Dear Renee and Friends,
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
My husband is writing an article on music analysis and wants to make a comparison to sentence parsing, using the first line of P&P. He asked me if I could find out what the people on the lists, the Austen fans, think of this first sentence. He is not looking for any particular point of view, just trying to get an idea of what people think about this opening and what's been said about it.
Here is my husband's take on the first sentence:
'My claim, btw, is that the sentence is *over* by the fourth word. "It is a truth" is a complete clause, if not really a complete thought. "Universally" is wonderfully ironic -- and the entire clause could only have been written by a parson's daughter, as it is beautifully balanced between abstract (even pompous) and ironic. Least important in the syntax (an adverbial qualifer of an adjective), "universally" is the clue to everything that follows, including the elongated second clause that gives the entire plot in 17 words (the nouns in order read like a personal ad: "man...possession..fortune...want...wife" -- translated that becomes "Darcy...Pemberly...meets, falls in love with, (eventually) gets...Elizabeth"). One has to recognize the irony in order to get the point, and the humor in the entire sentence.'
So, we both look forward to your thoughts and comments.
The beginning of Austen's Pride and Prejudice immediately sets the tone of the book: it's indeed to show us the follies of the world in a witty, ironic way but, IMHO, with a bitter, if not acid, undertone! By using irony -- presenting a world which in reality was the reverse of the one Austen was living in -- as a means to explain gender relations, she exposes the hypocrisy of her time in no uncertain terms: the powerlessness of women who were totally dependant of the protection of a husband, and, because of that, the despair -- and wishful thinking (with the emphasis on this) -- of mothers being 'blessed' with many a daughter...
After all, women then were not allowed to go to university or develop a career, so, in reality Jane Asten says: "It's a truth universally acknowledged that a mother with marriagable daughters whose estate is not entailed in the female line must be in want of a son in law or two with a large fortune..." But that wouldn't have had the impact her sentence has, no way! Besides, in that so-called highly proper society aka as "The Regency" one could never have said that out loud, the fact that mothers were in fact prostituting their daughters! Out of sheer necessity, but nonetheless!
Mrs. Bennet isn't seen as vulgar for nothing, even though I actually like her honesty and common sense, whereas Mr. Bennet, IMNSHO, has very little idea about his responsibilities as a father... at least where the future of his daughters is concerned.
Anyway, marriages were business arrangements most of the time, pure and simple. But to pretend women were not dependant of men (they had their pride ), and polite society was terribly affected and artificial in those days, the men are presented -- in the form of a presupposition that as being in need of a wife instead of the other way around.
Dear Jane had a delicious sense of humour, hadn't she?
Thank you for your comments on the first line. Yes, it does make sense, and Austen certainly did have a wicked sense of humor.
I do apologize for letting this go so long without a reply. But, as you know from my email to you, I have had a rather lengthy time battling the after effects of a dental procedure.