Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice Tone

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Ironic, Arch, Wry, Full of Witticisms and Bon-Mots, Arm's Length

Reading this novel is kind of like having a conversation with someone who says snarky things in a deadpan voice while constantly raising her eyebrow. Like Daria. Or Ellen Page. (Not that we're saying Jane Austen writes like a teenager—although, hm, on second thought ...)

But really, Austen is just clearly amused by her characters and their nonsense and committed to discretely pointing out their foibles. It's not that she hates them, but her narrator definitely keeps a distance and functions as an observer who is always elbowing the reader to look at the next funny thing. Check out this description of the aftermath of Mr. Collins proposing to Charlotte:

In as short a time as Mr. Collins' long speeches would allow, everything was settled between them to the satisfaction of both; and as they entered the house he earnestly entreated her to name the day that was to make him the happiest of men; and though such a solicitation must be waived for the present, the lady felt no inclination to trifle with his happiness. The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained. (22.2)

First, we've got the overhead view, meaning the narrator takes in the scene and shows us the ridiculous in all its glory: it's funny to try to picture just how not "short" Mr. Collins' "long speech" would be. There's also that great joke in the idea that the proposal is "settled to the satisfaction of both" (because the satisfaction is kind of pragmatic since Charlotte is Mr. Collins' third choice and he's her choice only because he's got a job and a house and it beats living at mom and dad's).

Next, we get to laugh at Mr. Collins more from Charlotte's point of view. Even though they aren't in quotes, the words about his "stupidity" and the lack of "charm" in his "courtship" are clearly her thoughts as he goes on and on in his pompous way.

Finally, we circle back around to the narrator mocking the characters again, as we check out how Charlotte is going to deal with the fact that she can see how awful Mr. Collins is. (Answer: she's going to deal with things on a purely matter-of-fact basis.) You can have your Seth MacFarlane: this right here is comedy gold.

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