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Jane Austen’s Instinctive Attitude is That of a Humorist

Jane Austen’s instinctive attitude is that of a humorist as she can create humor in various ways. She is a master of creating humor by the depiction of situation, action, character or dialogues along with the amalgam of irony. She is a follower of Fielding in order to create humor. Fielding source of comedy is; exposing of the difference between what men are and what they claim to be. For example: Greedy landlords pretend to be charitable or worldly and self-seeking clergymen claim to be thinking of Christian virtues thus, she has used this tool to produce humor in most of her novels. The proof of her humouristic instinct is her refusal to write a historical romance on the request of Prince Regent’s librarian, Mr. Clark by saying that she “can not write a romance than an epic poem” and she can under no condition go beyond her range of the comic vision of life.

According to A.C. Bradley,

There are two great distinct strains in “Jane Austen.” She is a moralist and a humorist. These two strains are often blended or even completely fused but still they may be distinguished.

When we talk about Jane Austen’s humor, her humor is quiet, delicate and of domestic type. She never exaggerates the fun. Her humor is cultivated and genial, as it is a humor of an observer – of a refined, satisfied observer – rather than the humor of a reformer. That is why even her satire is mild and geniel and often mingled with irony. For example in Pride and Prejudice when Lydia suggests to her mother that family visit her for she can get husbands for her sisters easily there Elizabeth remarks;

I thank you for my share of favor but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands

Thus, there is an amalgam of humor and irony in these lines. The sole agents of Jane Austen’s novels are human beings. It is common that “to error is human.” It is the pin-point at the cost of which she creates humor in her novels. As every human being has some short-comings. Owing to these short-comings, he acts in society in such a way that he becomes an embodiment of humor. Jane Austen has pointed out these short comings and thus has made fun of these follies. Although people have economic pressure yet they always make fool of themselves or one another by owing to some follies that may be developed because of situations, actions or characterization. Obvious examples are Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins and Lady Cathrine in Pride and Prejudice, while in “Emma”, Emma is always wrong but thinks that she is always right because of her delusion and self-importance. These characters in novels clearly shown that Jane Austen knows how to make fun of social evils or follies. She has tongue in cheeks as she uses this art as a weapon to point out the vices or follies of our society.

Irony is the most important element of Jane’s comic vision. Thus, she has used irony along with humor in most of her novels. For example, Elizabeth, in Pride and Prejudice, says about Wikham “The most agreeable man I ever saw” and considers Darcy to be “the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” She has to revise her opinion soon after that. Similarly, Darcy’s first impression towards Elizabeth is that “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” but soon after that changes his views and proposes her.  

First two lines of Pride and Prejudice are embodiment of humor and irony.

“It is truth universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

It means that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be the target of all unmarried women who are looking for husbands.

Thus, the most important aspect of Jane Austen’s narrow range is her comic mode of holding a mirror up to life. In other words, we can say that she has humouristic elements in her instinct.

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