Guide for Jane Austen’s Pride
Questions, Volume I (pp. 3-89)
- All the major families
are introduced with explanation of the fortune they have and the place they
live in. What does this suggest about the importance of money and
social status in this novel?
- The novel moves between a variety of different settings: Longbourn
House, Netherfield, Lucas Lodge, Meryton, and town. Who lives in each of
these places? What are their economic situations? Describe and characterize
each of those settings.
- Describe the Bennet sisters. In what ways do Elizabeth and Jane
contrast? How would
you describe Mary? Catherine (Kitty)? Lydia? What kind of
relationship do the Bennet daughters have with their parents?
- Who is Mr. Bingley? What is his financial status? How does this
relate to his marriage prospects? Bingley is also accompanied by his friend
Darcy. Just as Elizabeth and Jane contrast each other, Bingley and Darcy
also contrast. Describe the differences in their personalities, bearing, and
attitudes. Describe Bingley's two sisters (Mrs. Hurst and Ms. Bingley).
What do they feel about the Bennets? How does Ms. Bingley relate to
- Keep in mind that the
work that became Pride and Prejudice was initially called First
Impressions. Examine first impressions in volume I. What
is Jane's first impression of Bingley? What is his impression of her?
What is Elizabeth's first
impression of Darcy? What does she overhear him say? What is her
opinion of him after that? Is her opinion based only on appearance or
other more substantial criteria? How about Mrs. Bennet's view of Darcy?
And Charlotte's? How about the narrator's view? What
is Darcy's first impression of Elizabeth? What is it based on? Why
does Darcy start to change his view?
- How well does Elizabeth understand herself? How does she view
herself? How well does Darcy understand himself? How does he
view himself? How do you view both Elizabeth and Darcy at this point in the
- Why does Jane become sick at Netherfield? Is Mrs. Bennet upset
by her daughter’s sickness? Is Elizabeth upset? What does she do?
Was that proper behavior for a young lady? How do the residents of
Netherfield respond to Elizabeth’s action?
- As Elizabeth and Jane stay at Netherfield, what more does Elizabeth
learn about Bingley’s sisters? How would you describe the
relationship between Miss Bingley and Darcy? Does Elizabeth’s view of
Darcy change? Does Darcy’s view of Elizabeth change? By the time that
Elizabeth returns to Longbourn, Darcy has conflicting feelings about
Elizabeth. What does he feel? What does he decide to do about it?
- The Bennet family, as you
learned in earlier chapters, consists of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five
daughters. What will happen to the Bennet property after the death of Mr.
Bennet? Who will become the owner of this estate? The
expected loss of their property makes the hunting for husband necessary.
How does Mrs. Bennet do it improperly, say, in the episode of Jane's
sickness and then at the Netherfield Park?
- Why are we introduced to
Mr. Collins? What is his occupation? What is his social position and
financial status? The narrator says that Collins has a mixture of
"pride and obsequiousness." Can you find examples of this
description? Can you find out reasons for this peculiar mixture?
- How would you describe
Mr. Collins' proposal of marriage to Elizabeth? Is it romantic?
Passionate? What is his view of marriage? How does Elizabeth respond to him?
Does he accept her reply? How does he interpret her response? How does Mrs.
Bennet respond to Elizabeth's decision? How does Mr. Bennet respond?
- Within three days of
proposing to Elizabeth, Mr. Collins' proposes to someone else. Who does he
propose to? Does she accept? Why or why not? What is her view of marriage?
How does this affect her relationship with Elizabeth? How does Mrs. Bennet
respond to the news?
- What happens
simultaneously in these chapters is Mr. Bingley's departure for London with
no return date, which we get to know from Ms. Bingley's letter.
What does Jane learn from that letter? How does Jane interpret
the letter? How does Elizabeth's understanding of the letter differ
from Jane's? What could be the possible reasons for Bingley's
behavior? We will not know the actual reasons until chapters later,
but there are clues that prepare us for it.
What are they?
- While Collins bumps
into the "marriage market," switches his attention from Jane to
Elizabeth, and then, being rejected by Elizabeth, to Charlotte, we see
Elizabeth drawn closer to Wickham and further away from Darcy. What do
you think about Elizabeth's judgments of Darcy and of Wickham? How
does she get over her infatuation for Wickham?
- What are Elizabeth's
first impressions of Mr. Collins? What does she base her judgment of him on?
