Introduction: Jane Austen’s 1796-1797 written novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a fine example of her literary art. Through this novel, Jane Austen has magnificently presented a lively picture of contemporary society. The novel is not only a portrait of men and manners of her time’s society but in this novel, Jane Austen has skillfully used a literary device which is called irony.
In this essay, there will be a discussion on the use of irony in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but, first of all, it will be better to know
What is irony?
In short and simple words ‘something that indicates how a person, statement, and circumstance/ situation is not as it appears.’
One example from the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ will make the above-provided definition of irony crystal clear and this is in the opening lines of the novel which is given below:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
This sentence of Jane Austen is an excellent example of irony. On the surface level, it seems that a person who is unmarried and rich as well will feel the lack of a wife. But, at a deeper level, when we study the novel, we find that it is a woman who is following the rich man in order to marry him. So the sentence shows a clear contrast of appearance, that is why here is the use of irony.
Treatment of irony in ‘Pride and Prejudice’
From the beginning to the end, there are innumerable examples of this literary device in the novel. It will not be possible to discuss all of them. Some of them are discussed below in short:
The irony in the main plot
The main plot of the novel is centred around Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The story starts in such a manner that both Elizabeth and Darcy don’t like one another. At the Meryton ball when Mr Bingley says to his close friend Darcy that he should dance with Elizabeth. Mr Darcy refuses to dance with Elizabeth by saying that she is not so beautiful or attractive that he can dance with her.
Elizabeth overhears this insulting remark of Darcy and about herself and forms a bad opinion about him. Her dislike for Darcy increases more and more with the passage of time because she considers him a proud and haughty sort of person.
But the early opinion of Darcy about Elizabeth changes and he is attracted by her beauty and charm as time goes on. Though, he is attracted to her, since she is far below in social status in comparison to Darcy that’s why there is no idea of marrying Elizabeth in the mind of Darcy.
So in the early part of the novel we see that these two characters don’t like each other and there are so many misunderstandings between the two. But at last, all problems are solved and Darcy and Elizabeth feel that they are made for each other. Both of them are married finally. So the main plot of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a case of ironic reversal.
The irony in the case of Wickham and Lady Catherine de Bourgh
George Wickham is the man who spares no chance to defame Darcy. He gives wrong information to Elizabeth about Darcy in order to prove him (Darcy) a mean and disrespectful person in the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet.He(Wickham) is the real enemy of Darcy. Both of them try to avoid meeting with each other (neither Wickham wants to meet Darcy nor Darcy wants to meet Wickham).
It is Whickham who almost got success in winning the trust Ms Bennet and there were chances of his winning Elizabeth’s heart, but he elopes with Lydia, and Darcy’s letter (to Elizabeth) reveals the true character of Wickham, and her affection and sympathy for him(Whickham) changes into hatred.
The person whom both Darcy; and, now Elizabeth as well hate, becomes the cause of bringing close to each other. When Whickham elopes with Lydia, it is Darcy who settles all matters and brings the marriage of the two runaways. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s services to the Bennet family move emotionally Elizabeth much closer to him.
The irony here is that Wickham who was one of the main causes of separation between Elizabeth and Darcy becomes the only source by which Elizabeth is attracted to Darcy.
The same type’s example of irony can be observed in the case of Lady Catherine de Bourgh who warns Elizabeth Bennet not to marry Fitzwilliam Darcy. She tries her best to prevent the marriage between Darcy and Ms. Bennet, but finally, she proves instrumental in bringing them close to each other and hastening their wedlock.
Unconscious Irony in Darcy’s pressuring Bingley not to marry Jane
When a reader studies the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ he finds that at the very beginning of the novel, in their first meeting, both Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet are attracted to each other and start to love.
Both of them are interested in marrying as well. But it is Darcy who requests Bingley that he shouldn’t marry Jane because Jane Bennet does not love him(Bingley) as much as he loves her. After all, Bingley gives up his idea of proposing Jane Bennet to marriage. But after some time Darcy’s views change.
He withdraws the pressure which he had been exerting upon Charles Bingley. Consequently, Charles Bingley proposed the older daughter of Mr and Mrs Bennet (Jane Bennet) and she accepts the proposal happily. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s intense opposition in Charles Bingley’s love affair and affair Jane is a fine example of ironic reversal.
Treatment of irony in the marriage of William Collins
In the views of Elizabeth Bennet William Collins, the clergyman, is an oddity, an ignorable person. When Mr. Collins proposes Elizabeth for marriage, she at once rejects his proposal. According to her, no decent girl would agree to marry William Collins because he is a pompous, conceited, and silly man.
That is why Elizabeth shows no respect for Collins. The irony comes when Elizabeth’s own friend Charlotte Lucas falls in her (Elizabeth Bennet) esteem because she (Charlotte) agrees to marry William Collins. It is due to the same Collins that Elizabeth gets an opportunity to visit Hunsford to meet her friend Charlotte Lucas where Mr.
Collins lives and Charlotte has been settled as his wife. At Hunsford Elizabeth once again meets Fitzwilliam Darcy who proposes him for marriage and she rejects her proposal. It is also to be noted that at the Hunsford Elizabeth receives a letter from Darcy in which he tries to remove misunderstandings that are in the mind of her about him(Darcy). Elizabeth’s reading the letter Darcy is a turning point in her attitude to him.
After reading his letter, she finds a soft corner in her heart for Darcy and her Prejudices against him also starts finishing. In this way, William Collins who was a man of no importance near Elizabeth brings Elizabeth and Darcy a little close to each other unknowingly and unconsciously. Collins, though, unconsciously bringing the two lovers close to each other, which was not expected from him, is one more heart touching example of irony.
Lydia’s intimacy with militia officers and irony
Lydia Bennet is the silly girl of the Bennet family. She always used to meet with militia officers in Meryton and used to flirt with them. Lydia was getting spoilt by her mixing with the officers indiscriminately and unhesitantly.
It was expected that the shifting of militia regiment to a site near Brighton from a site near the town of Meryton will restrict her meeting its officers. But the reverse of expectations happen. In Brighton, she becomes more intimate with one of the officers of the regiment named George Whickham. Lydia’s intimacy with Whickham results in her elopement with him.
In this way, she brings disgrace to the Bennet family. Here what was expected, happens just the opposite of it. Therefore, one more case of Irony.
The irony in the remarks of leading characters
In the beginning of the novel, Fitzwilliam Darcy says that Elizabeth “is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me” to dance with her. In this remark of Darcy, there is concealed irony, and even Darcy is not conscious of this ironic statement. After very few days of making this remark, Darcy is Bewitched by Elizabeth’s beauty and charm. He is not only ready to dance with her but proposes her for marriage as well.
There is irony in Elizabeth’s remarks when:
(a):.She tells William Collins that she would never refuse the first proposal of marriage and then accept a second proposal from the same person. But the study of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ reveals that Elizabeth does exactly the opposite of what he says not to do.
(b): She says that Fitzwilliam Darcy has no defects at all.
A brilliant example of the ironical remark can be seen in the comment of Mr Bennet when he says that George Whickham is the best of his sons – in – law.