What forms of humor does Jane Austen use in the novel Pride and Prejudice?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pride and Prejudice was not well-received in some circles when it was first published as Jane Austen did not meet the standard of 'literature'

as an idealized higher reality.

Whilst her novel was considered to be entertaining and witty, the realism of the inept characters she portrayed reduced the novel's effect as literature is supposed to be uplifting not purely entertaining.  

The sarcasm in Pride and Prejudice is evident from the beginning, the opening line comments 

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

Irony is widely used and Reuben A Brower commented

The triumph of the novel—whatever its limitations may be—lies in combining such poetry of wit,...with the dramatic structure of fiction.

He even compared her to Alexander Pope

without couplets...

The characters, especially Lizzy and her father are good examples of the use of irony and satire. Lizzy, with her 

lively, playful disposition, which delights in anything ridiculous,

and Mr. Bennet concluding that one of the purposes of life is to provide 

sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn

Mr. Bennet intends to invite Collins to visit and hopes that his absurdity will be entertainiing.

Lizzy subtly taunts Lady Catherine by flouting her expectation of deference.

Further use of Irony is apparent when Lizzy, refusing to dance with Darcy, tells Sir William that

Mr. Darcy is all politeness,

Mr. Bennet says (as a joke),

I admire all my three sons-in-law,...Wickham perhaps is my favorite.

Jane Austen used irony purposefully in  Pride and Prejudice, a novel so wrapped up in the ironies of the day and the need to marry well, thereby resolving the main issues surrounding the marriage plot andbecause it is able to acknowledge

a multiplicity of perspectives simultaneously.

The eNotes study guide will help you understand the styles used and navigate to the 'Essays and criticism' section where you will find references to the humor, amongst other helpful information.  

Read the study guide:
Pride and Prejudice

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