Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen
Jane Austen opens her story with one of English literature’s most infamous lines;
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of wife.’
This immediately indicates the author’s twist of irony- does she refer to the idea as ‘universally acknowledged’ or simply just in reference to Mrs Bennet for thinking so, simultaneously highlighting the questionable concept of their class/period that marriage and money are directly linked. This is interesting for the reader as it sets the tone for much of the novel- and the theme, being courtship and marriage. Whilst it may be true that mothers and daughters see this as ‘truth’, it is unlikely that ‘the single man’ would have entertained the thought. It is the competition for acquiring the man, especially among the mothers with unengaged daughters, which forms much of the humour of the novel later on. With hindsight, it becomes doubly ironic; since Mrs Bennet was indeed correct thinking that Mr Bingley was in want of a wife, the cliché is shown to be a ‘universal truth’. Furthermore, Austen sets the period clearly with the emphasis on wealth and social status ‘he is considered as the rightful property...a single man of large fortune...what a fine thing for our girls!’
It is also interesting to see that Mrs Bennet is the first to speak in the novel. The beginning dialogue introduces the characters of Mr and Mrs Bennet and their seemingly incompatible relationship- using their argument ‘nonsense, how can you talk so!’ and Mrs Bennet’s nagging. It goes on in chapter 1 to reveal that each parent has favourite daughters (Mr Bennet prefers Lizzy whereas his wife favours Jane and Lydia). Though Mr Bennet is amiably more intelligent and witty in comparison to Mrs Bennet, his dismissal of all his daughters ‘they are all silly and ignorant’ shows how his unhappy marriage makes him judgemental ‘sarcastic..reserve and caprice.’ Mrs Bennet quickly establishes herself as a gossip ‘this was invitation enough’, and someone who thrives on ‘visiting and news.’ Thus the first chapter hints at the Bennets’ mismatched partnership- a marriage that was entered upon for the wrong reasons and has resulted in years of struggle. This is not unheard of as marriage was not based simply on compatibility at that time, but it is curious to compare their matching with Elizabeth’s. The description of Mrs Bennet ‘a women of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper’ paired with Mr Bennet’s witty and ironic comments, which contrast with his wife’s conformity to convention, ‘how so? how can it affect them?’ causes the reader to side with Mr Bennet.
In chapter 1, Austen doesn’t hesitate to introduce the plot- the reader is thrown into the situation the family find themselves in, which is arguably the traditional structure of a classic romance story; a wealthy newcomer is about to move to the area and will provide a stimulating catalyst in the community, causing…