The Subtle Humor of Pride and Prejudice
Of all the novels that Jane Austen has written, critics consider Pride
and Prejudice to be the most comical. Humor can be found everywhere in the book;
in it’s character descriptions, imagery, but mostly in it’s conversations
between characters. Her novels were not only her way of entertaining people but
it was also a way to express her opinions and views on what surrounded her and
affected her. Her novels were like editorials.Austen uses a variety of comic
techniques to express her own view on characters, both in her book and in her
society that she lived in. We, the readers are often the object of her ridicule,
and Austen makes the readers view themselves in a way which makes it easy for
the reader to laugh at themselves. She introduces caricatures and character
foils to further show how ridiculous a character may be. Pride and Prejudice
has many character foils to exaggerate a characters faults or traits.Austen
also uses irony quite often to inform the readers on her own personal opinions.
The comic techniques caricatures, irony, and satire, not only helped to provide
humor for Austen’s readers, but they also helped Austen to give her own personal
opinion on public matters.
When an action is exaggerated on stage by an actor, it becomes all the
more noticeable to the audience. An author can exaggerate a character in order
to make fun of them. Austen exaggerates many of her characters and therefore
makes caricatures of them in order to emphasize their ridiculousness. Mrs.
Bennet is such a character. Her extremely unpleasant manner and reactions
causes readers to delight in the situations which Mrs. Bennet places herself
into. Mrs. Bennet’s harsh tongue and simple mind causes the reader to laugh,
because it is so exaggerated that the reader thinks that such a person cannot
exist. Mr. Collins is another exaggerated character in the novel. But would
such characters seem humorous without somebody to react to them? Not at all.
Such exaggeration works only when you place them besides another character who
seems very real. Mrs. Bennet is placed besides her husband to make her look
all the more ridiculous and Mr. Collins, when placed especially by Elizabeth,
seems to be unbelievable at times. His proposal to Elizabeth would not be as
humorous without Eliza’s reaction and response to him. Therefore, caricature,
the exaggeration of character is an essential tool to Austen as means of
portraying irony in the novel.
Irony is an excellent way for authors to combine wit and drama at the
same time. It works well in many parts of Pride and Prejudice. Irony can be
found in the gradual revelation of Darcy and Elizabeth’s feelings for each other.
It provides humor for the readers, yet at the same time, it revolves around the
basic plot of the story. It is a great balance between ironic dialogue and
movement towards the scenes in the climax of the novel, when the relationship is
developed. Another great example of her ironic wit can be found in the first
chapter of the novel, when Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet discuss the new tenant of
Netherfield Park, Mr. Bingley. Every sentence of that conversation can come
back to the opening line of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged,
that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
(p.1) Now for this sentence, Mrs. Bennet begins by giving one definition of
‘universally’, while Mr. Bennet gives another.
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune of four
or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? how can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You
must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design! nonsense, how can you talk so!” (p.2)
Mr.Bennet’s conversation is quite ironic and very satirical, because of
his extreme politeness and playful innocence, which in result, upset Mrs. Bennet.
That provides humor for the reader as a result of her dramatic character. Mrs.
Bennet’s character is not ironic in the least, but it is the blending of both
characters that bring about the irony. Such foils points out to the readers the
ridiculousness of human nature.
Pride in Prejudice is also very rich in satire. Satire, in it’s
simplest form, is a “wit, irony, or sarcasm, used for the purpose of exposing or
discrediting vice or folly”. Satire is commonly used for many reasons,
including ridiculing public opinion. Austen disapproves of the way that public
opinion always considers itself to be above all other opinions. She
demonstrates the arrogance of public opinion in the matter with Darcy and the
ball. Darcy “drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome
features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within
five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The
gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared that
he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley.”(p.7) The reasons which cause the
ladies to consider him much handsomer than Mr. Bingley is because his income is
much more handsome as well. Public opinion considers Darcy to be a great man,
simply on account of his large income. However, once public opinion hears of
Darcy’s pride and supposed arrogance, it immediately states that it knew Mr.
Darcy was a horrible man, and that it always assumed so. Elizabeth, throughout
the majority of the novel, follows public opinion on the view of Darcy. She’s
simply a sheep, following the rest of the herd. Austen demonstrates that public
opinion is so quick to change minds that it often develops an opinion without
informing itself of all the details or facts. This becomes, to the readers,
something to laugh at, although most readers do follow public opinion, one way
The great display caricatures, character foils, irony, and satire of
provides humor for Austen’s readers. Many of the characters that Austen writes
about are often subjects of ridicule. The characters and situations that Austen
enjoys satirizing were real for her in her time as well. However, the ultimate
irony falls on us, Austen’s readers, who laugh at Austen’s characters. We are
the characters in the novel to Jane Austen. We recognize ourselves in the
characters that Austen enjoys criticizing. It’s that recognization of ourselves
that we laugh at and what we find amusing is the fact that Austen makes us view
ourselves this way. We laugh at our own faults.