On Laughter in Pride and Prejudice

Austen scholar John Mullan, whose marvelous collection of essays What Matters in Jane Austen? I am reading now, talks about how part of what makes Austen great is that if you pull on a thread in her work, you find fascinating and intricate patterns woven throughout the fabric of her novels.

He says,

One of the special delights of reading Jane Austen is becoming as clever and discerning as the author herself, at least for as long as one is reading. And when you do notice things it is as if Austen is setting puzzles, or inviting you to notice little tricks, which do justice to the small, important complications of her life. Readers of Austen love quiz questions about her novels, but the apparently trivial pursuit of the answers invariably reveals the intricate machinery of her fiction. Are there any scenes in Austen where only men are present? Who is the only married woman in her novels to call her husband by his Christian name? How old is Mr. Collins? […] Every quirk you notice leads you to a design. The boon of Austen’s confidence is that the reader can take confidence too, knowing that if he or she follow some previously neglected thread it will produce a satisfying pattern.

I love this description, and have found it to be surprisingly true. It’s another way of “catching Austen in the act of greatness.”

Here’s one example I noticed (I think Mullan mentioned the topic and I later decided to investigate it):

In Pride and Prejudice, who laughs?

The word “laugh” with all its iterations–laughing, laughs, laughingly–occurs 44 times in the novel. (Smiles are more frequent, occurring 57 times.) What’s intriguing is that the characters who laugh or who talk about laughing the most by far are two that we normally think of as being extremely different people: Elizabeth and Lydia.

Who never laughs? Darcy, predictably (though he smiles). Neither does Jane. Nor Charlotte. Nor Mrs. Bennet, surprisingly, despite her similarities to Lydia. Nor do Mr. Collins and most of the other characters.

Who laughs once or twice? Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Gardiner, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Caroline Bingley.

Let’s pull on this laughter thread a bit. Why might it matter that both Elizabeth and Lydia are the ones who really laugh in this novel?

Consider this early exchange between Elizabeth and Darcy, after Caroline Bingley asserts that she could never laugh at Darcy, and warns Elizabeth that he is above reproach:

“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintances. I dearly love a laugh.”

“Miss Bingley,” said [Darcy], “has given me more credit than can be. The wisest and the best of men—nay, the wisest and best of their actions—may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”

“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth—“there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”

In another scene, Jane says to Elizabeth, in response to her sister’s amusement over her tendency to think well of others, “Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.” Elizabeth, at this point in the novel, thinks that Jane is rather naive in her desire to assume the best of people like Mr. Darcy. She finds her sister’s stubborn good-will amusing, and silly.

But Elizabeth’s laughter (as she indicates: “I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good”) is not totally unrestrained. When Mr. Bingley (surprisingly) teases Darcy for his somberness, she is not unkind. “Mr. Darcy smiled; but Elizabeth thought she could perceive that he was rather offended, and therefore checked her laugh.”

Lydia also loves to laugh. After sharing a story about dressing up a servant in women’s clothes as a joke, she tells her sisters, “Lord! how I laughed! and so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died. And that made the men suspect something, and then they soon found out what was the matter.”

Much later, in her letter to her friend explaining her elopement with Wickham, which causes her family such distress and shame, Lydia writes, “You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed.” She adds, regarding her family, “You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write to them and sign my name ‘Lydia Wickham.’ What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing.”

Lydia, unlike Elizabeth, has no sensitivity at all for the feelings and concerns of those around her and laughs with abandon.

And yet, if you examine more of these examples of Elizabeth and Lydia laughing throughout the novel, you start to realize that both sisters, as different as they are from one another in many respects, share a tendency to enjoy the discomfiture or perceived silliness of others–a trait they also share with their father Mr. Bennet.

He also seems to derive the greatest pleasure from observing human folly. His chief enjoyment in life seems to be observing stupidity in his own wife and children, as Elizabeth comes to realize later with regret: “Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters.”

