Importance of Manners in Pride and Prejudice
Manners have survived throughout the many passing years of history and culture to influence the ways human beings interact even today in the way we relate to one another: what is acceptable and unacceptable social behavior. Proper manners in everything from conversation to eating have long been distinguishing mark of social status. Even now they are often important in business and social situations. But in the eighteenth century, manners were paramount.
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, set at the end of the eighteenth century, explores the many humorous eccentricities in a world of etiquette and proper conduct. When love, pride, clumsiness and transparency are all run through the gauntlet of delicate manners, a whimsical sort of satire is achieved. The context of propriety creates the cunning irony that brings this book to life.
A perfect example of the irony in Pride and Prejudice is seen in the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. While Mrs. Bennet is constantly theatrical and melodramatic, Mr. Bennet is very quiet and reserved. Mr. Bennet is always toying with his wife's tendencies to exaggeration. When Elizabeth Bennet refuses to marry the dim-witted and unattractive Mr. Collins, her mother is inconsolable. She bursts into a fit and tells Elizabeth that if she doesn't marry Mr. Collins, then she will disown her as a daughter. Mr. Bennet at this point steps in and provides the ironical relief:
"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. --Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." (p. 78)
Mr. Bennet is obviously not serious, but he makes his statement with gravity. In doing so, Mr. Bennet humorously exposes the absurdity of Ms. Bennet's statement. Often Elizabeth pokes fun at situations, in a very similar ironical vein to her father. While Elizabeth and her sister Jane are discussing an evening at the ball, Jane mentions how flattered she was that Mr. Bingley had asked her to dance twice. Elizabeth replies that Jane should have no reason for surprise:
"He could not help noticing you were five times prettier than any other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, certainly he is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him." (p. 9)
The whole premise of the discussion between Jane and Elizabeth was more or less an evaluation of...