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Explain the first line of Pride and Prejudice that starts, "It is a truth universally...

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nicorobin | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 25, 2009 at 9:03 PM via web

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Explain the first line of Pride and Prejudice that starts, "It is a truth universally acknowledged..."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 25, 2009 at 9:16 PM (Answer #1)

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The opening line of the work indicates how Austen is going to assemble the idea of social conventions having a role in how individuals are "supposed" to act.  Such a line indicates the idea that a single man is going to marry.  This social expectation is placed upon women in that their function is "supposed" to compete for such a man's affection.  The fact that Austen uses the words "universally" and "truth" to describe such a condition indicates that social conventions are something that are meant to be upheld under all circumstances, such as universal truths are to be upheld in all circumstances.  I believe Austen uses this line to open her novel which will question socially dictated notions of the good, stratification within a social order, and question the merit of such a body that tells men and women what to do ("universally acknowledged truth") as opposed to allowing them what they wish to do.  As you read the book, it will be interesting for you to compare this line to the situations that you will encounter and test its validity.  In doing so, I think you will see why Austen begins with such a notion.

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sensush23 | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 3, 2011 at 1:28 AM (Answer #3)

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The first line of “Pride and Prejudice” is a brilliant satire, that sets the mood of the novel and is kind of a prelude hinting to the tone and style of the narrative mode Jane Austen is going to adopt. It has the pompous tone of a Johnsonian essayist, remarking on such universal truths or knowledge that are often quoted but rarely ratified by general following. As in here, “acknowledged” truth is not that wealthy single men are intent on marriage, but rather, as will be borne out by the story too, that the young spinsters and their mothers are intent on assuming the marriage motives of such young men.

As a satirical statement this leads on to several doubts in the mind of the reader about the notoriety and contrariness of the sentence. Gradually, the plot discloses that this is far from the case in the neighborhood of Meryton, particularly, with Mrs. Bennet who exuberantly impresses on her children and suitors alike, that a ‘not so rich girl’ must bear successfully upon such “single men” the necessity of getting into the matrimonial contract. So, in actuality it is less the ‘want’ of a man of fortune and more the ‘want’ of a girl, with no dowry. The irony extends further hinting that the Mrs. Bennets of Meryton and such small towns, may be well aware and pretending to ‘acknowledge’ this want of the rich men, and thus conniving only to hide the reality that women may be mere commodity and not otherwise, as hinted in the opening statement.

The opening sentence sounds like a proverb or a saying, Similar moralistic sayings are uttered later also in the novel, by Mary when her sister Lydia elopes with Wickham- such as “her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful”. But the story later proves even such didactic exclamations wrong as Lydia and Wickham come off quite nicely in the end. This humorous epigrammatic opening sentence is also a critical retort of Jane Austen to the ‘epigrammatic’ abstract and philosophical writings as compared to simple and joyful writings by women on life and mundane living.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 26, 2009 at 2:11 AM (Answer #2)

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Certainly, there is a facetious tone to this line, underscored by the humorous character of Mrs. Bennet whose life's goal is to procure suitable husbands for her daughters as evidenced in the subsequent somewhat satiric lines:

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

With the introduction of Mr. Darby to the young ladies of  society, he, with his aristocratic arrogance pride) and his belief in the superiority of the landed gentry (prejudice) along with Elizabeth Bennet and her proud trusting of her own observations (pride) and her hasty assessments of people (prejudice) are the instruments of Austen's novel of manners that questions social dictations, the cogent point of the editor above.

That the novel revolves around the attitudes and reasons for  marriage is obviously foreshadowed by this first sentence of Austen's novel, "Pride and Prejudice."

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aliyaasadali | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted January 4, 2012 at 2:59 PM (Answer #4)

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Jane austens novel pride and prejudice ofthe 18th centuary depicts the era in which it was composed .the opening lines of the novel reveal much of the necessities of that time revealing themes like love and marriage which we see throughout the novel.in the 18th centuary women were confined to their homes and were not allowed to earn for themselves since the only way of earing was either by becoming a governess or by writing like jane austen did.the opening lines say that gentlemen always found it necessary to have wives in ordeer to gain 'a better fortune' where as the case here was that men of good fortune were chased by less financially stable women of their society as we seen in the case of Mrs Bennet. throught the use of irony austen has rediculed the social system of that time by mockingly showing  the extreme concern of women to be financially stable but infact they themselves do not klnow what a caricature they make of themselves

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julierunacres | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted July 26, 2009 at 7:00 PM (Answer #5)

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The opening sentence, while intriguing in itself, reveals further depths of meaning retrospectively. Its richness stems in large part from the teasing ambiguities of the narrative point of view. As we read that opening sentence, we assume that the point of view is that of the narrator, because of the seeming authority of that 'universally acknowledged [truth]'. However, we do not have to read far to see that this is not really the case. The idea of universal truth is immediately undercut by the opening of the second paragraph, which shows that the 'feelings or views' of the young man himself are  'little known'. The explanation is that this, far from being a universal truth, is merely an opinion 'fixed in the minds of the surrounding families'.

What we have, then, is at least two jostling narrative points of view: first one that appears authoritative, but is revealed to be the limited perspective of families with marriageable daughters, and then the assessment of a more objective observer. The effect of all this is to generate ironic and lightly humorous comment on the motivation of the families who found their ideas about truths on their ambitions for their own daughters.