Indeed Mr. Bennet says to Elizabeth towards the end of the novel, after sharing with her a letter from Mr. Collins: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

This is very similar in spirit to what she had said at the beginning of the novel to Darcy: “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” But it is clear by this time that, though Elizabeth still loves to laugh, she has realized that this kind of amusement at the expense of others has its dangers–and even its own kind of viciousness.

Why does this matter? Well– I rather think that Austen likes to employ another technique in her novels: character foils—characters that contrast each other’s qualities in ways that lead the reader to new insights. Obvious examples in P&P include Darcy and his friend Bingley, Elizabeth and Jane, Darcy and Wickham, Lydia and Mary, Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner.

The foil dynamic only works, however, if the characters share important similarities as well. I think Lydia and Elizabeth are a less obvious but extremely important example; their love of laughing connects them subtly throughout the novel, but it is the extent of their willingness to be educated in that laughter that sets them apart.

You see this, too, in their attraction to Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth ultimately realizes her feelings for him are superficial, and later that they are bestowed upon a very unworthy object, but Lydia’s affection, like her laughter, is unreflective and self-absorbed. Even after the elopement ordeal and the forced marriage, Lydia returns to her family with her new husband unchanged:

Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their congratulations; and when at length they all sat down, looked eagerly round the room, took notice of some little alteration in it, and observed, with a laugh, that it was a great while since she had been there.

Just as Mr. Bennet favors Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet favors Lydia. Both daughters are spirited, sanguine and, arguably, independent—but Elizabeth is willing to suffer the embarrassment and sadness of recognizing her own flaws. She says, famously, “Til this moment I never knew myself!” Lydia, meanwhile, is happy to remain ignorant. Her self-congratulatory laughter rings in our ears as she and Wickham drive away to the north of England.

Austen herself provokes a great deal of laughter in us as we read the novel, but perhaps she is inviting us to learn to laugh not like Lydia or Mr. Bennet out of self-absorption and superiority, but rather like Elizabeth, at ourselves and with others.

In a letter to her aunt in the penultimate chapter, telling of her engagement to Darcy, Elizabeth expresses an interesting change: “I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”

Her laughter now is motivated not by derision or self-satisfaction, but by joy.

Catching Austen in the “act of greatness”

Virginia Woolf, a leader of the Modernist movement in the early 20th century, deeply admired Jane Austen but once quipped “that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.”

Why is this?

Well, before we examine that, you might realize that you may feel this way, too, when you pick up one of Austen’s novels for the first time. If your experience of Austen has only been through Keira Knightley and the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with its lush landscapes and affecting music – or, even better, the award winning BBC 1995 miniseries with its delightful acting, quick banter, and wit, and Colin Firth – you might find when you finally open a copy of the original written work itself that it seems a little… flat.

What is all the fuss about, anyway? How do these novels inspire such adoration and affection? Why do so many people keep making different movie versions of them?

All Austen’s plots certainly seem rather predictable, and their social norms archaic. The average reader would be hard-pressed to discover how they are “ahead of their time.” For those with strong religious convictions and a kind of rosy-eyed nostalgia for earlier ages, you might be disappointed to discover that, despite scholarship around Austen’s exploration of virtue, she never discusses prayer or God, nor do her characters seem troubled by any obviously existential questions. In fact Austen seems to have an unusual kind of restraint or reserve concerning the areas of life most intimate (and important) to us, areas of faith, of loss, of love–though her novels are populated by courtships, clergymen and country estates aplenty.

So, what makes her so wonderful?

I’m unpacking that question myself, and I think there are many ways to answer it. But here’s one “act of greatness” in which we might be able to catch her: the ability to reveal the interior lives of her key characters through a technique she was one of the earliest writers to master. It’s called free indirect discourse.

Technically, free indirect discourse occurs when certain words / phrases / clauses that are part of a third-person narrative reflect the perspective–and, I would argue, voice–of a particular character.

It’s often best to explain with examples. Here are three I made up that contain basically the same content, but are expressed in different modes of discourse:

Direct discourse:  She said, “I love Mr. Darcy—his quiet seriousness, his desire to do what is right—oh, but it’s more than that. How can I express it?”

