.. of their actions may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.” (p. 42). This statement could be seen as derogatory of Elizabeth, but if viewed from Darcy’s point of view it can as well be his honest opinion that one should not make fun of and take lightly everything that goes on in life. It does not necessarily have to be a personal attack, which Elizabeth perceives it to be.
Because Elizabeth’s attitude towards Darcy is so much prejudiced in the first part of the book, one is inclined to see allusions and implications in everything they both say. This general mood of suspicion makes the reader of course much more alert and ready to discover ironies in the conversations, sometimes even when they might not be intended. Elizabeth is an ironic character in different ways as well. She is very aware of the things that are going on around her, which is probably a reason for her sarcasm and irony. She sees the flaws in people, including herself, and understands the nuances of situations and peoples’ behaviors very acutely.
She is, for example, quite aware of the inappropriateness of her mother’s behavior, or her younger sister’s. It can be imagined that this awareness makes her turn to sarcasm and irony, in order to handle the embarrassing situations created by their behavior without hurting the feelings of her family, or breaking the rules of conduct. She also tries to condemn her sister Lydia’ s behavior, to make her aware of the inappropriateness. Her comment, for instance, on Lydia’s recommendation of how to get a husband and her promise to get husbands for all her sisters: ” I thank you for my share of the favour, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.” (p. 228) is an example of this. Thanking Lydia is of course very ironic.
However, this biting irony is too subtle and is wasted on a person like Lydia, who is simply too absorbed in her own life, her desires and her wishes to be affected by it. Elizabeth also uses irony as an indirect means of showing people like Wickham what she thinks of them. For other people, her remarks might sound normal, but since he knows what she is alluding to they convey an additional meaning. In order to conceal her opinion from others, who might be provoked or hurt if she spoke her mind openly, she uses allusions and ironies to let Wickham know what she knows and what she thinks about him. She says for example: ” ..and, she was afraid, (that you) had- not turned out well.
At such distance as that, you know, things are strangely misrepresented.” (p. 236). Wickham concludes from this rhetoric that Elizabeth sees through him and knows his real character. With allusions and ironies like this she succeeds at least in making him completely uneasy around her. Elizabeth’s use of irony not only shows her own perception of the world around her, but also is used in order to bring about changes. This is the main difference between her and another very ironic character of the novel – her father, Mr. Bennet.
Her father is also aware of the follies around him. He is not blind to how much his wife and younger daughters compromise themselves in company. But instead of trying to raise their awareness of it, as Elizabeth tries every now and then, he has given up on that intention. He has resigned to their dispositions and takes to observing their follies as a kind of sport. He seems to enjoy seeing people ridicule themselves in front of others.
This is seen very well in a conversation between Elizabeth and her father about the letter Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s cousin, had sent to the former. Elizabeth questions whether Mr. Collins can be a very sensible man. Her father’s reply is: “No, my dear, I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse.”(p.
48). It is also said at another place that his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, [..].” (p. 51). This shows clearly that Mr. Bennet enjoys observing people’s oddities and follies, and amuses himself by looking at them in an ironic or even cynical way.
I think that this attitude is almost close to condescension, but he is too good-humored a person to think in that way. He seems to enjoy observing absurd behavior so much that thrives on people like Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet is certainly ironic about people and their behavior, but his irony has an almost bitter undertone. One of his statements shows this when he says about his neighbors, who are friends of his family, “..some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases.” (p.
261). It becomes apparent, that he does not approve of the spreading gossip about his family. He shows this by opposing the character description of the Lucases as “good-natured” and “gossiping”, which is of course a negatively loaded word. He is quite scornful about their behavior, and expresses his feelings covertly instead of speaking his mind frankly. It is when Lydia elopes with Wickham, that he loses his calm ironic mood.
He admits to Elizabeth that she was right when she warned him not to be too liberal with his daughters, and that he had been too careless in their upbringing. He says: ” Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.” (p. 215). For a moment he loses his ironic mask and admits his own faults. But he knows himself well enough to also add, ” No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame.
[..] It will pass away soon enough.” (p. 215). At that point it becomes obvious that he usually guards himself with sarcasm simply to tolerate the behavior and the foolishness around him. Only by being cynical, can he survive in this household of silly and nerve-wrecking women like his wife and his two youngest daughters. His fault, however, is that he never realized that by allowing himself to simply be amused by people’s behavior, he has indirectly encouraged and reinforced their behavior. Nevertheless, Mr.
Bennet recovers soon from his moments of revelation and remorse and goes on with his usual way of life. He even finds his humor again, so much as to write a letter to Mr. Collins, when it is resolved that Elizabeth will marry Mr. Darcy. He writes: ” I must trouble you once more for congratulations.” (p. 277).
This is clearly ironic, because congratulations for the marriage of Wickham and Lydia must have been perceived as sheer mockery, or as congratulations for having reduced the embarrassment as much as possible by legitimating their relationship. His comparison of this marriage with Elizabeth’s pleasant marriage is his cynical way of looking at the world. These are only a few examples of how Austen uses irony in Pride and Prejudice. There is much more to say about this topic: this serves only as a brief discussion. Bibliography Austen, Jane.
Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library Edition, Random House Inc., 1995.