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Pride And Prejudice: Irony Essay, Research Paper

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

when Charlotte Lucas marries the idiotic Mr. Collins for purely materialistic

reasons, Elizabeth knows their friendship can never be the same; they will


This stress on good sense brings characters together as well. Jane, Elizabeth,

and the Gardiners are tied to each other by affection and an alert confidence in

each other’s judgment. They can rely on both the mind and the heart of the

others’; this sensible and spirited attitude is what draws Darcy to Elizabeth in

the first place.

Since the quality of good sense is so important for the characters, we should

know what it specifically is. The two characteristics already mentioned,

intelligence and sensitivity, are obviously essential. A sense of responsibility

also seems to be part of it. Mrs. and Mr. Bennet are not sensible when they fail

to guide their family. This responsibility involves a consideration for the

feelings of other people which silly characters as Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine

de Bourgh, and Lydia Bennet conspicuously lack.

What happens in Pride and Prejudice happens to nearly all of us, embarrassment

at the foolishness of relatives, the unsteady feelings of falling in love, and

the mortify of suddenly realizing a big mistake. The psychological realism of

the novel is revealed in the quick recognition we have of how the characters

feel, there is a very convincing view of how an intelligent, feeling person

changes, the sensitiveness of how people do feel and act; as when Elizabeth and

Darcy are angry at each other and how they completely change their minds with

the passage of time.

Jane Austen’s major weakness as a writer is related to her greatest strength.

Her novels are important because they demonstrate the crude vigorous power of

society which is not just of her day, but exists today, although somewhat

adapted, and still exerts a powerful influence over social life. The weapon that

Jane Austen employs against its suffocating effects is that of irony which is

all the more telling for its gentle mockery. At a time when women had no

political or financial individuality, she shows how the powerless can influence

and migrate the more soul-destroying aspects of female impotence. It must be

remembered that Austen wrote solely from personal experience, and this

authenticity makes her insights perennially valid.


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