Indirect discourse: She said that she loved Mr. Darcy because of his quiet seriousness and his desire to do what was right, but admitted there was something more she could not put into words. She wondered aloud how she might express it.

Free indirect discourse: She loved Mr. Darcy—his quiet seriousness, that desire of his to do what is right—yet it was more than that. How could she express it?

In direct discourse, the narrator quotes the character directly—we hear the character’s actual spoken words.

In indirect discourse, the narrator reports to us, indirectly, what the character is saying. But the tone, the voice, the diction of the sentence remains the narrator’s, just the phrasing of words would be if we report to our friend Ashley what our other friend Mark said to us at lunch.

In free indirect discourse, however, the narrator actually slips into the thoughts of the character—almost as Virginia Woolf or James Joyce would in stream-of-consciousness. Indeed, free indirect discourse is a precursor to that modernist technique. In free indirect discourse, the narrator takes on the interior voice of a character.

Another way to think of it is that in direct discourse and indirect discourse, we are being given reports of what a character says– either in his spoken voice or the narrator’s. In free indirect discourse, we are being given access to the character’s unspoken thoughts.

Here’s a real example from Pride and Prejudice, right after Elizabeth unexpectedly runs into Darcy at Pemberly. I will italicize the text where I think the free indirect discourse begins–though of course it is not italicized in the original:

The others then joined her, and expressed admiration of his [Darcy’s] figure; but Elizabeth heard not a word, and wholly engrossed by her own feelings, followed them in silence. She was overpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there was the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world! How strange it must appear to him! In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man! It might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again! Oh! why did she come? Or, why did he thus come a day before he was expected?

The exclamation points are a giveaway, which makes this example of the technique all the more clear (the narrator herself never employs them). Obviously, the narrator knows that this meeting is not “the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world.” Those are Elizabeth’s (mistaken) thoughts on the matter. The narrator is not quoting Elizabeth either–Elizabeth is not speaking–nor is she merely reporting indirectly her own version of what Elizabeth is feeling (as she does when she says “[Elizabeth] was overpowered by shame and vexation”). Rather, the narrator has actually slipped into the mind of Elizabeth so that we can hear her— so that we can have access to thoughts that otherwise we never would have in a third person account.

Why should we care about this?

Well, Austen is revealing to her readers something I believe had not been really made fully explicit in literature before: the notion of the private self, the hidden self.

Think about it. Achilles is as Achilles does and says, and though we see him moping on the beach and rampaging through Trojan lines we never hear his private thoughts. His lamentations are public–spoken to his mother, his slaves, etc. Most of ancient literature is like that. The closest thing we might come to it prior to Austen is Shakespeare’s monologues (“To be or not to be!”) but even then, these are spoken aloud, performed—and thus rendered in a way that is not really how most of us converse with ourselves.

Elizabeth Bennet is so relatable and delightful not just because of her quick intelligence and witty replies to the snobs around her, but because of her interior life. We have access to thoughts and feelings she never shares with other characters: not with her beloved sister Jane, not with Darcy. We get to see her make mistaken internal judgments–and then learn from them. We note her interior frustration and embarrassment around her family not just because of the color of her cheeks, but because of her mortified thoughts.

This is a degree of intimacy with a person we normally can only have with ourselves.

First person accounts, like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or even Augustine’s Confessions (more intimate since written as a prayer to God) also come close, but I would argue that they still don’t give you that same kind of access. In a way, the first person narrator is addressing you as he would a confidante, but not as he would address himself.

The genius of Austen’s technique is that it alienates us from some characters just as much as it connects us to others.

Why does Mrs. Bennett seem so utterly ridiculous and Wickham so despicable? Why is Lydia so annoying? It’s not just because of their reprehensible actions and stupid (or deceptive) words. It’s also because, for us, they have no interior lives. Presumably, as human beings in the real world, they might—-but Austen’s narrator keeps us safely ignorant of them. It’s interesting to track which characters in each novel are revealed to us through free indirect discourse, and which ones are not.

