Pride and Prejudice: Irony

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a
good fortune, must be in want of a wife".(pg.1) The first sentence of Jane
Austen\'s 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 family\'s acquaintance: "The
business of her life was to get her daughters married, its solace was visiting
and news."(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 Austen\'s 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 Austen\'s 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
author\'s 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: "it
was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much
reluctance." (pg.189) Mr. Bennet turns his wit on himself during the crisis with
Whickham and Lydia: "let 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."(pg. 230)

Elizabeth\'s irony is lighthearted when Jane asks when she began to love Mr.
Darcy: "It 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 Pemberly"
(pg.163). She can be bitterly cutting however in her remark on Darcy\'s role in
separating Bingley and Jane: "Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and
takes a prodigious deal of care of him." (pg. 202)

The author also independent of any character, uses\' 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: "... 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." (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: "She has Elizabeth say that she hopes she will
never laugh at what is wise or good." (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:
"Mr. Bennet saw his wife, he was thinking about how obstinate she was, how money
made her so happy, and how hypocrite she was."(Pg.90) For this reason he
retreats the ridiculousness of his family into sarcasm and carelessness.
Elizabeth also feels pained by her family\'s folly, and can not help realizing
how harmful it is to Lydia\'s and her own romances:" I have bad news for you ...
imprudent as a marriage between Mr. Whickham and our poor Lydia would be, we are
now anxious to be assured it has taken place in Scotland..." (pg. 262) Likewise