Jane Austen, seventh of the eight children of Reverend George and Cassandra Leigh Austen, was born on December 16, 1775 (Warren, 2017). Austen was an avid reader since her early years. However, her readings extended little beyond the literature of the eighteenth century. Writers such as, Samuel Richardson and Miss Burney tremendously influenced her. Therefore, the epistolary fashion of writing, glimpses of which can be seen in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, has been emulated from Samuel Richardson whose novels were written completely in the form of letters (Neilson, William Allan, 1917).
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Many have applauded Austen’s peculiar literary style that includes, irony, a third person narrative and a critical portrayal of women in the 18th century. These characteristics, skillfully utilized in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, make it a classic for generations. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is also considered to be a complex novel- mixing romance with realism. The setting has been kept vivid using detailed characteristics of Regency era; and at the same time Austen excelled at keeping the romantic angle alive through her writings in a very simple, yet precise manner. Ergo, Austen has been considered to be one of the greatest writers ever.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ set up in the British Regency era, talks about the grandeur of ballrooms, lordships and their estates and simultaneously, focuses on the life of five young unmarried sisters. It repeatedly mocks the rigidness of social civility and mannerism, where women say things to please men, and also explores the liberal quest of a young woman, Elizabeth Bennet who is determined to find a man on basis of merit and not wealth. Letters were an indispensable method of communication in 18th century; and Austen uses them extensively to keep the setting realistic. The role of letters to enlighten conflicts and resolutions, to twist the plot, and give the reader an insight into thoughts of the character, cannot be challenged. It is, thus, evident that Pride and Prejudice is unimaginable without the letters.
Letters play a very crucial role in character development. The very first reference of a letter, gives the details of Darcy’s writings to his sister. The letter is substantial and composed with utmost care. This minute reference shows the intricacies of his character, contrary to his social image: arrogant and snobbish. Similarly, Mr. Collin’s initial letter to Mr. Bennet is another spectacular example of letters playing a significant part in first revelations of the eccentricities of character. After reading the letter, Mr. Bennet deduces that Mr. Collins is pompous and foolish because “there is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter” (Austen 46). Hence, Austen shows how the style of writing, and the choice of words used in the letter can depict a lot about the personality of the correspondent.
Exchange of letters between characters explains the complex nature of relationships. As the story unfolds, the love and affection between the sisters, and their impatience to hear news about family, beautifully explicates the invaluable contribution of letters. The letter Jane writes to Elizabeth, to express how her opinion of Miss Bingley has changed, shows that the sisters relied on the letters to disclose their deepest secrets and sentiments. The correspondence between Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth in times of distress displays the bond, trust and fondness between the two. There is reference of Mr. Bennet’s letter to Elizabeth mentioning how he misses his daughter and asking her to hurry her return (Austen 146). These modest acknowledgements show the paramount significance of letters to announce love, longings, and attachment. On one hand, the letters cause conflicts, on the other, play a vital role in resolving the issues. When Lydia elopes with Wickham, numerous letters are exchanged between Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner to resolve the incident. These letters carry details of the arrangements made, and offer some hope of resolution in the appalling times. Mr. Collin’s hostile letter to Mr. Bennet, mentioning the catastrophic action of Lydia eloping, which Collins compares to “the death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this” (Austen 202), perfectly demonstrates another example of the outset of a discord.
The most effective and distinguished use of letters is done to further the plot. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth is a literary masterpiece; it presents the climax- in the subtlest imaginable way- through a letter. In the letter, Darcy describes how he views Jane and Bingley’s sentiments leading to an imprudent marriage and therefore, he tries to interfere with the affair. Darcy also explains the reasons for his resentment towards Mr. Wickham. Not only does the letter provide the reader with invaluable insights into Darcy’s mind and personality but also has an essential impact on Elizabeth. Austen masterfully exhibits the manifold effect that this letter plays in changing Elizabeth’s perception of Darcy. She thinks she has “courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away” (Austen 144), she is left depressed and baffled; and this marks her journey to rediscover Darcy.
Another crucial letter that further develops the plot is, from Mrs. Gardiner to Elizabeth, elaborating Darcy’s role in Lydia’s wedding with Wickham. Mrs. Gardiner confides in Elizabeth that Darcy and not Mr. Gardiner, is responsible for finding Lydia and Wickham, and to arrange a substantial wedding settlement (Austen 220). Mrs. Gardiner implies that Darcy was motivated out of love for Elizabeth. This new perspective given in the letter helps Elizabeth have a comprehensive understanding of Darcy. Austen has used letters impeccably well in selective situations, not only to build characters but also as a method to introduce them. Letters are used to advance the plot of the novel and cohesively tie various events. Overall, Austen brilliantly uses the letters as a literary device to weave the story that represents the niceties, intricacies, complexities and priorities of the life and characters of her time. This along with the elements of eternity and universality makes the novel a classic.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 4th Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Donald Gray and Mary A. Favret. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016, Print.
Warren, Renne, “Even our most beloved storytellers have lives with stories of their own to tell. “ Jane Austen.org, 10 Jan. 2017, www.janeausten.org/jane-austen-biography.asp. Accessed 26th Feb. 2017
Neilson, William Allan. Biographical note. Pride and Prejudice. Vol. III, Part 2. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1917; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/303/2/. Accessed 25th Feb. 2017
“Jane Austen blends Realism with Romance in her Pride and Prejudice.” Literary Articles. www.literary-articles.com/2010/02/jane-austen-blends-realism-with-romance.html. Accessed 24th Feb. 2017
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