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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Table of Contents

STYLE

Jane Austen's graceful, economical narrative style was unique in her time. It was an era in literature given to flowery wordiness and emotional excess. Readers of the day could take their choice among collections of sermons to improve their minds, tales of sin and punishment to improve their morals, and horror stories to stimulate their circulation. Pride and Prejudice is told in a readable prose without a single superfluous word, and it frequently breaks into dialogue so lively and so revealing of characters that entire scenes have been lifted bodily from the novel and reproduced in dramatized versions for stage and screen. In some passages the author enters into the mind of one or another of her characters, most often into her heroine Elizabeth's, and there she reveals her character's capacity for humor and self-criticism. Austen's style is so deceptively lucid that we can hardly believe she submitted her writing to so much polishing and revision.



POINT OF VIEW

Pride and Prejudice is mostly written from the objective view of an external observer. However, from time to time the novel departs from this objective storytelling approach to explore the thoughts and feelings of a character-either Darcy as he slips little by little into love with Elizabeth, or Elizabeth as she considers her own behavior and the behavior of others. Whatever the approach whether through Elizabeth's mind or through the voice of a narrator, the point of view is always and unmistakably Jane Austen's. It is always her sharply critical eye, youthful though it was when she wrote the novel, that observes and subtly comments on her society's follies and foibles, making us laugh but also making us aware. When we finish her book we know very well the defects she saw in the people of her world, but we also know how much she enjoyed her life among them, faults and all.

FORM AND STRUCTURE

Like her writing style, the structure of Jane Austen's novel is deceptively simple. She appears to be telling a straightforward story, character by character and happening by happening, exactly as it occurred in chronological sequence. We can in fact read the novel that way. But on closer look we find that Pride and Prejudice is not merely a record of events. Instead, it is an interweaving of plot and subplots, an intricate pattern with various threads.

The main plot follows the far from smooth course of the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy and the conflict of his pride and her prejudice. Their feelings, born of first impressions, are not the only obstacles between them. Three subplots complicate their relationship.

The first is Bingley's attraction to Jane Bennet and Darcy's intervention to save his friend from what he sees as an undesirable marriage. The second is Wickham's involvement with the Darcy family, and his ability to charm Elizabeth and deepen her prejudice against Darcy. The third is Charlotte Lucas' marriage to Mr. Collins, which throws Elizabeth and Darcy together and sharpens their differences.

Elizabeth ends up rejecting Darcy in what we come to see as the first dramatic climax of the story. The Wickham subplot brings on the second dramatic climax: his elopement with Lydia and the scandal and probable ruin of the entire Bennet family.

Austen maintains an air of suspense to the very end. She also keeps her three subplots alive with a novelist's juggling skill. In the end, all three subplots contribute to the resolution of the principal plot, and the hero and heroine come together in happiness at last.

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Barron's Booknotes-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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