighthearted when Jane asks when she began to love Mr. Darcy: ³It has been coming on so gradually that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly² (pg.163). She can be bitterly cutting however in her remark on Darcy¹s role in separating Bingley and Jane: ³Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him.² (pg. 202)
The author also independent of any character, uses¹ irony in the narrative parts for some of her sharpest judgments The Meryton Community is glad that Lydia is marrying such a worthless man as Whickham: ³... and the good nature wishes for her well doing, which had proceed before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost but a little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such a husband, her misery was certain.² (pg. 270)
Austen uses irony to provoke gentle, whimsical laughter and to make veiled, bitter observations as well; in her hands\' irony is an extremely effective device for moral evaluation: ³She has Elizabeth say that she hopes she will never laugh at what is wise or good.² (pg.143)
The characters on Pride and Prejudice are full of moral, social and human values. Every character is measured against the intelligence and sensitivity which eighteen century people called good sense, and they stand and fall by common consent of the evaluation made by the author. The characters themselves, the sensible ones, accept this standard, and their relationships are determined by it, Mr. Bennet cannot be happy with his wife because he does not respect her: ³Mr. Bennet saw his wife, he was thinking about how obstinate she was, how money made her so happy, and how hypocrite she was.²(Pg.90) For this reason he retreats the ridiculousness of his family into sarcasm and carelessness. Elizabeth also feels pained