The Humour Of Pride And Prejudice

Term Paper 2005 13 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Jane Austen’s humour
1.1 Definition
1.2 Comments and criticism

2. The humour of Pride and Prejudice
2.1 Humoristic techniques and styles
2.2 Characters and exaggeration
2.3 Irony
2.4 Satire
2.5 Contrary Characters

3. Conclusion

4. Literature

1. Jane Austen’s humour

1.1 Definition

„Humour is the quality of being amusing or comic: (…) the ability to appreciate things, situations or people that are comic; the ability to be amused: (…)” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 1995).

In Latin the word “humour” stands for moisture. In the ancient world it was meant as the right and healthy condition of body fluids. But nowadays it is a well known element of Art, especially of literature. The need of people to get entertained in a humoristic way is placed in nearly all epochs of mankind. Humour can be distinguished between “clean” variants and “dark” humoristic styles like satire, irony, parody or even sarcasm. A well known example is the so called black humour. Individual views or interpretations of humour depend on different nations, social classes, or mentality. For example England is famous for the English Humour, which can be compared with the “dark” sides of humour (Encarta Enzyklopädie 2003). Jane Austen is a representative for the English humoristic style.

1.2 Comments and criticism

Some critics describe Jane Austen’s works as novels of social comedy. When she wrote Pride and Prejudice she was just twenty-one years old. Her literary life was comprised between 1786 and 1817. A characteristic for the 18th century was the quick change of literary taste. Morals were always corrupt and the common life was still rough and full of superficial manners, but one thing changed during the last years of the 18th century: Sentiment got more and more popular and refined. There was space for a new kind of fiction, which was a comedy of life and manners. In the world of novels she can be described as a supreme pioneer of comedy. In her social comedy she combined her gifts in writing wit and satire totally effortless. Her advantage was the respect for her own limitations. She knew where she was good in and where she was not. She always wanted to keep her own style. Her style was nothing than a reflection of the society she lived in. Jane Austen was born into a world of foolishness. Everything that surrounded her was prim, trim and proper. There were leafy parks and smooth lawns. Jane Austen’s talents developed from the scenario of tiresome and ordinary eighteenth-century village life. Her senses were very sensitive in detecting foibles of human character (Waldron 2000). That was the main thing about her works. She focused on this gift. You can see this in the very limitation of her range of visions. When she was talking about herself she described her method as miniature painting. The attractive thing or the secret spice in Jane Austen’s works is the exact reflection of life. Her genius lies in the perfect and unique simplicity. Her plot is as natural and inevitable as a problem in mathematics. The reader does not get the impression of reading a book. He rather feels magically transported into the eighteenth century life. Sometimes Jane Austen is compared to Shakespeare because there is the same criticism of life and the quick irony which exposes it (Dawson 1998). Like Shakespeare, Jane Austen was an ironical censurer of her contemporaries. Her ironical critics were not shown directly. She uses an indirect method of imitating and exaggerating the faults of her models (Simpson 1968, p. 52).

Jane Austen’s works, especially Pride and Prejudice, are often described as a reconstruction of society. She integrates her serious concern over the proper relation of the individual to society into a structure of description and dialogue. She shows her opinion by giving humourless formality on the social side and cynical moments and amusement on the individual side (Duckworth 1971, S. 140).

Austen expresses her contempt, severity or cynicism by using irony. In 1870 Simpson identified this as her characteristic tone. Her use of irony is often described as cruel or merely humorous. Lionel Trilling says: “sooner or later, when we speak of Jane Austen, we speak of her irony, and it is better to speak of it sooner rather than later because nothing can so far mislead us about her work as a wrong misunderstanding of this one aspect of it (Trilling 1954, p. 124)”. He thinks that irony is a fundamental element in Jane Austen’s works with the exception Mansfield Park. In this novel the ironic undertone seems to be absent (Byrne 2005, p. 73).

Jane Austen combines more than social criticism and humour. Under the humoristic surface there is also erotic. Emma Thompson, writer of the script to Sense and Sensibility, said that Jane Austen is sexual. By signs of the body or dialogues of her characters she shows their erotic ulterior motives. As well as the people’s need to get humoristic entertainment she realized the need of sex. For that Jane Austen can be called a profession in combining different desires of people (Maletzke 1997, p. 12).

2. The humour of Pride and Prejudice

2.1 Humoristic techniques and styles

The novel, Pride and Prejudice, is written by the author, Jane Austen, in a humoristic way. Plenty of comical text passages or situations can be found in the novel. She uses humour to keep up the interest of the reader. It is often expected that the novel is simply a story about love and marriage, but it is not at all. In fact it is more a complex and should be recognised as a comical story about manners with romantic subplots. Jane Austen uses different ways to show humour and irony to the reader: She shows it by giving imagery, character descriptions and of course by creating comical conversations. In her novel the reader himself is often a “victim” of her ironic way of writing. She gives readers a point of view of themselves in a very specific way, so that they are able to laugh at themselves. She also loves to create characters and to make fun of them afterwards by presenting them as ridiculous persons. Persons she likes to attack are often foolish, arrogant or ignorant. Her intention is not only the entertainment of the reader. She also uses irony and humour to show her personal opinions on society. Satire is used by Jane Austen to show unintelligible behaviour in morals or ethics and stupid social manners.

There are different techniques and styles Jane Austen uses to give the novel the required wit. It is perhaps the mixture of different types of humour that makes Jane Austen’s novel so special.



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Humour Pride Prejudice



Title: The Humour Of Pride And Prejudice