Do you agree with her initial assessment of him? What does Mr. Bennet think
of his visitor? After learning more about Mr. Collins in subsequent
chapters, what is your opinion of him?
- Who is Lady Catherine de
Bourgh? What does Mr. Collins think of her? Does Elizabeth agree with Mr.
Collins’ views on Lady Catherine? Why or why not? What are your
impressions of her? Mr. Collins talks a great deal about Rosings Park, Lady
Catherine's home. What are his thoughts about Rosings? How does Rosings
contrast with Longbourn?
- Who is George Wickham?
What is his occupation and social position? In this novel, which
frequently draws attention to appearances and how appearances can be
deceptive, how would you describe Mr. Wickham's appearance? The Bennet
sisters, including Elizabeth, are initially attracted to him. What is it
about Mr. Wickham that attracts them?
- When Mr. Wickham and Mr.
Darcy happen to meet in Meryton, how do the two men respond to each other?
What is the relationship between the two men, according to Wickham? What
does Wickham claim that Darcy has done to him? How does Elizabeth respond to
Wickham's account of his past experiences with Darcy? Jane's response to
Wickham’s account differs from Elizabeth's. How does Jane respond?
- Elizabeth is eager to
meet Wickham at the ball given by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield, but her high
hopes are not actualized. Why not? Why does Elizabeth not dance with Wickham
at the Netherfield ball? Who does she dance with? What happens between Mr.
Darcy and Elizabeth at the ball? How does Elizabeth feel about Darcy at the
ball? How does Darcy feel about her? What happens between Jane and Mr.
Bingley at the ball?
- Elizabeth is embarrassed
by the behavior of several members of her family at the ball. What do Mrs.
Bennet, Mary, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Collins do that cause Elizabeth to feel
uncomfortable? How do the Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy respond to the
actions of the Bennet family?
Questions, Volume II (pp, 89-158)
- We learn about another letter in this novel, which contains many
letters. Jane receives a second letter from Miss Bingley. What does
Miss Bingley tell Jane? How does Jane interpret this letter? How does
Elizabeth interpret it?
- Characterize Jane by examining her responses to the Darcy-Wickham
controversies, to Bingley's absence, to Charlotte's marriage, and then Ms.
- After Jane goes to London with her aunt and uncle, what contact
does she have with the Bingley family? How does Jane respond to her first
meeting with Miss Bingley? How does she respond to their second
- On the way to see Charlotte and Mr. Collins Elizabeth, Sir
William Lucas, and Maria Lucas stop briefly in London to see Jane and the
Gardiner family. Elizabeth is surprised to learn about Jane's present
condition. Why? How is Jane? What is bothering her?
- How are Mr. And Mrs. Gardiner related to Elizabeth? How do
they differ from Elizabeth's other relatives? What do the Gardiners offer to
do for Jane? Does Jane accept the offer? Why? What does
Jane expect from her relationship with Miss Bingley?
- Before the Gardiners and Jane return to London, Mrs. Gardiner
also has numerous opportunities to talk with Mr. Wickham. What do Mrs.
Gardiner and Mr. Wickham have in common? What do they talk about? What
does she think of him? Mrs. Gardiner also makes it a point to talk to
Elizabeth about Mr. Wickham. What words of advice does Mrs. Gardiner offer?
Why does she offer this advice? How does Elizabeth respond to her aunt?
- Elizabeth's relationship with Mr. Wickham abruptly changes. Why
does it change? To whom does Mr. Wickham re-direct his attentions?
What are his motives? How does Elizabeth react to this? How
would you describe the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham as she
leaves for London and Hunsford?
- When Elizabeth tells her aunt about Mr. Wickham's relationship
with Miss King, how does Mrs. Gardiner respond? Is Elizabeth being
consistent when she criticizes Charlotte for marrying Mr. Collins but
accepts Mr. Wickham's relationship with Miss King?
- How does Elizabeth
change her attitudes toward Charlotte during the revelation of the latter's
marriage and afterwards?
- Before Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins, she asks two favors
of Elizabeth. What does she ask? How does Elizabeth respond to
these two requests? How does Elizabeth respond to the first letters that she
receives from Charlotte after her marriage?
- Before Elizabeth and the Lucas's leave for Hunsford, Mrs.
Gardiner invites Elizabeth to travel in the future with the Gardiners. Where
will they go? Which of Elizabeth's acquaintances lives there?
- When Elizabeth arrives at the Collins's house, what does she
learn about the marriage between Charlotte and Mr. Collins?
