According to Merriam-Webster, humour is “the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous: the ability to be funny or to be amused by things that are funny,” sarcasm is “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain,” and wit is “the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse.”
One of the elements I appreciate most about Jane Austen’s books is the beautiful blend of humour, wit and sarcasm, so often exhibited by her characters and in her own narrative. In fact, I think Miss Austen’s famous opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice is a perfect example of the lady’s subtle but brilliant sense of humour.
“It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Of all Jane Austen’s characters, I would argue that Mr. Bennet is the one with the most obvious blend of sarcasm and wit. In her own introduction of Mr. Bennet, Jane Austen says, “Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character.”
“You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
I have often read Mr. Benner’s remarks with mixed reactions. I laugh when he is playful and light and cringe at some of his cruel jokes. But I always appreciate the brilliant humour Miss Austen injects in this character.
“It is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take my place in it.”
“My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor.”
What do you think about Mr. Bennet? Do you find him funny? Cruel? Which of Jane Austen’s characters do you find funny? Witty? Sarcastic? Do you think Mr. Darcy is sarcastic?
While most people appreciate witty remarks and humour, not many people enjoy or understand sarcasm. But I, for one, find great pleasure in all forms of humour and particularly enjoy writing characters that have a wicked sense of humour. One of my own original characters, Lord Julian Paisley, is one of such characters that frustrates and punishes people with his wit and delivers the most cutting set-downs. Below, is an excerpt from my second novel, To Love and Cherish, where Lord Paisley is having fun punishing another gentleman, Lord Barton, for declaring his intention to pursue Georgiana Darcy.
“Would you like to join us, Barton?” Lord Paisley gestured to an empty chair across from them.
“I do not wish to intrude.”
“It is a little too late for that consideration, I am afraid. But you cannot continue to stand there. I am concerned for Miss Darcy. She has to turn her neck in order to look at you.”
“Of course,” Lord Barton said, embarrassed by Lord Paisley’s words. “How thoughtless of me. But I shall not bother you now. Miss Darcy, I came to ask for the pleasure of your hand for the next set.”
Lord Paisley’s eyes rested on Georgiana’s face in order to ascertain her reaction. She seemed surprised by Lord Barton’s request, but she was able to meet the gentleman’s eyes and offer him a smile.
“I have promised the next set to my cousin, sir,” Georgiana said.
“And I have come to claim it,” came the viscount’s voice, approaching from behind Lord Barton.
Georgiana smiled as she rose from her seat and took her cousin’s arm. Lord Paisley stood as well. Georgiana curtseyed to the gentlemen who bowed to her and watched her walk away on her cousin’s arm.
“Are you returning to the ballroom too, sir?” Lord Barton asked Lord Paisley. “Or is it to be the card room for you?”
“I have no taste for cards and cigars this evening.”
“May I join you?” Lord Barton asked.
“Of course. But I thought you would certainly enjoy the card room.”
“I am no card player, sir,” Lord Barton said, falling into step with Lord Paisley.
“But my dear Barton,” Lord Paisley said as he came to stop at a spot that afforded him a good view of the dancers. “Gentlemen do not go to the card room to play cards. They go there to talk of hunting and politics. And I am convinced you are very interested in one of those topics at least.”
“That may be so, my lord.” Lord Barton conceded, “but this evening, I am far more interested in the ballroom.”
“Oh?” Lord Paisley asked, his eyes searching the dancers for the object of his affections.
“I should say I am far more interested in a particular lady in the ballroom,” Lord Barton continued, his eyes focused on the said lady.
“I dare say you have already guessed the identity of the lady.” Lord Barton met Lord Paisley’s steady gaze.
Lord Paisley shrugged lazily. “I have not the slightest notion.”
“But you must have noticed my interest in Miss Darcy when we stayed at Pemberley earlier this year. My affections have grown deeper and I feel myself bound to her.” Lord Paisley’s smile did not falter as he reached for his snuffbox.
“How very kind of you to state your intentions, my dear Barton,” Lord Paisley said, leisurely opening the snuffbox. “But might I perhaps suggest that, instead of me, you should apply to my good friend, Darcy. After all, he is Miss Darcy’s brother and guardian.”
