Jane Austen makes an elaborate use of irony in her novel. Irony is a literary device in which there is a contrast between expectation and reality. It refers to the use of words to express something that is the opposite of the actual meaning.
In fact, in no other book of Jane Austen uses irony better than in Pride and Prejudice. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen employs a variety of ironies. Austen uses verbal irony in the very first sentence of the novel. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This line is a sarcasm as it completely refers to the opposite. It is the aim of the women of that era to marry rich men, not the vice versa. If a young woman didn’t find a good man at the right time, she might remain a spinster (an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage). Through this sentence, Austen provides the readers an idea about what is going to occur in the novel. Verbal ironies give the novel, its shine and attraction. The main character using verbal ironies is Mr. Bennet. His speeches to his wife are all ironical, since she is quite a foolish woman. Although Mr. Bennet is a sensible man, he behaves strangely with his wife by mocking her.
We also find irony, when Darcy refers to Elizabeth as being not beautiful enough to tempt him. Elizabeth also regards Darcy as a man of arrogance. This is very ironical, since later in the novel they both fall in love with each other and marry at the end. It is also ironic that Elizabeth seems to be a good judge of people’s characters, but fails to judge Darcy’s actual character and misjudges him as an arrogant person. When Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, she tells him that she is not the kind of woman who would reject the first proposal and accept the second. However, ironically, she accepts Darcy’s proposal the second time. The Bingley sisters also provide some irony in the novel. They hate the Bennets for their vulgarity, however they themselves are vulgar in behaviour. Lady Catherine de Borough thinks herself to be a graceful lady, but is an equally narcissist and arrogant woman. Mr. Collins always boasts of himself as a clergyman, but his actions are immoral and narcissist. Thus, the novel contains a lot of ironic characters. To conclude, the irony of Jane Austen is not contained with any bitterness. Rather her irony can be termed comic. Irony is used by Jane Austin in Pride and Prejudice to expose the hypocrisy and pretentiousness of contemporary English society.