As per humor is concerned Austen’s humor is not applicable in a particular class or country but it has a universal appeal. Humor can be best seen as a tool of irony but it is also ironical that Austen lacks serious irony. She never wrote to correct society but presented the society as it was. Let’s not be confused with humor and satire. Satire is often aimed to correct a particular society but humor brings out the comic effects with an intention to amuse the readers. Jane Austen in spite of falling in the genre of Romantics writes about pre conceived notions of the society. Her humor is chiefly drawn from characters of the genteel class. The very opening line says-
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
One can sense the fragrance of humor mentioned in these lines and as a reader we can’t stop to smile. It is a matter of fact that these lines are applicable everywhere and in every age. Thus it is universal and ageless. Moving forward to the characters we come across the characters like Mrs. Bennet . She is a woman of less understanding, little information and uneven temperament. This lady is chiefly concerned about finding husbands for her daughters. The appearance of any young and eligible bachelor gives her a dream about one of her daughters getting married to him. She is no doubt representing a sensible mother but her approaches and dialogues are so amusing that it creates a humor which no one can miss to notice. One can notice the exaggeration in the complaints of her weak nerves and thus she is exposed and becomes a subject to ridicule within and outside the family. In social gatherings she passes cheap and trifle comments which no one like and that often brings catastrophic consequences. Still she is one of the chief sources responsible for creating humor and amusement.
Later we come across the characters like Mr. Collins. He provides an extra effect to humor with his habits. He is a strange mixture of inconsistent traits and Mr. Bennet is right in judging him as an absurd fellow. We become more pleased and amused when his reasons for deciding to marry are disclosed. He treats girls as an object and says that it hardly matters whom he marries. Thus marriage for him is just like a ritual that is why when Elizabeth rejects his proposal he makes another proposal to Charlotte Lucas who accepted at once his offer for marriage. Mr. Bennet also provides us a sense of amusement. When Collins proposes Elizabeth to marry him Mrs. Bennet becomes very happy and thinks Collins as a better son in law. Mr. Bennet says Elizabeth that if she agrees to marry Collins-
“from this day you must be a stranger to one of your parent’s. Your mother will never see you again if you don’t marry Mr. Collins and I will never see you if you do.”
We also find that there is reversal of situations at few occasions which produces humor. Wickham tries to defame Darcy in Elizabeth’s eyes but he himself becomes a string in bringing them together. His every action is reversed. Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s prejudice against each other and their total change of behavior later are also examples of ironic reversals that bring a comic effect in the novel. Much more have been said by critics over the use of humor and irony by Jane Austen but we can’t deny the face that her treatment of humor is quiet and delicate. She never exaggerates the fun. Her sense of ridicule is proportioned to the follies which divert her. Her humor is cultivated and genial. It is the humor of an observer rather than the humor of a reformer. This is why even her satire is mild and genial and often tinged with irony.
Irony is the most important element of Jane’s comic vision. According to professor Chevalier-
“the basic feature of every irony is a contrast between a reality and an appearance.”
Professor Chevalier remarks are on irony and Jane Austen applies her own kind of reality in handling of her humor and irony. Characters like Wickham are not present only in Eighteenth century but they can be found in every age. Through such character a sense of seriousness marks its presence which is of course not humorous but the effect produced is full of humor. Thus at last we can say that Jane Austen’s moral-realistic vision, the perfection of her art, her sparkling humor and irony and the universal significance of her stories – all contribute to making her in the words of David Cecil “one of the supreme novelists of the world.”