Irony, which is when words or situations turn out the opposite of what is expected, permeates Pride and Prejudice.
The first sentence of the novel is frequently cited as the textbook example of verbal irony:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
What this really means is the opposite of what it says: that women universally wish to marry a man with money. This opening sentence sets the tone for the rest of this novel. In fact, the verbal irony of the first sentence is itself wittily and ironically upset by situational irony when Elizabeth Bennet turns down the wealthy Mr. Darcy's offer of marriage, blowing up at him in rage at his arrogant way of proposing to her and telling him he is the last man she would ever marry.
Other ironies include Elizabeth's blindness to the fact that Charlotte wants to marry the man Elizabeth rejected, Mr. Collins, and the fact that Charlotte makes a decent marriage out of it, which Elizabeth had thought impossible. It is ironic, too, that Mr. Darcy at first insults Elizabeth as a woman not pretty enough to tempt him to dance, then ends up falling in love with her.
Austen, an admirer of the wit of Samuel Johnson, wrote the first draft of this novel in the late 1790s. Eighteenth-century witticisms, based on the juxtaposition of opposites, remain in the revised version. One example is Mr. Bennet's response to Mr. Collins's proposal to Elizabeth:
An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.
Through witty utterances and ironic plot twists, Austen keeps us entertained in this novel that makes comedy out of the serious subject of the marriage market.