Why do we love Emma, despite her stupidity, manipulation of others, and snobbery? One reason is that Austen gives us this same kind of interior access to her interior life in this later novel as she does with Elizabeth–more, in fact, and so much more that we end up seeing most of the story through Emma’s eyes even though it is a third person account. As a result, we are also deceived about other characters and situations and likewise humbled when the truth of the matter is revealed.

When Knightley helps Emma see how badly she behaved toward the impoverished Miss Bates, we not only see Emma’s actions and words as she repents later and try to make amends, as we would in any novel, we also get to hear her silent self-recrimination. Again, I’m putting the free indirect style in italics:

[Emma] continued to look back, but in vain; and soon, with what appeared unusual speed, they were half way down the hill, and every thing left far behind. She was vexed beyond what could have been expressed—almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of this representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying one word of gratitude, of concurrence, of common kindness!

Notice the beautiful movement in this paragraph from the exterior to the interior, gradually moving more and more inward: first, Austen gives us the barest brushstrokes of the outer scene, accessible to any viewer, of Emma looking out the carriage window until “they were half-way down the hill”. Then the narrator takes us into the carriage and reports (and, in a sense, interprets) Emma’s feelings: “agitated, mortified, grieved”. Already the narrator’s voice may be giving way to the character’s. We learn that “she was vexed beyond what could have been expressed;” so, of course, she does not express it. At least not aloud. And at last, we are drawn into Emma’s inner thoughts, that no one else in the novel will hear. Other characters will see her actions, hear her voice, but they will not share with her this pivotal inner moment of remorse and regret, like we will.

It’s so subtle. Free indirect discourse is not something we usually notice when we read–and that’s kind of the point. We are pulled in and find ourselves sympathizing before we know what we’re about. In pioneering this style, Austen gave us a great gift; the ability to imaginatively and sympathetically enter the hearts of flawed, ignorant people like ourselves who are trying to be better.

It’s an experience, I believe, that allows us to look at those around us in the real world a little differently, with greater kindness and a sense that the real story of each person’s life is the interior, hidden one, the story which only that soul and God get to read—except in the case of a good novel.

Leitmotifs and LIFEmotifs

No, go back and watch that first! ^^

I showed this video to my AP classes the other week in order to help them enrich their understanding of literary motifs– which are recurring images, symbols, ideas or patterns in a story that help highlight or develop a theme. (See previous post for the difficulty with themes.)

As I explained to my students, in the video above, the Nerdwriter uses the word “theme” where, literature-wise, I would use the word “motif.” He does an amazing job showing how Howard Shore develops the same series of notes (eg: the “Fellowship theme” /  motif) throughout the trilogy of movies in a way that highlights and qualifies the meaning of the scenes.

Literary motifs are not too hard to spot once you know what to look for–and they can really enrich your experience of a story.

For example, proposals are definitely a motif in Pride and Prejudice:

“Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life. “

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

“On opening the door, she perceived her sister and Bingley standing together […] the faces of both, as they hastily turned round and moved away from each other, would have told it all. Their situation was awkward enough […]”

“It taught me to hope,” said he, “as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.”

Notice that, although each instance of the motif includes different characters in different situations with vastly different moods, etc– (like different instruments!) there is the common pattern of notes throughout. In fact, there is a thread weaved in the plot, if you tug it, you might be able to pull in order coax out a theme somewhere. What is Austen saying about proposals? Or even — what are adequate grounds for making a proposal? Answering those questions would give you a modest theme that Austen is probably getting at.

Interestingly, I find it rather unlikely that Austen thought to herself– “Hm, I think I will put a proposals motif into my story.” Maybe she did think that. But likely the proposal scenes occurred naturally in the plot. Motifs, like so many other amazing patterns in literature, often arise out of an organic process that isn’t always the result of the author’s conscious or deliberate intent; yet they are there just the same. I think of the Eucharistic sunset motifs in Flannery O’Connor stories, or the confession-rehearsals throughout Crime and Punishment, or the countless goodbye exchanges between friends in The Lord of the Rings. They are meant to be there, but not always, consciously, by the author.

