Comedy of Manners Novels

These novels satirize the manners or customs of a particular class or group.

See also Satire

See also Campus | Academic

Comedies of Manners

Emma | Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse is good-looking, clever and rich, and is generally happy. She has a streak of arrogance that leads her to meddle in people’s lives. She becomes a matchmaker for a young woman of lower social class, Harriet. She steers her away from the man she loves, a tenant farmer, and toward a gentleman, Mr. Elton. Emma also deals with her own suitors, and tries to figure out the romantic intentions of some acquaintances.

Read “Emma”

Mansfield Park | Jane Austen

Fanny Price, a young girl from a poor family, goes to live at the Bertram estate, owned by her relatives. The class difference is apparent, with most of her family keeping some distance, although she is treated well by her cousin Edmund. The oldest son, Tom, is endangering the family’s fortunes with his gambling. When Sir Bertram and Tom go away on business, the Crawfords visit, and Henry flirts with the Bertram sisters. Fanny tries to adjust to her new way of life while abiding by her conscience.

Read “Mansfield Park”

Evelina; or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World | Fanny Burney

Reverend Arthur Villars (Evelina’s guardian) agrees to let her stay with Lady Howard for a while. They attend a ball in London, where Evelina meets Lord Orville, a distinguished, exceptional man. She makes social errors and learns how to behave.

Read “Evelina”

Excellent Women | Barbara Pym

It is 1950s England where Mildred Lathbury lives in a humble building. Her life changes when she meets her new neighbours, the Napiers. The husband, Rocky, is handsome and charming. Thru them she also meets Everard Bone, an anthropologist. Mildred is an “excellent woman”, the kind of woman that men take for granted: those who make tea, organize church functions, and do myriad favors and thankless tasks for others.

Pride and Prejudice | Jane Austen

The Bennet family has five unmarried daughters, and Mrs. Bennet is always on the lookout for bachelors. Charles Bingley moves into the area and is attracted to the oldest daughter, Jane. His friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is aloof and arrogant and slights Elizabeth Bennet. He soon finds something appealing about her, but now she snubs him.

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Vanity Fair | William Makepeace Thackeray

Becky Sharp is a determined but poor young woman who goes to live with Emmy Sedley, a simple girl from a wealthy family. When Becky fails to marry Emmy’s brother Joe, she moves on as governess for the Crawley family. She continues her efforts at social climbing. Emmy’s father goes bankrupt, endangering her relationship with George, a handsome and selfish army captain.

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A Handful of Dust | Evelyn Waugh

Tony and Brenda Last live with their young son John in their country home, Hetton Abbey. Tony is satisfied but Brenda is restless. She meets a superficial city man, John Beaver, and start an affair. A tragedy in the family brings Tony and Brenda’s problems to the fore.

Read “A Handful of Dust”