Considering its massive popularity, the opening line of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is undoubtedly one of the most well-known in English literature: “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). After going through the novel once, and re-reading the opening after, it becomes clear not only how masterfully crafted the line is, but how it manages to compress the overall plot in it. As such, analyzing the opening in terms of narration and the way it frames Austen’s ironic perspectives is something that drew my attention after reading the novel.
The manner in which the sentence is delivered almost suggests that the narrator “seems to be standing outside the story, not yet observing the characters but gazing off into the middle distance for some reflections on life in general” (Halliday 65). As the conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet becomes apparent later, the remark made in the opening has a clear addressee in mind. The narrator seems to hold an ironic view over the conversation, however, since it is so strong in the beginning, its influence is carried throughout the novel, making readers question the balance between what the narrator imparts, and the situations that occur in the novel.
What makes Pride and Prejudice so powerful today is not necessarily the story and how Elizabeth Bennet’s character has generated numerous adaptations and imitations so much as the irony that is felt throughout. Even though the novel has been written in the third person, the narrator interjections reveal a subjective perspective that seeks to undermine at once both the widely-held gender norms at the time, as well as teaching its main characters that there is something more underneath the appearances they portray outwards.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Bantam Classics, 1981.
Halliday, E. M. “Narrative Perspective in Pride and Prejudice.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 15.1, 1960.
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