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Home » , » "Irony is the soul of Jane Austen's comedy." Substantiate from the study of Pride and Prejudice?
Prof. Chevalier, writing on Anatole France, remarks that "the basic feature of every Irony is a contrast between a reality and an appearance'. There may be verbal irony or rhetorical or narrative irony ----- the contrast between the apparent, the surface meaning of a statement and its real intended meaning. There maybe situational irony----the contrast between the expectation and the fulfilment in a particular situation, or there may be irony of character: ----- the contrast between the appearance and the reality of a particular character. Irony is the very soul of Jane Austen's novels and Pride and Prejudice is steeped in irony of theme, situation, character and narration.

As one examines Pride and Prejudice one is struck with the fact of the irony significance that pride leads to prejudice and prejudice invites pride and both have there corresponding virtues bound up within them. Elizabeth tells Bingley that intricate characters are the most amusing. But as Andrew Wright points out " on the ironic level Pride and Prejudice concerns itself with intricacy and simplicity as those terms apply to personality. Each has its virtues and each its defects, they are contradictory and the supreme irony is that intricacy, which is much deeper, carries with it grave dangers unknown to simplicity ". This type of thematic irony runs through all of Jane Austen's novels.

Irony of Situation:

In Pride and Prejudice there is much irony of situation too, which provides a twist to the story. Mr. Darcy remarks about Elizabeth that " she is not handsome enough to tempt me.....". We relish the ironic flavour of this statement much later when we reflect, in retrospect, that the woman who was not handsome enough to dance with was really good enough to marry. He removes Bingley from Netherfield because he considers it imprudent to forge a marriage alliance with the Bennet family, but himself ends up marrying the second Bennet sister. Collins proposes to Elizabeth when her heart is full of Wickham and Darcy proposes to her exactly at the moment when she hates him most. Elizabeth tells Mr. Collins that she is not the type to reject the first proposal and accept the second but does exactly this when Darcy proposes a second time. The departure of the militia from Meryton was expected to put an end to Lydia's flirtations, it brings about her elopement. The Lydia-Wickham episode may seem like an insurmountable barrier between Elizabeth and Darcy, but is actually instrumental in bringing them together. Lady Catherine, attempting to prevent their marriage only succeeds in hastening it.

Irony of Character:

Irony of character is even more prominent than irony of situation. It is ironical that Elizabeth who prides herself on her perception is quite blinded by her own prejudices and errs badly in judging intricate characters. Wickham appears suave and charming but is ironically an unprincipled rogue. Darcy appears proud and haughty but ironically proves to be a true gentleman when he gets Wickham to marry Lydia by paying him. The Bingley sisters hate the Bennets for their vulgarity but are themselves vulgar in their behaviour. Darcy is also critical of the ill-bred Bennet family but ironically his aunt Lady Catherine is equally vulgar and ill-bred. Thus, the novel abounds in irony of situations. The narrative of Pride and Prejudice too has an ironic tone which contributes much verbal irony. Jane Austen's ironic tone is established in the very first sentence 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'. As Dotothy Van Ghent remarks, what we read in it is its opposite-----a single woman must be in want-----of a man with a good fortune. There is much verbal irony in the witty utterances of Mr. Bennet. He tells Elizabeth "Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow and would jilt you creditably ....." In the words 'pleasant fellow' is hidden a dramatic irony at the expense if Mr. Bennet, for Wickham is destined to make a considerable dent in Mr. Bennet's complacency. Another instance of such verbal irony is when Mr. Bennet, after Lydia's marriage, feels that he should have made a provision for his daughters so that "the satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young man in Great Britain, to be her husband might have rested in its proper place".

Irony Devoid of Cynicism: 

Jane Austen did not show any cynicism or bitterness in using her irony to draw satirical portraits of whims and follies. Rather her irony can be termed comic. It does not carry with it a desire on her part to reform them. It is a gesture that is part humorous, part despairing. It implies on her side an acknowledgement of what is wrong with people and society and an acceptance of this as something one has to bear with and therefore might as well smile at. It is interesting to note that ironically, in Pride and Prejudice it is the villainous characters Wickham and Lady Catherine -----who are responsible for uniting Elizabeth and Darcy.

Irony as an Instrument of Moral Vision:

Since an ironist has to be a detached observer of life, Leonie Villard and Marvin Mudrick conclude that Jane Austen is merely an amused and attentive spectator and she does not seek to interpret life, and does not have any moral vision. However Jane Austen is detached, not removed, disengaged but not disinterested. She uses irony to shake her major figures of their self-deception and to expose the hypocrisy and pretentiousness, absurdity and insanity of some of her minor figures. It is definitely possible to deduce from her works a scheme of moral values. Andrew H. Wright rightly points out that irony in her hands is 'the instrument of a moral vision'.


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