Pride and Prejudice: Irony

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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...
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