“I have already spoken to Mr. Darcy about my intentions. I would never presume to pursue a respectable young lady without having made my intentions known to her guardian.”
“Your scruples do you credit.”
“I think it is imperative that you know my intentions, sir.”
“I am honored that you feel the need to share this information,” Lord Paisley said, “but it is all wasted information. I have no interest in your intentions.”
“You may not be interested in my intentions, but unless I am completely mistaken, you are most certainly interested in Miss Darcy.”
Lord Paisley looked up from his snuffbox, raising an eyebrow at Lord Barton.
“Do you refute it, sir?” Lord Barton asked smugly.
“My lord,” Lord Paisley said, closing his snuffbox, “you may feel at leisure sharing your private affairs with people who are unrelated to you, but I am not at all obliged to reciprocate.”
“So, you will not answer me?”
“I am certain that I just did.”
“You hide behind words, sir. But I value honesty above all else.”
“Then I suggest you find yourself a new career, Lord Barton. It cannot be easy for you as a politician.”
“You are insulting me, sir.”
“Am I?” Lord Paisley asked lazily. “I do apologize. It was my intention to offer you advice.”
“We have digressed from the point, sir,” Lord Barton said, taking a deep breath.
“Have we?” Lord Paisley asked, his eyes following Miss Darcy’s progress on the dance floor. “You will have to forgive my lamentable memory, Barton. What, pray, was the main point?”
“I am asking you to stay away from Miss Darcy, sir.”
“Are you?” Lord Paisley asked, not averting his eyes from his beloved’s form. “That sounds more like a command than a request, my dear Lord Barton. But perhaps I am a little sensitive.”
“You have been singling Miss Darcy out since your arrival,” Lord Barton said, gesturing toward the dance floor. “Your attentions are clear. What is not clear are your intentions.”
“You seem so interested in my attentions and intentions, I do not know if I should feel flattered or disturbed.”
“I am always aware to my rivals.”
Lord Paisley laughed. “You are mistaken. You and I are not rivals.”
“We are not?” Lord Barton asked hesitantly.
“Of course not. I have no political aspirations whatsoever.”
“That is not what I was referring to and you know it, sir,” Lord Barton said, losing his calm. “I had hoped we could have a serious conversation.”
“A serious conversation in a ballroom, Barton? You cannot be serious!” He laughed at his little joke.
“Very well, my lord,” Lord Barton said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, “I see that this discussion is futile.”
“Now, in that, we are agreed.”
“If I may,” Lord Barton said, intent on making his point, “I advise you to respect your longstanding friendship with Mr. Darcy, to steer clear of Miss Darcy, and to not play with the lady’s feelings and reputation.”
“I appreciate your advice, Barton.” Lord Paisley bowed. “Allow me to return the favor and give you a little advice of my own. Try looking elsewhere for your future wife. What you need is a society lady who can aid you in your political ambitions.”
“And you do not believe Miss Darcy is that lady?”
“If you have to ask that question, you do not know the lady at all.”
“You mean to lessen her worth in my estimation and to change my opinion.”
“I am fast becoming bored with you, Barton. In case you have not noticed by now, I do not care a button about your estimation or your opinion.”
“You are a renowned rake, sir,” Lord Barton said. “I am confident that Mr. Darcy would never allow you near his sister.”
“In that case, I wonder why you are wasting my time with all this nonsense.”
“I am concerned for Miss Darcy’s sensibilities and reputation.”
“Are you?” Lord Paisley smirked.
“She is young and impressionable.”
“She is far more intelligent than you give her credit for.”
“I would not allow anyone to overstep their boundaries where she is concerned.”
“Your chivalry and honor do you credit, Barton,” Lord Paisley said. “But you see, Miss Darcy already has two worthy gentlemen as her guardians. And when she marries, she will have the protection of her husband.”
“It is my great wish to be the one to assume that enviable position,” Lord Barton said.
“I am afraid that position will forever remain an enviable one for you, Barton.”