- What are Elizabeth's first impressions of Mrs. Jenkinson and
Lady Catherine's daughter? What does Elizabeth think of the park surrounding
Rosings? How does Elizabeth's response to Lady Catherine and the first
evening at Rosings differ from those of Sir William, Maria, and Mr. Collins?
What does Elizabeth think of Lady Catherine? How would you describe and
characterize Lady Catherine? How does Lady Catherine treat Elizabeth?
- Elizabeth is surprised by the arrival of Mr. Darcy and Colonel
Fitzwilliam at Rosings. How is Lady Catherine related to the two men? What
are Elizabeth's initial feelings about Fitzwilliam? How would you
characterize the relationship between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam as they get
to know each other better?
- How would you
describe the first meeting of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at Hunsford? How does
Mr. Darcy feel about Elizabeth? As they spend more time together, does he
completely understand her words and actions? How does Elizabeth feel about
him? Does Elizabeth understand his feelings, thoughts, and actions? Can you
give examples of Elizabeth and Darcy's misunderstandings of each other?
- In this novel about
pride and prejudice, which characters do you think are proud?
Which are prejudiced? Do you think it is completely accurate to say, for
example, that Darcy is proud and Elizabeth is prejudiced? Or are both
characters a combination of pride and prejudice? Which other characters are
also proud? Prejudiced?
- As the novel develops till this point, what do you think about
Darcy's pride and coldness, esp.
in the Meryton assembly? How do different people respond to his pride
and stubbornness? How does Darcy himself explain it?
- During one of her regular walks in the park around Rosings,
Elizabeth meets Fitzwilliam. While talking with him, Elizabeth learns more
about Darcy's involvement in Mr. Bingley's estrangement from Jane. How does
she respond to this in front of Fitzwilliam? When she is alone?
Does she show any lack of judgment in her defense of her own family?
Will you respond the same way as Elizabeth?
- As Elizabeth considers the news she learned from Fitzwilliam,
Darcy pays her a visit and, to Elizabeth's surprise, proposes marriage.
Are you surprised, too? (In other words, are there clues to prepare us
for it?) How would you describe his proposal? Does he present an
overwhelming passion for Elizabeth? How does Elizabeth respond to his
proposal? Why does she respond this way? What does she tell him?
- The next morning Darcy hands Elizabeth a letter he has written
to her. What does this letter say? How does Elizabeth initially
respond to this letter? After she has had a chance to think about the
letter, how does she respond to it? Does she have a chance to talk
with Darcy about this letter? Why not? How does Darcy's letter
change Elizabeth's understanding of herself?
- When Elizabeth and Maria Lucas leave Mr. and Mrs. Collins and
head toward London and their homes, the two women have different thoughts
about their six-week stay in Hunsford. What are their different reactions?
Why does Elizabeth feel that she must keep secret some of her experiences?
- As Elizabeth, Jane, and Maria travel from London to their homes,
they are met by Lydia and Kitty. What more do you learn about Lydia?
Is she prudent in her purchase of a new bonnet? Why does she buy it?
How does she welcome her sisters and Maria back? Who has to pay for
this "treat"? Is she very attentive to her sisters?
What news does Lydia have about the relationship between Mr. Wickham and
Miss King? What news does Lydia tell her sisters about the military
men that have been stationed in Meryton?
- Elizabeth confides in Jane SOME of what happened between herself
and Darcy. What does she tell Jane? What does she not tell her? How does
Jane respond to the news? How does Elizabeth feel about Mr. Darcy at this
point in the novel?
- Why do the two
sisters decide not to make public what they know about Mr. Wickham?
- Why do Lydia and Mrs. Bennet want to spend the summer in
Brighton? How does Mr. Bennet feel about this? How do Mr. and Mrs. Bennet
respond when Colonel Forster and his wife ask Lydia to accompany them to
Brighton? What does Elizabeth think of this plan? What does she
tell her father? How does Mr. Bennet respond to Elizabeth? What are
his reasons for allowing Lydia to go?
- Describe Elizabeth's relationship with Mr. Wickham before he
leaves for Brighton.
- We are told more about the reasons why Mr. Bennet married his
wife. What were his reasons? What is Elizabeth's opinion of her father as a
husband? How does she think the relationship between her father and mother
has influenced the children?
Questions, Volume III (pp. 158-254)
- Why does Elizabeth go to
Pemberley? What does she think of Pemberley? How does it compare and
contrast with Rosings Park? After the first correction of Elizabeth's
prejudice by Darcy's letter, how does she change her views of Darcy?
