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Points of tension: “It is a truth universally acknowledged” April 29, 2012


“Have you no compassion for my nerves?!” – Mrs. Bennet actually has plenty to be nervous about.

In any work of literature, there is a negotiation between what goes said and unsaid. For example, when we hear “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife“ (the first lines of Pride and Prejudice), we know that this particular “universe” must be solely inhabited by the likes of Mrs. Bennet, but we lightheartedly laugh at this generalization. The generalization itself, we find, becomes less lighthearted the older the unmarried Miss Bennets’ father gets, prompting a fear of their future financial welfare. If Mr. Bennet dies before the girls are married, Mr. Collins will inherit their house and they will be left destitute. So in this way, those first lines offer a point of tension in Pride and Prejudice. It is a moment that could be glossed over, but if we take a chance to consider what goes unsaid, we would be able to find the socially fraught circumstances behind it. I plan to continue using this blog as a place to identify and consider points of tension in all of Austen’s writing. Where do they come from? Who is responsible for them? What is their purpose? Stay tuned to find out!