Previously, my students had been thinking of motifs in King Lear as sort of static key words that show up frequently in the work; oh, look! There’s the word “sight” again! And then King Lear is acting “blind”! And now Gloucester’s eyes have been removed… so he’s literally blind… But although they could notice repeating images or words, they did not yet have the sense of the richness inherent in motifs. That’s why the video above is so helpful. There’s an almost visceral level that music in movies can touch that is not so easily accessed (at least anymore) by literature– but once you are reminded of it you can return to the page with awakened senses.

So, now that we’re reading Beowulf, what I want my kids to see is that the images or ideas that recur throughout the poem — like gold and treasure, the concept of fate, the use (or uselessness of weapons)— do so in much the same way as the stirring “Fellowship” motif recurs throughout LOTR or the foreboding Darth Vader or mysterious Force motif recurs throughout the Star Wars Saga. Sometimes, the same motif is played with different instruments, or with a different tempo, or with a minor shift of some kind. The change in tone, in instrumentation, in context, is as important in musical scores as it is in literature– and these changes suggest something about meaning.

For example, the first time we see the treasure motif appear in Beowulf is in the context of death: Shield Sheafson, a paradigmatic king and warrior whose hallowed memory strangely opens the tale of Beowulf, is given a water burial. He is lain in a boat by his thanes and covered with treasure:

They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,

Laid out by the mast, amidships,
The great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
Were piled upon him, and precious gear.
I never heard before of a ship so well furbished
With battle tackle, bladed weapons
And coats of mail. The massed treasure
Was loaded on top of him: it would travel far
On out into the ocean’s sway. (Heaney, Beowulf 34-42)
Yes, like Boromir.
The next time treasure in Beowulf appears, however, it does so in the context of the gilded gold in the hall of Heorot. The hall itself cannot protect the people from the brutal devastation of Grendel, and so once again treasure is associated with death. This time, however, it is clear that treasure does have some kind of protective mythic quality:
So Grendel waged his lonely war,
Inflicting constant cruelties on the people,
Atrocious hurt. He took over Heorot,
Haunted the glittering hall after dark,
But the throne itself, the treasure-seat,
He was kept from approaching; he was the Lord’s outcast. (Heaney, Beowulf 164-9, emphasis added)
Treasure is linked with death here, certainly– Grendel “took over Heorot” and “Haunted the glittering hall.” Treasure cannot ultimately protect men from their fate. However, treasure is also associated with kingship and a special kind of providence: “the throne itself, the treasure-seat, / [Grendel] was kept from approaching.”
One word for king in the poem is a kenning– “ring-giver”– that is, a treasure-giver. Kings and chieftains bestowed treasure upon their thanes in return for loyalty and mighty deeds. Their thrones are evidently “treasure-seats” protected by God, who keeps Grendel “from approaching.” It would be a mistake to think that treasure in this poem is a materialistic indulgence or source of vice in the same way that money is in, say, in The Great Gatsby. It is associated far too often with honor and nobility for that kind of dismissive interpretation. Yet at the same time, treasure and weapons and gold are left in the barrows of heroes long gone.
The more you notice the places in which this motif appears throughout Beowulf, the stranger and more mysterious it becomes. Beowulf lays aside his treasure, his arms, to fight Grendel– and only thus is victorious. Grendel cannot be defeated by ordinary means. And yet Beowulf needs treasure — a magic sword– to defeat Grendel’s mother. Much later, as he dies from battle wounds, the old King Beowulf asks his young thane to bring to him some of the treasure from the dragon’s hoard– pulling us back once again to the association of treasure with death.
I could be conflating different motifs here — perhaps it would be better to distinguish gold from weapons within this idea of “treasure.” But nevertheless I think the point holds; recurring images and patterns in stories are worth noticing. They can open up initially obscure tales in surprising ways.
The kids will be researching a topic in Beowulf for their first mini research paper, and each topic they can choose from is tied– at least obliquely — to a motif.
One of my students asked if he could trace rewards exchanged in Beowulf between king and thane in order to explore their impact on the rewards system in the RPG game Skyrim–which apparently borrows a lot from Anglo-Saxon culture. I said, go for it.
Ultimately, it would be cool for them to ponder the extent to which there are any motifs in their own lives. Admittedly, it’s dangerous to go pattern-hunting in one’s own life– it is better to cultivate a humble disposition that welcomes each day, acknowledging that day’s uniqueness, and that doesn’t too hastily categorize moments into pre-conceived patterns.
Still, I think God Himself sometimes has favorite ways of working with different people in a motif-esque kind of way: He seems to think exile is a recurring pattern that is necessary for the Israelites. Abraham is told to make all sorts of journeys– exterior and interior. Peter’s recurring motif is to make a fool out of himself. If we approached our own lives with prayer (the proper literary approach for this genre, if you will), I think we might discover some beautiful motifs woven throughout them. How much more intricate they are than movies and novels– and how much more strange and mysterious.