- What do Elizabeth and the
Gardiners learn about Darcy from Mrs. Reynolds? Does Elizabeth's attitude
toward Darcy change while at Pemberley and after talking with Mrs. Reynolds?
What does she think about him now?
- When Elizabeth meets
Darcy at the Pemberley estates, she is surprised by his behavior. How has he
changed since she saw him last? How does he treat her? Her aunt
and uncle? What does Elizabeth think has caused this change in Darcy?
And how do Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner look at Darcy?
- How does Elizabeth feel
about Darcy's intention of introducing Miss Darcy? Describe
Elizabeth's meeting with Miss Darcy. Is Miss Darcy as proud as Wickham had
described her? When Elizabeth meets Mr. Bingley, she detects some hints that
he may still be thinking of Jane. What are those hints? Describe Elizabeth's
meeting with Miss Bingley.
- How does Elizabeth feel
about Darcy after spending more time with him? Can gratitude, esteem
and respect be a good foundation of love?
- Elizabeth receives two
surprising letters from Jane. What shocking news about Lydia does Jane
communicate? This elopement, as you will see, brings together the
Lydia-Wickham and Elizabeth-Darcy plots. At this point, how does Elizabeth
think this news about Lydia will influence her relationship with Darcy?
What do the Gardiners and Elizabeth decide to do in response to the letter?
- When Elizabeth and the
Gardiners arrive back in Longbourn, they find the Bennet family quite
disturbed about Lydia. What do they fear has happened between her and
Wickham? Where is Mr. Bennet? Why has he gone there? What
is Mrs. Bennet's response to the news? What has Jane been doing?
- In the letter that Lydia
left for Mrs. Forster, what does she say that she and Wickham are about to
do? How would you describe the tone of her letter? What does that tone
suggest about Lydia?
- Mr. Collins in a letter
explains his view of Lydia's behavior. What is his opinion of her actions?
What does he suggest Mr. Bennet do?
- When Mr. Bennet returns
from London, how does he feel about his own behavior as a father?
- Mr. Bennet receives a
letter from his brother-in-law, Mr. Gardiner informing the Bennets of the
settlements for Lydia to be married to Wickham. What is required of
Mr. Bennet? Why does Mr. Bennet think so little has been asked of him? Who
does he think has financially assisted in this matter? When Mr. Bennet
receives a second letter from Mr. Gardiner, does it reconfirm his thoughts
about his brother-in-law's generosity? Why will it be difficult for
Mr. Bennet to repay him? What is Wickham's motivation in eloping with
- What do events reveal
about Mr. Bennet's handling of financial affairs? What do they show
about Mr. Bennet as a father?
- How do Elizabeth and Jane
respond to Lydia’s news? How does Elizabeth respond to Lydia when
she comes home for a visit? What does she think to be the reasons for
- When Mrs. Bennet is
informed of the developments, how does she respond? In what ways
is her response similar to Lydia's? Describe Lydia's homecoming after
her marriage. How does she understand and present her elopement and
marriage? How does her view differ from those of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr.
- Describe Elizabeth's
relationship with Wickham while he stays at Longbourn. And how does
- Now that the crisis
surrounding Lydia is resolved, Elizabeth begins to think once again of Mr.
Darcy. What are her thoughts and feelings for him now? How has Elizabeth’s
view of herself changed?
- When Lydia describes her
wedding day, she mentions, much to Elizabeth's surprise, that Mr. Darcy was
at the wedding. After Elizabeth asks her aunt about the reasons for
Mr. Darcy's presence at the wedding and his involvement with Lydia and
Wickham's wedding arrangement, her aunt sends a long, detailed letter. What
information does this letter contain? How did Darcy help to facilitate
the wedding? Mrs. Gardner offers several explanations for why Darcy helped.
What are her explanations? How does Elizabeth respond to this letter? How
does this influence her views of Darcy?
- When Mr. Bingley comes to
pay a visit at Longbourn, Darcy is with him? How does Darcy act while
visiting? How does Elizabeth respond to him? Why is she disappointed?
- Shortly after Lady
Catherine's visit Mr. Bennet receives a letter from Mr. Collins. What news
and advice does Mr. Collins offer? How does Mr. Bennet respond to this
letter? When he reads parts of that letter to Elizabeth, how does she
- A week after Jane and
Bingley's engagement, Lady Catherine stops at Longbourn. What is her reason
for visiting? How would you describe her manners and behavior? What does she
talk to Elizabeth about? How does Elizabeth respond to Lady Catherine's
questions and demands?
