Why is the first sentence in Pride and Prejudice ironic?

The first sentence of Pride and Prejudice is ironic because what it says, that "a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," is contradicted in the next sentence—really, it is women and their families who are seeking rich husbands and have the agency in this situation. Furthermore, though Mr. Darcy is a rich man, his disposition makes it difficult for him to find a wife, and he isn't actively seeking one.

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Pride and Prejudice begins with the iconic sentence:

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

However, with the very next sentence (in the following paragraph), we observe a bit of situational irony at play:

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Situational irony ultimately entails a reversal of expectations. Reading these two sentences together might provide a sense for how this literary device tends to function.

In the book's opening sentence, Austen describes a wealthy gentleman who represents the apex of the society Austen depicts, one divided strictly along lines of class and gender that expects rigid conformity to various social norms. It is a highly sexist and patriarchal society in addition to...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 976 words.)

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