Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Emma

By Andrew Haggerty | Go to book overview

Chapter l

Pride and Prejudice

[It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife] (Pride and Prejudice, 5). Pride and Prejudice begins with one of the best known first sentences in all of English literature. The sentence is ironic: it is phrased as a [universal truth,] as a serious moral or even scientific principle, but it is in fact nothing of the sort. Austen's second sentence reads, [However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters] (5). The omniscient, third-person narrator immediately, and quite neatly, undercuts the apparent high-mindedness of the opening sentiment by revealing that, in reality, it expresses nothing more than a principle of self-interested social positioning. In this world, members of the genteel middle class are anxious for their daughters to marry well, which means that they are anxious for their daughters to marry someone with a good deal of money.

This famous opening of Pride and Prejudice sets the tone for the entire novel. We know right away that we are not meant to take the various claims of the community or individuals we are observing too seriously, no matter how firmly they are asserted or with what moral gravity they are intoned. And, indeed, throughout the book various characters consistently search for ways to reframe their personal desires as moral and ethical principles. Cliches, epigrams, and courteous expressions disguise ambition, social climbing, and biting insults.

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Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Emma
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 4
  • Contents 6
  • Part I - Biography and Reputation 7
  • Introduction 9
  • Chapter 1 - Biography 13
  • Chapter 2 - Reputation 41
  • Part II - The Novels: Pride and Prejudice and Emma 53
  • Introduction 55
  • Chapter L - Pride and Prejudice 59
  • Chapter 2 - Emma. 85
  • Works 104
  • Filmography 105
  • Chronology 107
  • Notes 110
  • Further Information 113
  • Bibliography 119
  • Index 123
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