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Jane Austen: an author ahead of her time

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Most of you are probably guilty of this common response to the suggestion that you read “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen: “No. She writes girly romance novels.”

Well, I am happy to tell you that such a response is an enormous understatement of Austen’s novels. You may think “Pride and Prejudice” is just a story about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s journey to- wards true love along with their friends and family. If this is the case, then you are completely missing the point behind Austen’s hilarious writing. She writes romantic fiction, but she uses the genre in a way that pokes fun at an obsession with marriage and fairytale romance. Her witty use of irony makes “Pride and Prejudice” a book originally published in 1813, modern and enjoyable for anyone to read.

We live in a time that is full of ironic culture, but I challenge you to find a good example of clever irony that can measure up to Jane Austen.

Sure, the hipster subculture has emerged more recently than Austen; however, is making something nerdy and funky to the point of “cool” really that cunningly ironic? Instead of just throwing it in your face, Austen artistically weaves verbal irony into “Pride and Prejudice” so well that, if you are not paying attention closely, you could miss it.

For example, Austen’s first few sentences in the popular novel are as follows: “It is a truth univer- sally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…he is considered the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.”

If these first few sentences do not have you smugly chuckling then you are taking Austen far too literally. By sarcastically saying that a man with money “must” be looking for a girl, and that he is her “rightful property,” Austen is criticizing a ridiculous obsession with marriage.

If her opening statement does not convince you that Jane Austen uses her talent for writing romances as a form of satire, then the character of Mrs. Bennet will. The overbearing mother of five girls manages to make everything about marriage. One of the first comments she makes when

discussing the arrival of the wealthy George Bingley is about his relationship status: “Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”

Jane Austen makes her most absurd character the most obsessed with marriage to show that she as an author thinks romantic ob- sessions are ludicrous. Mrs. Bennet is bossy, stubborn, and anxious. She is basi- cally the Claire Dunphy of nineteenth-century literature.

The talented author also manages to create hu- morous situations that rely on a witty use of language and irony. Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s disapproval of the socially unacceptable romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is a great example of Jane Austen’s satirical verbal irony. The wealthy aunt goes out of her way to visit Elizabeth in an effort to break up the couple. What in a typical romance would be a very serious obstacle becomes a satire of the superficially gentile society of the age.

Lady Catherine manages to make slights towards Elizabeth’s social standing while still maintaining proper manners. For instance, at one point she says, “This must be a most inconvenient sitting room

for the evening, in summer; the win- dows are full west.” This simple observation is stated in the most polite way, but it is actually meant to undermine Eliza- beth.

Austen’s characters find a way to get around the strict so- cial code of the time and say what they think. After all, who doesn’t love a good ironic insult or snide comment?

“Pride and Prejudice” is far more than an old romance novel; the book intelligently caters to our contemporary taste for ironic humor. Austen satirizes the genre she is writing in by taking jabs at love and marriage, and if you do not pay attention, you could miss the brilliant commentary.

Austen is an author of the twentyfirst century. She is sarcastically funny and thinks that people obsessed with lovey-dovey romance are a little crazy, so do not be surprised if the novel you picked up in a class on British literature ends up making it onto your list of favorites.

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