What literary devices does Jane Austin use in the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the first chapter of this novel of manners, "Pride and Prejudice," Jane Austen employs satire and irony. In fact, the opening line is ironic:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife

This verbal irony is carried out through the character of Mr. Bennett who banters with his wife as she excitedly informs her husband that a "single man of large fortune is to move into town by the end of next week":

"What a fine thing for our girls!" she exclaims.

Mr. Bennett wrily asks, "How so? how can it affect them?"  and Mrs. Bennett feels she must patronize him:

"My dear Mr. Bennet...how can you be so tiresome!  You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

Mr. Bennet teases his wife, telling her to go with the girls on a visit to Mr. Bingley as he "might like you the best at the party."  And, in his best lines of the chapter, Bennet replies most ironically to his wife's accusations about his "delight" in vexing her:

You mistake me, my dear.  I have a high respect for your nerves.  They are my old friends.  I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.

In this first chapter, Austen satirizes the character of Mrs. Bennet, the shallow, silly mother who would design the marriages of her daughters to prosperous men as was customary in the late 18th and early 19th century.  It is not her character, as Austen states, for her to understand a man such as Mr. Bennet. (Later this woman will try to marry her daughter Lizzy to Mr. Collins, a relative who will inherit the family's estate as he is the only male.  The fact that he is a buffoon matters not.)

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