- After Lady Catherine
talks to Elizabeth, Lady Catherine goes to London and meets with Darcy. What
does she tell him? How does he respond to this news from his aunt? When he
returns to Longbourn, he has a long walk and conversation with Elizabeth.
What do they talk about? What do they decide to do? How have they both
changed since he first proposed to her?
- The Bennet family is
surprised by the new relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. How does Jane
respond? How does Mr. Bennet respond? Mrs. Bennet?
- After Lydia and Wickham
leave Longbourn for the north of England, the Bennet family receives news
that Bingley is returning to the neighborhood. How does Jane respond to this
news? How does Mrs. Bennet respond?
- What does Mrs. Bennet do
to foster the relationship between Jane and Bingley? Does it work? What do
Jane and Bingley decide to do?
the dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy, how does Elizabeth explain the
reason for his attraction to her? After the account of Darcy's
self-improvement, what do you think about their marriage?
- After Jane's marriage to
Bingley and Elizabeth's to Darcy, the Bennet family experiences some
changes. How does Kitty benefit from the marriages? How does Mr. Bennet
respond? Mrs. Bennet? Lydia and Wickham? Mary?
- The original working
title of Pride and Prejudice
was First Impressions;
contemplate the ways in which this alternative title illuminates central
concerns and issues in the novel. Think too about the change from First
Impressions to Pride and
Prejudice: what different emphases are implied by this revision? What
are the applications of the novel's final title?
- The relationship between
Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy can be viewed in terms of an ancient
and venerable tradition in imaginative literature, the "battle of the
sexes." Indeed, there are many precedents in literature for the
situation Austen sets up, precedents with which Austen would certainly have
been familiar, just as the theme of gender relations has remained prominent
in literature and art since 1813 (the year of the publication of Pride
and Prejudice). Examine the relationship that Austen depicts between
Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. What are the dynamics of the
relationship? What do the two principals believe about themselves, about one
another, and about their relationship? Consider also the function of setting
in the development of their relations: that is, are there particular real,
imagistic, or symbolic reasons for Austen to locate particular scenes in the
settings in which they occur?
- In what ways is Pride
and Prejudice related to the tradition of the "comedy of
manners"? What elements of that tradition appear in the novel? What
elements appear, but in an altered form? What elements appear to be
eliminated, either entirely or mostly so? Does thinking about the novel in
terms of the comedy of manners alter the ways in which we evaluate it? If
so, in what ways? If not, why not?
- Both Elizabeth and Darcy
undergo transformations over the course of the book. How does each change
and how is the transformation brought about? Could Elizabeth's
transformation have happened without Darcy's? Or vice versa?
- Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins,
and Lady Catherine de Bourgh are famously comic characters. What makes them
so funny? How does Elizabeth's perception of them affect your trust in
Elizabeth's views of other people in the book, particularly of Wickham and
- This novel, perhaps more
than any other of Austen's, seems obsessed with marriage. How many marriages
are discussed, portrayed, or occur during the course of the novel? Enumerate
and characterize them, choosing scenes or passages that show them well,
pointing out which elements of those scenes and passages make possible
generalizations about each of the marriages.
If the novel celebrates marriage,
perhaps as women's best goal [?], what do you make of the many negative
How are men's and women's roles
in marriage defined differently in the various marriages imagined or
In what way is Elizabeth's
marriage beneficial? To whom? What does this suggest about men's and women's
roles in marriage? Are they different than in the other couples?
Look at vol. II, ch. iv; there,
Elizabeth understands Wickham's "prudence" in attaching himself to a
woman with money and defecting from her. If we understand her views here, why
aren't we likewise understanding of Bingley's defection from Jane?
What is the role in the
novel of Collins' proposal to Elizabeth? Does it serve any function in the plot?
If not, then why might it be there?
attitudes toward marriage. To what extent is she right? To what extent is her
marriage acceptable, perhaps better than others we see in the novel? What might
we learn or conclude from this? How do you feel about it personally, regardless
of what the novel suggests about the success or failure of her marriage, and her
satisfaction with the match?
What do you think of
Elizabeth's thoughts when she sees Pemberley? Does she think she should have
married Darcy for the estate? If so, why? What do the estate and his role there
What communities or arrangements of people do we get by the end of the
book that are different from those with which they start? What kind of values
might that suggest? To what extent do these shifts challenge the class
structure, and to what extent do they instead support it? How do they do so?