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amimost | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:56 AM (Answer #6)

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the meaning intended in this sentence and gradually revealed by the action is just the opposite of the surface meaning, verbal irony. The fact is that quite a number of women would like to trape a single man in possession of a good fortune for a husband.

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darcys-tango | eNoter

Posted June 6, 2012 at 6:04 PM (Answer #7)

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Jane Austen, in her opening comment of the story, assumes the role of story-teller in the novel. This is something that in modern writing is sometimes classed as "author intrusion" and indeed frowned upon in certain circles. In the BBC series, as they are not a part of any character's dialogue, the words are said by Elizabeth, in a jocose way, to get the message over to viewers that the whole plot hinges on the pursuit of perspective partners of wealth and standing enough to make satisfactory marriages for single young women.  It isn't anything more than a light-hearted opening, although "many a true word is spoken in jest" seems also relevant in its message. In modern times, it may well have been tattooed on the breast of Mrs Bennet as her match-making aim for her daughters along with "Five thousand a year, my dear"...

In my opinion, ofcourse.

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pbidalia | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 16, 2012 at 9:27 AM (Answer #8)

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The above lines are quoted from the first chapter of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice.
They also form the opening statements of the narrative.
The lines draw attention towards the central place that marriage will have in the plot of the story.
From the very beginning the lines give us a glimpse of clever use of irony by Jane Austen towards the mothers, obsessed to get their daughters married off to a rich husband.
As we shall perceive the desperate attempts of Mrs.Bennet at trying to get one of her daughters married off to a nice, young and seemingly prosperous bachelor, who seems to have just arrived in their neighbourhood.
The real issue which is being dealt with in the novel is of the need of young ladies, in the late seventeenth  and early 18th centuries to find themselves husbands who could very well provide for them.
According to the entailment laws of those times, the property could only be transferred to a male heir, and hence the women were left to find suitors for themselves, preferably from a sound economic background.
The narrative critically depicts marriage as being a highly utilitarian and economic exercise. The marriages were, more often than not,  simple economic exercises, which were necessary for the survival of the women in those times.  As we can see that Charlotte Lucas marries Mr.Collins,  a most disagreeable fellow just because of the fact that he can provide for her economically. Also societal pressures put upon women come into play here.
Charlotte Lucas is depicted as an unmarried young lady of 27 years and honestly there could have been no better match for her than Mr.Collins.
We can very well say that this marriage was a marriage of convenience. It was convenient enough for Charlotte to marry Mr.Collins, despite knowing that he was highly pompous and insensible, but he was going to inherit the Longbourn estate and was well established clergymen, hence it was only sensible for Charlotte to agree to the marriage proposal.
Here one can also very well point out that the converse of the lines quoted above must also be true, that a single woman whose social options are quite limited must be in want of a husband.
In fact this is much more vividly described in the novel.
Instead of men trying to find themselves suitable brides, it's the women who are actually pursuing them.
Even if the man has no interest in finding himself a wife, it is very well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is very well the property of one or the other of their daughters.



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subah | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 25, 2010 at 4:17 PM (Answer #9)

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The first sentence of the novel is the keynote of novel and hold the theme in it.when we read the first part of the sentence we feel that the novel is going to deal with the universal reality but when we  put the eye on the remaining psart of the sentence we are astonshed that the second part of the novel has the matters of everyday life and its verbal irony.

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farah33 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 8, 2013 at 4:38 AM (Answer #10)

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Thanls Pbidalia! Your answer really helped :D

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farah33 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 8, 2013 at 4:43 AM (Answer #11)

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The above lines are quoted from the first chapter of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice.
They also form the opening statements of the narrative.
The lines draw attention towards the central place that marriage will have in the plot of the story.
From the very beginning the lines give us a glimpse of clever use of irony by Jane Austen towards the mothers, obsessed to get their daughters married off to a rich husband.
As we shall perceive the desperate attempts of Mrs.Bennet at trying to get one of her daughters married off to a nice, young and seemingly prosperous bachelor, who seems to have just arrived in their neighbourhood.
The real issue which is being dealt with in the novel is of the need of young ladies, in the late seventeenth  and early 18th centuries to find themselves husbands who could very well provide for them.
According to the entailment laws of those times, the property could only be transferred to a male heir, and hence the women were left to find suitors for themselves, preferably from a sound economic background.
The narrative critically depicts marriage as being a highly utilitarian and economic exercise. The marriages were, more often than not,  simple economic exercises, which were necessary for the survival of the women in those times.  As we can see that Charlotte Lucas marries Mr.Collins,  a most disagreeable fellow just because of the fact that he can provide for her economically. Also societal pressures put upon women come into play here.
Charlotte Lucas is depicted as an unmarried young lady of 27 years and honestly there could have been no better match for her than Mr.Collins.
We can very well say that this marriage was a marriage of convenience. It was convenient enough for Charlotte to marry Mr.Collins, despite knowing that he was highly pompous and insensible, but he was going to inherit the Longbourn estate and was well established clergymen, hence it was only sensible for Charlotte to agree to the marriage proposal.
Here one can also very well point out that the converse of the lines quoted above must also be true, that a single woman whose social options are quite limited must be in want of a husband.
In fact this is much more vividly described in the novel.
Instead of men trying to find themselves suitable brides, it's the women who are actually pursuing them.
Even if the man has no interest in finding himself a wife, it is very well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is very well the property of one or the other of their daughters.



Thanks for ur answer! Love it! :)

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