Jane Austen Questions and Answers

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Comment on the irony and satire of Jane Austen.

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Austen is famous for her use of irony and satire. Irony comes in several forms: When people say the opposite of what they mean, this is verbal irony. When situations turn out to be the opposite of what is expected, this is situational irony.

Satire is poking fun at or mocking an individual's personal vices or the vices of a society.

It is too much to discuss the irony and satire in all of Austen's novels, so I will focus on Pride and Prejudice, her most famous. Situational irony occurs as the proud Mr. Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth Bennet, the woman he initially scorned and would not dance with. How ironic to fall in love with the one you despised! Ironies pile on ironies as the lowly Lizzie refuses the great Darcy's offer of marriage.

Elizabeth, too, has to come to terms with her own prejudices. Ironically, Charlotte's marriage to Mr. Collins, which Elizabeth thinks will be a disaster, works out because of Charlotte's careful management of her inept husband. Ironically, Elizabeth learns that it is Wickham, not Darcy, who is the villain.

As for verbal irony, the first sentence of the novel is often used as a classic example of irony. In it, the Bennets and their neighbors (through the narrator's voice) decide that a man with a fortune must be in want of a wife. In fact, this means the opposite: it is the villagers who want a wealthy husband for their daughters.

As for satire, Pride and Prejudice pokes fun at (and sharply criticizes) a marriage market that makes young women and their mothers desperate to grab husbands as their only way to economic security.

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