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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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 “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This is one of the most famous lines in literature and the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice. Is it an effective opening line in your opinion? You should consider not only its meaning, but also the point of view (third person objective or third person indirect—i.e. from a particular character’s point of view), the context (read the passage that follows) and the tone. In other words, do a very close reading of the first two paragraphs of novel and unpack as much meaning as you can.  

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Your instructor seems to be asking whether you consider this an effective opening. Obviously, only you can decide whether you found it effective and whether it tempted you to continue reading the book. 

As you analyze this opening line and the first two paragraphs of the novel, you should think...

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Your instructor seems to be asking whether you consider this an effective opening. Obviously, only you can decide whether you found it effective and whether it tempted you to continue reading the book. 

As you analyze this opening line and the first two paragraphs of the novel, you should think about the intellectual context of the Enlightenment. In this period, philosophers tended to seek universal truths ascertainable by reason. Whether in religion or science or politics, Enlightenment thinkers were optimistic about their ability to discover universal truths and find solutions to social and intellectual problems by processes of rational thought, following the great example of the discovery of universal laws of motion by Newton. 

While Austen in this and the following lines is satirizing the way the village was treating a man's interest in marrying as a universal law on the order of gravitation, she is making an important point that from the viewpoint of the villagers, social conventions were treated almost as immutable laws; we see this viewpoint in Mrs. Bennett's attempts to persuade her husband to call on Bingley

The third person omniscient narrator in these paragraphs is capable of seeing into the minds of both the village as a collective and of the individuals in it. The first sentences move syllogistically, with the first line acting as a major premise, the entrance of a single man into the neighborhood as a minor premise, and the though that this man might be a potential husband for one of the Bennett daughters as a conclusion. 

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