Close Analysis of the Opening of Pride and Prejudice
The first sentence talks about something that it presumes every person understands and agrees with as it says, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’. It is a statement that related back to the era that Jane Austen wrote in: an era when people not only married for love but also on the grounds of rising up the social hierarchy, making useful connections and acquiring a large wealth. This is a theme that is discussed during Pride and Prejudice through the actions of the characters.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 and we can tell this through lexis and style in the first few paragraphs. For example, the lexical choices such as ‘ Michaelmas’ and ‘chaise and four’. At this time it was common for many wealthier people to travel around in a horse-drawn carriage. The fact that this chaise is driven by four horses indicates the fortune of the owner. This is perhaps what Mrs Bennet saw as she discusses whether the new neighbour may be suitable for any of her daughters.
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This is proved further as it is said that he had ‘ servants [that] are to be in the house by the end of the week’. Many middle- and upper-class families had some sort of servant or maid service in the household. We can also tell that this novel was written a long time ago is that Mrs Bennet says that the man must have at least four or five thousand, making him a fine thing for her girls. This amount of money may not seem an extraordinary amount and yet in the 19th century, this would have been a lot of money to people. The sentences are also quite long compared with what we might find today.
For example, one sentence is “Why ,my dear, you must know… and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week. ” The whole sentence lasts six lines and takes up a whole paragraph. This also defines the time as many writers wrote very dense paragraphs and long sentences to fit in as much description as possible as the readers would probably had not very much experience of new surroundings due to travel limitations and, therefore, needed the scene to be set. However, this opening is a slight contrast to what may be found in other pre-20th century novels.
For example ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Emma’ both start with a bit of a description and introduction to the scene or characters. However, in Pride and Prejudice, the reader is placed straight in the middle of a conversation between Mr and Mrs Bennet, parents of the protagonist of the novel, Elizabeth. They are talking about the new neighbour, Mr Bingley, and whether he may be suited to eloping with any of their daughters, who we learn later in the novel have ‘come out’ or have entered the social world in which to find a suitable partner to marry.
Jane Austen may have used this technique so we can immediately begin to learn the situation, we, as the reader have been placed into. Jane Austen has also chosen carefully what she may have decided to use as the opening conversation as it relates directly back to the first statement and one of the universal themes of the novel; love and marriage. It also introduces us to some of the two main characters in the novel. We quickly learn that Mrs Bennet is perhaps quite talkative and nosy, someone who want only the best for her daughters.
Mr Bennet, on the other hand, is only too happy to let his wife do the talking and only asks a few questions such as the man’s name and his marital status. Jane Austen also emphasises Mr Bennet’s quietness by sentences such as ‘Mr Bennet replied that he had not’ or even, ‘Mr Bennet made no answer. ‘ She may have emphasised this to show that the two people respect each other and it subtly suggests that they live in a happy family household. However, it also stresses that the tables have been turned.
At the time at which the novel was written, it was always the man who was the head of the household, one tradition that possibly still exists today to some extent. We have learnt all this through the majority of the character’s dialogue and not through description, something that Jane Austen extends throughout the entire novel. The novel is written in the 3rd person ,however, from the opening of the first chapter we cannot tell if the author has any relation to the story or the characters until the end of the chapter.
Even though t is not confirmed that she may know the character personally, Jane Austen gives a small insight to both Mr and Mrs Bennet. She explains their different personalities, Mr Bennet being ‘a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour [and] reserve’, so reserved in fact that even his wife is yet to understand him. Mrs Bennet is a woman with ;an uncertain temper’ and whose main aim in life is to ensure each of her five daughters get suitably married.
This characterisation throughout the opening shows that Jane Austen creates such a variety of wonderful and complex characters that every reader finds a favourite, whether it be the pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh or the intelligent and quick-witted Elizabeth. In this ending we also sense that Jane Austen has her own reservations of the characters. For instance, the way in which she sums up the Bennet varies between character. When she describes Mr Bennet, she talks as if talking of a close friend whom she hold dearly.
However, when she begins to talk of Mrs Bennet, that same familiarity wanes slightly, especially when she refers to Mrs Bennet as ‘Her’ which sparks a sense of tension between the two ladies. The ending phrase, ‘its solace was visiting and news’, suggests that the author finds Mrs Bennet annoyingly nosy and likes to look in other people’s business. The fact that Jane Austen says Mrs Bennet ‘ fancied herself nervous’ suggests that what Mrs Bennet thinks and sees herself as is not what other people think of her as.