Irony and Humour in Pride and Prejudice

Also Read

      Like Elizabeth, Jane Austen had a lively! playful disposition, delighting in anything ridiculous. Mr. Bennet’s statement: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” also partially express her approach. And again Elizabeth’s words: ‘I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good, rollies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can’, state her point of view.

      All our laughter at her victims whom she ridicules in her book has one common quality — we have no complaint, no ill-will, no scorn for them. It is an experience of amusement and harmless laughter; we feel sympathy for the poor persons who become the butt of her ridicule. She also makes the use of irony — irony in word, or the irony of situation, — which exposes human foibles, but this irony also has no bitter taste.

      ‘The witty exposition of foolish and disagreeable people’ is the special merit of this book. The first of these that we meet is Mrs. Bennet. Her absolute lack of intelligence, her obvious tricks, her repeated reference to her nerves, her shallow, unkind remarks about the neighbours’ daughters, her partiality for Lydia and displeasure about Elizabeth, her silliness verging on idiocy — all are very well brought out. Sir William Lucas with his vanity about having been presented at the court comes next. The king of fools in this novel, however, is Mr. Collins, the priggish clergyman; His letter to Mr. Bennet and his interview with him, his proposal to Elizabeth and his servile behaviour towards Lady Catherine, his continual curtsying and apologies — and finally his letter to Mr. Bennet after Lydia’s elopement — all make him an immortal fool. Jane Bennet has her witty shafts cast at Mary Bennet also — the moralising, pedantic girl who prefers books to any other amusement, and bores and surprises people by her moral extractions. Lydia also shows herself a fool with great potentiality for arousing laughter by her shallow superficiality and animal spirits. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is another comic character. At Rosings and in her encounter with Elizabeth we see her dictatorial insolence meeting a match with the self-respecting Elizabeth. In the first bout at Rosings, Elizabeth trifles with her; in the second at Longbourn Elizabeth turns the tables entirely on her and defeats her miserably. All these characters go to make what is comic in the novel, but none of them arouses our anger or severe complaint.

      The use of irony is also cleverly made. In a situation pregnant with irony, the speaker makes claims or passes remarks about his intellectual height, moral excellence or mental stability, but himself exhibits the lack of them through the same words without knowing it. This is very cleverly done in the case of the hero and the heroine in particular.

      In Chapter XI (A Losing Game) Darcy says that it has been the study of his life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule. Elizabeth mentions vanity and pride as examples: and Darcy justifies pride where there is a real superiority of mind, because it will always be under good regulation. It is his unregulated pride that is really his bane, and only when it is softened he deserves Elizabeth’s hand.

      In Chapter XVIII, Elizabeth asks Darcy whether he is really very cautious as to his resentment being created — and whether he never allows himself to be blinded by prejudice. She remarks, ‘It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.’ Yet, funnily enough, it is Elizabeth alone who needs the advice about not being blinded by prejudice.

      Mr. Collins’s claim to her in the same chapter that he considers himself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like herself is among others, another example of this ambiguity. But whether it is her humour or her irony, it is humanising, sympathetic, amusing, never biting or bitter.

Previous Post Next Post