Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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In chapter 8 of Pride and Prejudice, why is Caroline Bingley's passage about Elizabeth Bennet so dramatically ironic?

"Elizabeth Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, "is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex, by undervaluing their own; and with many men I dare say it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art."

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This hilarious speech comes after Lizzie's debate with Miss Caroline Bingley about what makes an "accomplished woman." Let us just remember the definition of dramatic irony. It is a form of irony when a character or characters remain ignorant about something that is perfectly evident to other characters and...

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This hilarious speech comes after Lizzie's debate with Miss Caroline Bingley about what makes an "accomplished woman." Let us just remember the definition of dramatic irony. It is a form of irony when a character or characters remain ignorant about something that is perfectly evident to other characters and the audience. Here, what is so amusing about Caroline's speech, is that she, by falsely attempting to show how Lizzie Bennet tries to make herself look good to Mr. Darcy by criticizing other women, actually shows how this criticism is far more relevant to her own character than it ever would be to Lizzie Bennet's character. By condemning such behaviour as "a paltry device, a very mean art," she is ironically condemning her own attempt to prejudice Elizabeth Bennet in front of Mr. Darcy.

What adds humour to this dramatic irony is Mr. Darcy's response, which shows he is not blind to the dramatic irony of Caroline Bingley's attempt to damage the reputation of Elizabeth Bennet:

"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, "there is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."

Clearly, this response shows that Mr. Darcy is very aware of what Caroline Bingley is trying to do, and is not impressed, although Caroline Bingley remains blind to the dramatic irony of this situation.

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Caroline Bingley's passage about Elizabeth Bennet is dramatically ironic because the woman that Caroline described is the exact opposite of what Elizabeth Bennet is really like.

Caroline basically said that Elizabeth is a woman who does anything to be accepted by a man, including placing men on a pedestal while making herself less important. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Elizabeth was quite an independent thinker, very much ahead of the women of her time, and was willing to remain single until the day that she finds a man that she will love forever. Contrastingly, it was Caroline who would continuously suggest herself to Darcy and often pestered him by pretending to be overly interested in every single thing he did. She was the one who put Darcy on a pedestal while making herself quite impertinent.

In any case, Caroline actually described herself when she was trying to bring about an insulting description of Elizabeth. It is clear that she did it out of the ignorance that she had about her own gender, and out of the anger of knowing that Darcy may find Elizabeth more interesting than herself.

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