An Introduction I wrote for my seniors, and my first post

peacock001Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: The Art of Manners

The 20th century American Southern writer Flannery O’Connor says:

Here are two qualities that make fiction. One is the sense of mystery and the other is the sense of manners. You get the manners from the texture of existence that surrounds you. The great advantage of being a Southern writer is that we don’t have to go anywhere to look for manners; bad or good, we’ve got them in abundance. We in the South live in a society that is rich in contradiction, rich in irony, rich in contrast, and particularly rich in its speech. The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery (O’Connor, Mystery and Manners).

Flannery O’Connor’s description of the relationship between mystery (that which can never be fully understood by the human mind) and manners (our rituals, the acts of courtesy and custom that preserve the mysteries of life) is a wonderful way to begin to understand Jane Austen. Again, “mystery” here does not mean a murder mystery or an area of empirical/physical/scientific reality that we just haven’t figured out yet. “Mystery” for O’Connor (and probably Jane Austen) really means those areas of life and experience that are so deep that we will never (in this life or the next) get to the end of them—such as love, friendship, holiness, suffering, forgiveness, redemption, death, etc. “Manners” definitely includes things like saying “Please” and “thank you,” opening the door for people, dressing appropriately, etc. But “manners” for O’Connor and Austen also includes something more: respecting the privacy of others, understanding and negotiating social boundaries, the art of conversation, the art of listening, etc.

Although Flannery O’Connor wrote in the 20th century American South (Georgia, to be specific) and Jane Austen wrote in the 19th century English countryside, they both are really interested in manners and how manners/social boundaries/customs can either preserve or damage human mystery. For example, good manners for Austen, like waiting to be properly introduced to someone before you talk to them, help people build relationships and friendships based on a solid foundation. Bad manners, on the other hand, like telling your whole life story to someone the first time you meet them, can damage both people involved because one hasn’t established the right foundation yet for that kind of intimacy.

Forgive me for generalizing a little bit, but the Southern states, for some reason, actually seem to pay a lot more attention to manners than the Northern states do, because their priorities are somewhat different. In this way, living in the South might help you appreciate Jane Austen more, since she too would appreciate people saying things like “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” and offering people welcome and hospitality.


When you are reading Jane Austen, pay VERY close attention to the manners of the various characters, how they treat one another, judge one another, respond to social situations, etc. Jane Austen is not going to directly describe a lot of emotions to you—but they are definitely there. They are brimming beneath the surface.

It’s like she respects the characters’ interior lives so much that she does not want to completely reveal all of their thoughts and feelings—since that would be a violation of manners and proper boundaries.

At the same time, Austen’s narrator is VERY critical of many of the characters. You may or may not always agree with her.

Don’t be fooled by Austen’s rather cool or lighthearted tone, or her stereotypes, or her ridiculous characters. There is some serious stuff going on underneath all the witty dialogue and brief descriptions.

Good luck!