Irony in Pride and Prejudice
One line that highlights Jane Austen’s wit is primarily the first line of the novel “”It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.”” Austen uses verbal irony here, almost sarcasm since it means quite the opposite. The main purpose in life of underprivileged women in Austen’s era is to marry a well-off husband and not vice versa. This is because if a young woman did not find a husband of decent means, she risked becoming a powerless spinster. Although English women in Austen’s time might have “”acknowledge[d]”” this truth, the wealthy men whom the line is referring to might not. Thus, it is not a “”truth universally acknowledged””. Through the use of this sentence, Austen provides readers with what the novel is going to be about: the importance of marriage and class.
An instance of situational irony in Pride and Prejudice is the famous line “”She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me,”” By this phrase, proud Mr Darcy is meant to express how a woman like Elizabeth, who is not of a high social status as he is, has no chance in ever tempting him to fall in love with her. Moreover, Elizabeth thinks that Mr Darcy is a “”disagreeable”” man thus eliminating the possibility of every falling in love with him. However, throughout the rest of the novel, they are both proven wrong since they do in fact, in the end fall in love and get happily married. Furthermore, although Lady Catherine does her utmost to prevent their engagement, her attempts only make Elizabeth want to marry Mr Darcy more. It is also ironic how although Elizabeth claims to be a good judge of character, she proves otherwise. This can be seen in the way Darcy appears snobbish and haughty but proves to be a true gentleman, much more than Wickham.
How it works
In this novel, the narrator presents the Bingley sisters in an ironic manner. This is due to the fact that it is not true that they are “”in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others””. Although they are coming from a wealthy family, it shouldn’t alter the way they treat others, especially those being less fortunate than they are. This can be evidently seen through the way they treat Elizabeth in particular when she visits her sick sister Jane at Netherfield House. In fact, they can be easily contrasted to their humble brother Mr Bingley, who not only treats the Bennet family with all respect and courtesy, but also falls in love with their eldest daughter Jane. Furthermore, Mr Bingley and Jane marry each other in the end, defying all odds. The Bingley sisters can be compared to Lady Catherine, who is openly opposed to Mr Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth simply because of Elizabeth’s social background.
The use of verbal irony is shown through Mr Bennet’s ironic utterances about Kitty’s sincere coughing which is bothering Mrs Bennet. “”‘Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for heaven’s sake! […] ‘Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you chuse,'”” In these lines, Mr Bennet is ironically echoing his wife’s previous comments about Kitty’s coughing. This is because it is generally known that coughing can’t be controlled by advice or order. Mr Bennet is aware that his wife is not frustrated at her daughter’s coughing but at his refusal of visiting Mr Bingley for the benefit of his daughters. She does this because she can’t express her discontent explicitly hence pinning her “”poor nerves”” on Kitty to evoke a sense of sympathy in her husband. Moreover, Mr Bennet is not poking fun at his daughter, but the third party Mrs Bennet, who is delighted after the news of her husband visiting Bingley thus adding a sense of humour to the novel.
Throughout the novel, Jane Austen presents readers with a sense of dramatic irony through Mr Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s relationship.