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 its character descriptions, imagery, but mostly in its 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 that 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 have many character foils to exaggerate a character’s faults or traits. Austen also uses irony quite often to inform the readers of 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 cause readers to delight in the situations in which Mrs. Bennet places herself into. Mrs. Bennet’s harsh tongue and simple mind cause 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 beside another character who seems very real. Mrs. Bennet is placed beside 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. The 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 is a 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 foil points out to the readers the ridiculousness of human nature. Pride in Prejudice is also very rich in satire. Satire, in its 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 more handsome than Mr. Bingley.”(p.7)
The reason which causes the ladies to consider him much more handsome than Mr. Bingley is that 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 or another. The great display caricatures, character foils, irony, and satire provide 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 Jane Austen. We recognize ourselves in the characters that Austen enjoys criticizing. It’s that reorganization 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.