What words describe the mood in Pride and Prejudice, and what is a quote that shows this?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mood is the emotional feeling that the reader perceives when reading a work. Mood is the way the author wants you to feel as you follow the characters and actions of the story. Of course, mood may vary throughout the length of a novel as, for example, suspense or danger builds or threatens or romance blooms. Yet there is one prevailing mood the author strives for (except for Bronte in Jane Eyre) that is introduced in the earliest paragraph or paragraphs of a novel. Thus to find the words that express the prevailing, look for words at the start of the novel.

   It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
   However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
   "My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
   Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

With Jane Austen it is always better to work with phrases rather than individual words since her classical style writing is so complexly structured, but let's analyze this very famous opening section and see what we find.

Starting at a less obvious point, Mrs. Bennet's way of addressing her husband not only as Mr. Bennet, but as "My dear Mr. Bennet" starts the story out with a humorous mood: this mode of address indicates a good deal of silliness to come.

Another less obvious element is the use of the words "universally" and "rightful." These are strong words, especially in Austen's era when these words were key to philosophical disputations and, moreover, to violent revolutions, particularly the French Revolution (1789–1799). Therefore the use of the serious and weighty words in connection with single men, wives, wealth, neighborhoods and families tells us that we are entering a story told in a humorous mood in keeping with lighthearted satire and irony ("humorous" does not necessarily mean funny enough to laugh loudly at; here it means amusing and the opposite of seriousness).

The best establisher of satirical, ironically humorous mood is the opening sentence (Austen is best analyzed by phrase and clause rather than by word):

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