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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

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What comic events occur in Chapters 39 to 50 of Pride and Prejudice to provide comic relief from the mounting suspense of the story?

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Two instances of comedic relief in Pride and Prejudice occur in Chapters 39 and 41, though Austens' comedic relief is not without integral purpose in forwarding character development and plot development. Chapter 39 offers some comedic relief from the tension of the plot, however it is not without purpose in driving the plot forward. Maria and Elizabeth have left Rosings Park and the Collins' and have gone to the Gardiners' home to meet up with Jane. The three travelers have returned home and are met at the inn by Kitty and Lydia with their father's carriage.

Kitty and Lydia make typical silly spectacles of themselves, but now Elizabeth cannot turn a humorously ironic eye to it and think of it as innocence, knowing now as she does how her family's ill-governed behaviors have cost Jane and herself so dearly. Along with psychological development of Elizabeth's character, we learn that Wickham is on the loose still, which sets up later plot developments, and that Elizabeth feels shame toward her previous sentiments regarding Wickham. This is introduced with her comment that it is to Miss King's advantage to be removed from Wickham's society.

A second instance of comedic relief comes in Chapter 41 and, like the previous, is designed to enhance character development and plot development. In this chapter, Lydia successfully agitates to be allowed to go the Brighton with the regiment and Elizabeth has a farewell conversation with Wickham. The comedic element involving Lydia is essential to the most serious plot conflict in Pride and Prejudice, so even though it is humorous, it is not frivolous nor without integral necessity to the plot. In Elizabeth's conversation with Wickham, we see that Elizabeth's change of heart and enlightenment are deeply felt and permanent since she is not swayed from her new conviction of her own errors by Wickham's presence and charm.

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