Situational Irony

Pride and Prejudice

by

Jane Austen

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Pride and Prejudice can help.

Pride and Prejudice: Situational Irony 4 key examples

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Darcy's Love:

Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth is an example of situational irony because, at the beginning of the novel (in Chapter 3), he makes it clear that he is not interested in her. When Bingley suggests that he should ask Elizabeth to dance, Darcy responds harshly:

"Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Though this moment sets Darcy up to keep his distance from Elizabeth, he ultimately changes his stance entirely. In Chapter 45, he goes as far as telling Caroline Bingley (who clearly dislikes Elizabeth) about how beautiful he considers her to be:

“It is many months since I have considered [Elizabeth] as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.”

Another layer of irony regarding Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth is that Darcy is the person who convinced Bingley to let go of his feelings for Jane based on both her seeming indifference and the money-seeking behavior of her mother. Using these criteria, Darcy should also dismiss his own feelings for Elizabeth because she has actively expressed dislike for him (going beyond Jane’s “indifference”) and shares the same marriage-obsessed mother—but he doesn't dismiss his feelings for her.

Chapter 19
Explanation and Analysis—Second Proposal:

In a moment of foreshadowing, Elizabeth rejects Collins’s marriage proposal and, after he says that he will ask her again, she tells him that she is not the type of a woman to say yes to a proposal after previously saying no:

“Upon my word, sir,” cried Elizabeth, “your hope is a rather extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal.”

This moment foreshadows (with some situational irony) how Elizabeth is, in fact, one of “those young ladies” who will say yes the second time someone asks for their hand in marriage, as that is exactly what happens with her and Darcy. She rejects him the first time he asks and, upon learning of his true character and falling in love with him, says yes the second time.

This moment is an example of situational irony because, rather than literally foreshadowing what will happen, Austen hints that the opposite will occur. This adds to another theme of the novel: that Elizabeth’s pride often gets in the way of her seeing herself—and others—clearly. 

Elizabeth’s decision to reject Collins also shows that she is not interested in marrying for financial security; while she knows she will reject him again because she does not love him, she ultimately says yes to Darcy because she comes to love him.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 36
Explanation and Analysis—Elizabeth's Prejudice:

The fact that Elizabeth misjudges Darcy—considering him overly prideful and cruel when he is in fact caring and considerate—is an example of situational irony.

Through much of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth judges Jane harshly for trusting people too easily and always believing the best in them, considering herself a much more gifted judge of character. After reading Darcy’s earnest letter to her explaining his actions, Elizabeth becomes aware of the irony of thinking herself skilled when she was in fact “blind” because of her prejudice:

"How despicably I have acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! […] Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind!”

This is a pivotal moment in the novel—Elizabeth begins to let go of her own pride in order to see herself and Darcy more clearly. This leads to a change in her feelings and behavior, leading to her admitting to Darcy that she was wrong and eventually accepting his proposal for marriage.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 45
Explanation and Analysis—Darcy's Love:

Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth is an example of situational irony because, at the beginning of the novel (in Chapter 3), he makes it clear that he is not interested in her. When Bingley suggests that he should ask Elizabeth to dance, Darcy responds harshly:

"Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Though this moment sets Darcy up to keep his distance from Elizabeth, he ultimately changes his stance entirely. In Chapter 45, he goes as far as telling Caroline Bingley (who clearly dislikes Elizabeth) about how beautiful he considers her to be:

“It is many months since I have considered [Elizabeth] as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.”

Another layer of irony regarding Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth is that Darcy is the person who convinced Bingley to let go of his feelings for Jane based on both her seeming indifference and the money-seeking behavior of her mother. Using these criteria, Darcy should also dismiss his own feelings for Elizabeth because she has actively expressed dislike for him (going beyond Jane’s “indifference”) and shares the same marriage-obsessed mother—but he doesn't dismiss his feelings for her.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 59
Explanation and Analysis—Happily Ever After:

The fact that Darcy and Elizabeth end up with a “happily ever after” at the end of the novel is an example of situational irony. Not only did they both dislike each other at the beginning and almost let their pride and prejudice get in the way of their relationship, but they also had to navigate class differences, betrothals to other people, Lydia almost “ruining” her sisters’ reputations, and Elizabeth rejecting Darcy’s first proposal.

The reactions of the other characters confirm the irony of Darcy and Elizabeth ending up together. After Darcy asks Mr. Bennet for his approval of their marriage, Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth the following:

“I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. […] My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about.”

This quote shows that Mr. Bennet cannot comprehend why she wants to marry Darcy given all of the stories Elizabeth has told of Darcy’s arrogance and pride.

A final ironic twist to Darcy and Elizabeth’s happy ending is that Elizabeth—the Bennet daughter arguably the least interested in an “advantageous” marriage (as seen in her refusing both Collins's as well as Darcy's first proposal)—ends up with the wealthiest husband.

Unlock with LitCharts A+