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Jane Austen’s Wise Wit

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.–I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the
room, or the number of couples.”

– Pride and Prejudice

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
With this tongue-in-cheek admonishment, so like that of a dancing master
hired to prepare Darcy for society, begins one of the greatest romances
in literature. What is it that gives Jane Austen’s writing such timeless
appeal? For me, and many others I have spoken to, it is her keen
observation of human nature tempered by humor and the ultimate romance
of the playful, witty repartee between her hero and heroine. So often
movies and books that are represented as romantic lack an essential
element of romance– witty repartee. Perhaps this is due to the high
level of difficulty in composing humor that works.

It is no wonder that Jane Austen’s work would be so popular at a moment when there is a lack
of wit and humor in romantic entertainment. Playfulness and wit are
something we all look for in our romantic attachments. How often has a
female friend described the new man in her life to you as someone who
makes her laugh? We all seem to be looking for someone to share a few
laughs with on the road of life. There is also something so sexy about
being intellectually engaged with another which can only be improved by
the addition of humor.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
Jane Austen’s keen eye for the ridiculous in the foible’s of human
nature seems to be shared by the lively Elizabeth Bennet. We chuckle
when Elizabeth is likely at some pains to keep a straight face at Lady
Catherine’s dinner table when Sir William Lucas dutifully echoes every
compliment to Lady Catherine by his sycophant son-in-law Mr. Collins. We
all share in Elizabeth’s embarrassment at her misjudgments and
foolishness in being taken in by Wickham and letting her hurt pride rule
her opinion of Darcy. Austen’s heroines are so realistically written
that we grow to know and love them as friends. The heroines all have the
standard issue silly relatives and the ubiquitous family problems that
come with them. These character types are certainly familiar to all of
us, but presented with such wit that we must now smile at the unbearable
co-worker who is so like one of Austen’s characters.

Sharon Wagoner is the webmistress of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a treasure trove of little known information about the Georgian period. A fascinating collection!

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