Jane Austen is a unique author in English literature. Although she lived and wrote her masterpieces two centuries ago, her style remains an example to follow for many modern writers. Educated people in England and other countries often associate with Austen’s name the images of characters whom they remember and whose speech and ongoings they recognize in individuals living today. The novel Pride and Prejudice was the favorite creation of the author.
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When she received it after editing, Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra: “I have got my darling child from London” (Battersby par. 3). Her evaluation of her own work was well justified – one of Austen’s contemporaries, famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, noticed when he had become acquainted with the novel that it is “one of the cleverest things he ever read” (Auerbach 164). Pride and Prejudice is, first of all, a profoundly realistic representation of characters and tempers, albeit not of the English society as a whole, but of its privileged groups since the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th centuries.
But the novel includes not merely the description of characters. With well-developed craftsmanship of an authentic new-age artist, Jane Austen looks deeply into the causes and motives, reveals the inner life of all the personages in the book, and especially the main ones.
It is possible to say that there are two types of characters in the novel. Fitzwilliam Darcy breaks down the pride associated with the upper-class society of those times by being imbued with a sincere feeling for Elizabeth Bennet who, in her turn, overcomes her pride and prejudices under the influence of the mutual feeling. They act breaking the habit and in spite of generally accepted norms – they are in the first category of characters.
The personages included in another category of the secondary characters act typically, as they should do according to common beliefs and their position in the estate hierarchy, rather than as they want. Mrs. Bennet and Sir William Lucas, who try to catch profitable grooms for their daughters, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Caroline Bingley, who stay higher at the social class ladder and try to withstand them, constitute the second type. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, who can overcome their flaws and weaknesses, are represented as positive actors. While the characters of the second type appear to be trivial and plain, the first-type personalities have clearly defined individuality.
It is not a surprise that it is in the description of the characters included in the first group, Austen achieved the highest level of subtlety of psychological images. She depicts the whole complexity of their controversial emotions, their merits, and their weaknesses. They are demonstrated as authentically alive people who can dare to have sincere feelings and to make profound errors.
Sometimes Austen is in admiration of Mr. Darcy – his intelligence, inner strength, and ability to love and care – but it does not prevent her from showing the negative influence of overconfidence, prejudices, and pride given to him through education and interactions with the surrounding people. Elizabeth is even closer to Austen than Mr. Darcy, and she is undoubtedly one of her favorite personages. The author convinces readers of the generosity of Miss Bennet’s feelings, her reasonableness, and originality of mind, but she also demonstrates how hard it is for the heroine to reverse the pride and how easily she becomes misled..
The speech of the main characters is adjusted with their natures and propensities. Having sobriety and the ability to think rationally, they build well-balanced and completed phrases. For example, Mr. Darcy says: “Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them, is not of philosophy, what is much better, of ignorance” (Austen 274). At that, when he speaks to Elizabeth, his speech becomes more emotional and ardent.
At the same time, Elizabeth expresses her lively spirit and ironic mindset through the language. In her dialogues with other characters, there are many evaluative judgments and a high degree of word expressivity. Describing Elizabeth’s psychological state, the author says: “How earnestly did she then wish that her former opinion had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate!” (Austen 279). It perfectly depicts her upright character, honesty, and, at the same time, a predisposition toward rapid conclusions and unwarranted evaluations. This feature distinguishes Elizabeth from her sister, Jane.
When describing the two sisters, Austen primarily uses antithesis – Jane is angelically kind, and she tends to acquit any human action, while Elizabeth is characterized by sober thinking, archness, and sharp tongue. Jane avoids sharp turns of phrase; her speech is emotionally neutral similarly to her discreet and prudent character.
The dialogues of the main characters are almost indistinguishable from the author’s language. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy talk to each other in a similar manner as the author’s narration is written. But, to describe the secondary characters, Austen uses different instruments, such as irony and satire. The writer never tries to impose any judgments or moral positions on readers but, through the use of irony, she attempted to direct their attention.
In this way, since the very first pages of the novel, the absurdity of Mrs. Bennet’s character is revealed through her dialogue with her husband: “You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.” “You mistake me, my dear. I have high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least” (Austen 10). Here, the irony is based on the nonconformity between the form of expression and the essence of the depiction of the intended idea.
Mrs. Bennet’s language is as confused as her thoughts. Due to her spiritual poverty, the woman always tries to sound off and, thus, her speech is abundant with short, fragmentary, logically unconnected sentences. Mrs. Bennet’s thoughts, just like the thoughts of her favorite, Lydia, jump from one subject to another. Her phrases are strongly emotional and sometimes even rude: “But I can assure you … that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing … I quite detest the man” (Austen 16).
In this way, the fashion of characters’ speech in Pride and Prejudice has as important meaning as the content of what they are saying. Each character is endowed with the individualized manner of language use defined by his or her nature, psyche, the level of culture, and life context. All these factors determine the vocabulary composition, stylistic structure, and intonation associated with characters’ expressions. It is possible to say that the stylistic characterization of personages’ speech allows readers better to comprehend the ideas which Austen tried to convey through her novel. The way of each character’s thinking is interrelated with his/her psychology, and, through the examination of dialogues, it is possible to identify the foundations of his/her self-constructed misery and discontent with life – pride and prejudice.
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Auerbach, Emily. Searching for Jane Austen. U of Wisconsin, 2004. Web.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Folio Creations, 2014. Web.
Battersby, Matilda. “Rare Jane Austen ‘My Own Darling Child’ Letter about Pride and Prejudice Goes on Show.” Independent. 2013. Web.