“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
This is one of my most loved lines from Pride and Prejudice. It pretty much sums up Jane Austen’s attitude toward life and toward her characters. She writes relatable and familiar characters and then allows the reader to laugh at their absurdities. I have said this many times before, I always feel like Mr. Bennet is Jane Austen in disguise. He has the most wicked sense of humour. He is acute enough to clearly see his family’s ridiculousness and is the first person to laugh at them. Despite the fact that his irresponsible and passive behaviour toward his family upsets me, I always enjoy his comments.
Austen shows different forms of humour in her characters. For example, although we don’t hear him speak much, and although he is not a well-liked character, I feel Mr. Elliot is a man with an interesting sense of humour. His conversation with Anne about “good company” is one of my favourites.
“My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”
“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company; that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education, and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company; on the contrary, it will do very well.”
There is cynicism and sarcasm dropping from his words. And as a reader, I love lines like this.
Which of the Austen characters do you think has a great sense of humour? Whose observations do you find witty and interesting?
Below, I share an excerpt from To Love and Cherish, where Lord Paisley is showcasing his sense of humour while talking to his valet. Hope you will enjoy it.
Safe safe everyone!
“Is it my imagination” Lord Paisley asked his valet later that evening as he was preparing for bed, “or have you been particularly quiet this evening, Wilkinson?”
Wilkinson’s only reply was an unintelligible harrumph as he busily picked up his master’s discarded clothes.
“Poor Wilkinson!” Lord Paisley said, his eyes following his valet’s movements with barely disguised amusement. “Not only you have lost your inclination for speech, it seems that your utterances have become unintelligible. I do hope you are not inflicted with some incurable ailment.”
“There is nothing the matter with me, as Your Lordship is well aware. I am perfectly capable of speaking.”
“I am very glad to hear that. Then why have you been so quiet?”
“If I have been quiet,” Wilkinson replied with no little feeling, “it is because I know you will not like what I have to say.”
“Oh, that is moonshine, Wilkinson.” Lord Paisley waved his hand in dismissal. “You have never held your tongue out of fear of injuring me. Come out with it, man. Let me have it.”
Wilkinson stared at his master, contemplating his words. Finally, deciding to be candid, and no longer able to contain his emotions, he spoke. “In all my years of service, I have never felt as embarrassed as I did this evening.”
“I am very sorry to hear that, Wilkinson.” Lord Paisley smiled, seemingly unaffected by his valet’s words. “Whatever caused you such embarrassment?”
“Surely, you must know what I am embarrassed about.”
Lord Paisley shook his head. “Surely, I have not the slightest notion.”
“I am speaking of your appearance, my lord. Your state of utter dishevelment upon your return from Darcy House.”
“Dishevelment?” Lord Paisley asked with mock horror. “It could not be as bad as that?”
“Your tie was completely undone.” Wilkinson glared at his master. “Your hair… Dear lord! Your hair was in disarray.”
“I seem to be confused. My hair is never perfectly in place. It is always a tangle. I was under the impression that that was the intended style.”
“It is not. I always aim for a carefully prepared, careless look.”
“A carefully prepared, careless look?” Lord Paisley asked with raised eyebrows. “And was my hair…not carefully careless today?”
“It was a disaster, sir!” Wilkinson said, causing himself more pain.
“I see. And of course the fact that the muddle was not intentional makes a great difference.”
“It makes a world of difference, sir,” Wilkinson said dejectedly. “There is no dignity in unruly hair unless it was intentionally made to look so.”
“I do see your predicament, Wilkinson.”
“Do you, my lord? Do you? When I consider that you wandered the streets of London looking like a mad man!”
“In my defense, I was quite mad!”
“You, my lord, your appearance is a reflection on me and my craft. What would possess you to walk to Darcy House in the rain?”
“I needed to speak with Miss Darcy. It was a matter of great importance.”
“But she must have been shocked by your appearance.”
Lord Paisley’s smile grew. But he did not offer a response to his valet.
“It may seem like a humorous event to you,” Wilkinson said with no little resentment. “But for me, as your valet, your appearance this evening was a degradation I shall not be able to overcome for some time.”
“I dare say you will be able to outlive the degradation, my dear Wilkinson.”
“I believe I shall die of embarrassment.”
“That is certainly a possibility,” Lord Paisley said with his usual calm. “Although, it is highly improbable.”
“You mock me, sir.”
“You leave me no choice, Wilkinson. Your ridiculous behavior prompts my mockery. Now, are you ready to be rational again?”
“I have a mind to leave your services once and for all, sir.”
“You are very welcome to do so,” Lord Paisley said, completely unaffected by his valet’s threats. “I will even write you letters of recommendation. However, while you are in my services, I propose you shift as best you can.”
Wilkinson nodded gravely.
“And in return,” Lord Paisley said, taking pity on his valet, “I promise I will try not to embarrass you by appearing less than impeccable.”
Wilkinson looked up at his master with no little astonishment. That was the closest his master had ever come to apologizing to him in all the years he had been in His Lordship’s service. Noting his astonishment, Lord Paisley chuckled.
“I have been apologizing all afternoon, Wilkinson. I believe I am becoming at ease with the act.”
“Miss Darcy seems to have great influence over you, sir.” Wilkinson smiled for the first time that evening.
“May I remind you that Miss Darcy was the reason for my rushing out in the rain and looking like a fool?”
“We are all fools in love. Am I to wish you joy? Is she to be the future Lady Paisley?”
“She is definitely the future Lady Paisley.” Lord Paisley nodded with pride.