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The social comedy of Jane Austen

The social comedy of Jane Austen, as seen in Pride and Prejudice, is infused with a moral purpose. The reality of the characters is heightened by their foibles and by the foolishness in which they indulge. This is presented against the backdrop of the accepted norms of society, and there is irony in the difference between the social norms the characters think they uphold and their real behavior, often at odds with what society requires. These differences are not great: Austen's characters do not stray far from the acceptable social path. Indeed, it is often that they seem to adhere to it too closely, making the social graces into a fetish. There is a level at which these social prescriptions should be kept, a certain perspective that should be maintained. As an author, Austen also maintains a perspective in terms of distancing herself from the characters. She does not delve too deeply into their psychology but instead, as noted, allows their character to be manifest in their behavior and conversation. The words they use reveal their social background and more vitally the social customs and ideas they hold dear. This is seen both in their conversation and the language they use in letters.

The comedy of Pride and Prejudice is understated and emanates from the language, that of Austen as author as well as that of her characters, and the first line of the novel shows how this technique works in practice: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (Austen 1). Mr. Bennett's failure to perceive the significance of this immediately evokes a comic exchange between husband and wife as he shows the bewilderment of the uninitiated and she speaks to him as if he were a child and she had to explain the simplest things to him. Austen's use of language is pointed, direct, and cogent, with no excess verbiage, as can be seen in her description of Mr. Bennett:


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The social comedy of Jane Austen. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:23, June 26, 2019, from