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Jane Austen's use of humour in her novel "Pride and Prejudice".

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Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice, uses humour in her novel to maintain the interest of the reader. Some have said that Pride and Prejudice is a simple tale of love and marriage, but it is in fact far more complex. At the least, it should be recognised as a comedy of manners, and though romantic subplots could be said to drive the text, Jane Austen's clever and subtle wit reflects her own eye for the folly of human behaviour. Chiefly, she exaggerates the personalities of her characters, such as those of Mr Collins and Lady Catherine De Bourgh, to create this effect. Using the juxtaposition of various characters, the techniques of irony and satire and giving her caricatures witty dialogues, Austen skilfully creates a message for the reader - to avoid the madness that she mocks - as well as entertaining them at the same time.

Mr Collins and Lady Catherine De Bourgh are two characters whose personalities have been embellished by the author to interest the reader. Mr Collins is presented as having an overweening sense of class structure, though a reader could easily imagine that Mr Collins only reached his status through his ingratiating ways. As a clergyman, he ought to be respected by people like the Bennet family, and he subtly makes his concurring views on this topic known, by excessively praising his patron, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, at every chance he has. By publicly rating her so highly, Mr Collins puts the Bennets down. However, the Bennet family find Mr Collins' continuing pontification absurd and even quite ludicrous. His worship of Lady Catherine is perhaps even greater than his loyalty to the church, as he certainly talks of the former a great deal more. Before the reader even meets Mr Collins, they are given the impression that he is a pompous and rather absurd creature:

"...Can he be a sensible man sir?"

"No, my dear; I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well." [Elizabeth questioning her father about Mr Collins]

Austen has structured the descriptions of Mr Collins so that the reader is entertained by his insensibility and habit of extending his speeches to extraordinary lengths. For instance, the author clearly demonstrated these traits, in him, when the Bennet family had him to dinner for the first time. Mr Collins asked Mrs Bennet:

"...to whom of his fair cousins the excellence of its cookery was owing."

Mrs Bennet replied, quite abruptly, that the family was, in fact, wealthy enough to keep a good cook, and that none of her daughters had anything to do with the kitchen.

"He (Mr Collins) begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone, she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about the next quarter of an hour."

The features of Mr Collins' disposition are also emphasised by the fact that Elizabeth Bennet particularly, and other characters that are respected by the reader, ridicule him behind his back. Mr Bennet and Jane are two examples of this kind of character, however their personalities are only well regarded by the reader because they reflect similar views as Elizabeth about certain personalities - such as that of Mr Collins.

Lady Catherine De Bourgh's personality is also one that is embroidered and amplified, in Pride and Prejudice. Although much superior to him in status, Lady Catherine is viewed in much the same way as Mr Collins - both are laughable, and are full of their own self-importance, in Eliza's mind and consequently that of the reader. The Lady is depicted as an overly praised snob, who always thinks of herself as above her company. Elizabeth sees the ridiculous character of Mr Collins worshipping the ground that Lady Catherine walks on, and draws these conclusions even before she or the reader have met her. Moreover, when she did meet the woman:

"Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath this great Lady's attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others."

In the time period in which the text was written, a woman of De Bourgh's social and financial status would be accepted to act like that, but the exaggeration of these characteristics are what amuses the reader. The author, by doing this, is poking fun at the upper classes in the social structure, which would have been very humorous to the non-upper class readers at that time, a class level of which Jane Austen herself was a part.

Another technique which the author, Jane Austen, applies in her novel Pride and Prejudice, to generate amusement in the reader, is juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is the placement of contrasting characters side by side to achieve a particular effect. Austen uses this approach in juxtaposing the characters of Mr Darcy with Elizabeth. This is the source of many emotions that flow through Pride and Prejudice. Specifically, the reader is amused by the amalgamation of the two because of the extreme variation in their dispositions. The first impression of Mr Darcy, that the reader acquires, is the same as that which Elizabeth imagines - he is "a most disagreeable, horrid man." At the ball at Meryton, Mr Darcy manages to instantly distance himself from that community with his seeming arrogance, which was observed through his refusal to dance with anyone other than Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst. Also he was immediately compared with the apparent perfection of his friend, Mr Bingley's personality, which gave the impression that he was even less amiable. The formation of Mr Darcy's real character is very gradual, and in the mean time, the contrast of his character with Elizabeth's is extremely evident. As she is the main character, and that who has their point of view foregrounded in this text, Elizabeth (who is also known as Eliza and Lizzy) is shown to have an amiable and pleasing personality. The use of two abbreviations of Elizabeth's name is just one of the techniques which the author has used to endear her to the reader. There is no suggestion, at the beginning of the book, of Elizabeth feeling that she has behaved mistakenly and, through the third person limited point of view of the novel, the reader finds her equally faultless. The juxtaposition of Elizabeth's initial prejudice against Mr Darcy, and those which he expressed to his friend Mr Bingley for Eliza, creates an entertaining tension in the reader. However, by chapter 35 (of 61), Elizabeth's attitude towards Mr Darcy, has reversed. He has proposed, and professed his love for her, despite her "inferiority" and ill connections. After considering the letter from Mr Darcy which followed her refusal, Elizabeth's interpretation and feelings towards the events, that had occurred through the course of the novel, changed dramatically. Through these changes in attitude on both sides, Mr Darcy's and Elizabeth's characters become seen as well suited to each other. The irony of the match can also be perceived as humourous.

Austen capably uses irony and satire throughout Pride and Prejudice. The effect of this is the successful entertainment of the reader. Irony is a literary device in which the apparent meaning is the opposite to that intended, and is made clear by the context or tone. Satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, or the showing up of something very silly, by representing it in a laughable way. Ultimately, Pride and Prejudice satirises the structure of society in the author's era, as well as the manners and behaviour of that period. The author does this through an amusing but subtle criticism of the aristocracy, which includes characters such as Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Mr Darcy. The very first sentence in the text sets the tone - one which is consistently witty, though in a discrete and delicate way:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

This statement is quite ironic. It implies that any man with wealth must be sought after by women of his own social class. He is also assumed to have the manners and breeding that would make him attractive to females, simply because of his consequent status. However, the main character challenges this. Elizabeth is portrayed as very much her own person, that is, her actions and points of view cannot be dictated to her by the likes of her mother, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, or even the general attitudes of her culture. Lizzy's refusal of Mr Collins' proposal of marriage, for instance, was severely against the grain of her society, as was her refusal of Mr Darcy. Also, the marriage of Elizabeth's younger sister, Lydia, to Mr Wickham, is ironic in that Eliza only narrowly escaped the connection with that man who she later found to be an irresponsible liar. Although the text had enforced the high value and importance of the marriage of the five Bennet sisters right the way through, Lydia's marriage to Wickham is ironically scorned upon by Elizabeth, as she knows of Wickham's true character. Because of Eliza's negative attitude to the marriage, the reader too disapproves of the couple and their conduct. These points mock the given attitudes, of the time period, towards love and marriage, and provide the reader with a humourous distraction from the main plot.

To entertain the reader throughout Pride and Prejudice, the author, Jane Austen, uses humour in the forms of exaggerated personalities and the juxtaposition of contrasting characters. All of the dialogue is constructed in a witty and adept manner, and with that comes the glorious ironies which each individually amuse the reader. A rational and moral visualization of the real society of her time can be detected in Austen's writing, through close analysis, though it does not force itself on the reader. Through the wit of this novel, Jane Austen reveals to the reader her cynical attitudes towards the structure of the English 19th century society, love, and marriage and humourously warns the reader to avoid pride ... beware prejudice.

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