Why is the first sentence in Pride and Prejudice ironic?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first sentence in the novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, reads as follows:

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

We can sense a tone of irony in this sentence considering how Jane Austen personally felt about the social expectations bestowed upon women, which mostly reduced them to the roles of subservient wives.

Additionally, we can see irony in the phrase "a man of good fortune in want of a wife" because it is an obvious play on words that indicates that the wife would be one of the "objects" or "goods" that such fortunate man would be able to get with his money.

Moreover, the phrase is also suggestive of the assumption that   a woman would only want to marry a man who comes across a fortune. In other words, women will always be subservient because they will always aim to "marry well", thus becoming dependent on the wealth of their husbands.

Conclusively, the phrase carries within it a wealth of innuendos which imply that money can basically buy everything, including the love of a woman. Conversely, it also implies that marriage is an expectation rather than a choice, and that it has better chances of succeeding when "a good fortune" is present.


teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an oft-repeated, very famous example of irony in English literature:

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 saying the opposite of what is meant. What is actually being "universally acknowledged" in this sentence is that everyone in the village wants either themselves to marry or have their daughters or female relatives wedded to well-off men. Everyone, in other words, wants a well-to-do husband (having a fortune didn't necessarily mean wealth at that time, but having a comfortable income) or a well-to-do husband in the family.

This desire, this universal running after the well-to-do man as desirable husband material, is then projected onto these prosperous men as what they must want. Since other people want them to marry, it's decided that they must want wives.

Austen is making fun of the way people assume others must share their own desires.

puckie | Student

One of the main themes of Pride and Prejudice is stated in the first sentence 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" (Austen 5). In this statement, Austen has cleverly done three things: she has declared that the main subject of the novel will be courtship and marriage, she has established the humorous tone of the novel by taking a simple subject to elaborate and to speak intelligently of, and she has prepared the reader for a chase in the novel of either a husband in search of a wife, or a women in pursuit of a husband. The first line also defines Jane s book as a piece of literature that connects itself to the 18th century period. Pride and Prejudice is 18th century because of the emphasis on man in his social environment rather than in his individual conditions. David Monaghan notes, the use of satire and wit, a common form of 18th century literature, also contributes to label the book as 18th century (Monaghan 15). In the figure of Elizabeth, Jane Austen shows passion attempting to find a valid mode of existence in society. Passion and reasons also comes together in the novel to show that they are complementary of marriage

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Pride and Prejudice

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