Vivien Jones compares the plot of Pride and Prejudice to that of a typical romance novel:
Darcy's arrogance only serves
to enhance his desirability and confirm his status as hero: as every reader of
romantic fiction knows, the heroine will learn to reinterpret the hero's bad
manners, his 'shocking rudeness' . . . as a seductive sign of his repressed
passion for her. She has the power to transform apparent hostility into lasting
commitment and a happy-ever-after marriage. ("Introduction," Penguin
and Prejudice formula fiction--conforming to the romantic novels of
Austen's day (and of ours)? Explain why you agree or disagree.
Think very hard about the ending
of the novel. Are you satisfied? Why or why not? Why does Austen end the novel
this way (I am referring to the last three chapters, not just the last
paragraph)? When you have considered the ending of the novel in broader terms,
look at the concluding paragraph. Why do you supposed Austen chose to finish
here? Finally, look back at the opening
of the novel. Has your relationship to this opening sentence changed? Do
you feel, now, that it is a suitable/unsuitable/informative/ironic/?
introduction to the book?
Is this novel really a "chick book," and if so, why? (I am not
looking for the obviously sexist and dismissive answer, "because only
chicks care about this stuff." IF that's the case, then why
do you think it is the case? Is it simply that women are willing to identify
with male narrators/protagonists, but not vice versa? Or is there more to it
than that?) If not--that is, if you don't feel the novel's appeal is limited to
female readers--why not?
Terms you should
three or four thousand a year
ten thousand a
risen to the
Rt. Hon. Lady
Catherine de Bourgh
Jane Austen's novels simply cultivate a small and self-enclosed world?
One critic’s response to this most frequently voiced complaint about Austen:
The modeling of war is mostly male – almost
everyone would agree on this and on the truth that war’s exactitude and damage
may elude a conventional fictional transaction. But shouldn’t Jane Austen at
least have mentioned one battle or general by name? Why is there not a word
about the rapidly evolving mercantile class and the new democratization of
Britain? What about changes in political structure, in the power and persuasion
of the Church, in the areas of science and medicine? These questions are often
challengingly presented, as though novels are compilations of ‘current
events,” and Jane Austen a frivolous, countried person in intellectual drag,
impervious to the noises of the historical universe in which she was placed.
In fact, Jane Austen covers all these matters, if not with the directness and
particularity our Napoleon man might have liked. Her novels, each of them, can
be seen as wide-ranging glances
... across the material of the world she inhabited, and that material includes
an implied commentary on the political, economic and social forces of her day.
These glances, like ubiquitous sunlight, sweep and suggest, excoriate and
question. The soldiers who distract the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice are posted nearby in case of an invasion
from France – why else would they be there? – and their presence threatens
the stability of local society, a sociological certainty that was fully
comprehended by the author of six novels written over a stretch of unsettled
time and each of them offering its historical commentary.
By indirection, by assumption, by reading what is implicit, we can find behind
Austen’s novels a steady, intelligent witness to a world that was rapidly
reinventing itself. Every Austen conversation, every chance encounter on a muddy
road, every evening of cards before the fire, every bold, disruptive militiaman,
is backed by historical implication. For even the most casual reader, the period
of Austen’s life, 1775-1817, becomes visible through her trenchant, knowing
glance. ... Austen’s short life may have been lived in relative privacy, but
her novels show her to be a citizen, and certainly a spectator, of a far wider
Austen. London: Phoenix, 2001
The dramatic power of her characters led some
nineteenth-century writers, including Macaulay and George Lewes, to regard her
as no less than a "prose Shakespeare' . . . . In the words of George Moore,
Jane Austen turned the washtub into the vase; in effect, she transformed the
eighteenth-century novel--which could be a clumsy and primitive
performance--into a work of art . . . . .She invented her own special mode of
fiction, the domestic comedy of middle-class manners, a dramatic, realistic
account of the quiet backwaters of everyday life for the country families of
Regency England from the late 1790s until 1815 . . . . The modesty of Jane
Austen's fictional world is caught in her remark to a novel-writing niece that
"3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work upon,"
and her famous comment to a novel-writing nephew about "the little bit (two
inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush" which
"produces little effect after much labour."
The novels communicate a profound sense of the
movement in English history--when the old Georgian world of the eighteenth
century was being carried uneasily and reluctantly into the new world of Regency
England, the Augustan world into the romantic.