My wife’s favorite first line from literature comes Pride and Prejudice:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Many people like this first line. While I have always appreciated the line, it has never felt right to me.
It’s sexist. Isn’t it?
From a female standpoint, isn’t it little more than a subtle suggestion that a single woman should seek a man with money?
And from a male perspective, the implication is clear:
Wealthy bachelorhood is an unfortunate and unacceptable state of being.
Neither of these interpretations sit well with me. It’s a cleverly constructed and memorable sentence, but it’s implications are not good.
Moreover, can you imagine how feminists might have reacted to this book if the sentence been written in the reverse?
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband.”
Is this sentence any less true or less false than the first?
I don’t think so.
I think both sentences express a truth universally acknowledged that is neither true nor universally acknowledged.