Remember to use one of these before you leave!

    Answer Page for
  Have a question that's not answered here? Ask it via the Home Page.
Need help with an essay you've written? Look here

    Home Page     Jane's Life     Book Reviews     Contents Page     Links Page     Essay Help

<---More Recent 55. Family quotes in P&P 54. Universal Truths in Northanger Abbey Earlier Answers––>

Name:Jiang Yuheng
Question 57 I am doing something which requires some comments on Jane Austen's style of writing. But from what i found out, she has differernt style for each of her novel, so how can i give a general comment on her style of writing?
Reply Dear Jiang,

You are quite right—this is a tricky questions, and ‘styles’ (plural) seems more apposite and easier to handle. One can also study how my attitudes to styles changes from novel to novel as a major feature of my development. A major distinction here is between the voice of the narrator and the voices of the various characters, and basically what I realised was that the characters can speak in much more individualised voices than some of my eighteenth-century antecedents suggest.

For example, in Sense and Sensibility (1811), the characters often speak in a way that suggests formal discourse, written rhetoric, and that of the highly formal and regularly organised prose of the eighteenth century. The characters are presented as different types, but the structure of the sentences doesn’t itself reflect this very carefully. At an other extreme is Emma (1816), in which characters are given an individual style of articulation which may depend on their formation, age, intelligence, class level and so on, but obviously reflects them as individuals in a much more intimate way—so you might like to compare the characters with each other or with the voices of characters in earlier novels—Mrs Elton, Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse have a highly distinctive utterance, in each case conveying something of their limitations. Knightley, the intelligent landowner, is closer to written discourse like that of Dr. Johnson in his speech.

Note how, even in Mansfield Park (1814), a highly formal, indeed pompous chap like Sir Thomas Bertram is sometimes given quite homely idioms, like ‘What is all this?’ as part of my growing desire to reflect talk, individual utterance, spoken English, and idiolect. Notably formal or even prissy in utterance and style of self-presentation is Fanny Price in the same novel, eager to hang on to a sense of status, propriety, and control lacking in her original ‘working class’ home in Portsmouth—and it shows, perhaps particularly in her conversational exchanges with Mary Crawford. Actually, although most people would put down my success to something like a triumph of styles, I was a little worried by the overt Johnsonising and overall formality of the utterance of people in Pride and Prejudice (1813), despite the popularity of that novel. Elizabeth Bennet, intelligent and ironic, still sounds a bit like the pompous characters like Lady Catherine and Mr Collins at times.

Somehow I intuited I had to loosen up on the speech of the characters to convey individual differences more markedly or definitively. In Persuasion (1818), I still had a little bit of a problem in finding appropriate speech for the good characters, so that Captain Wentworth, the dashing naval hero, doesn’t say much, or even sounds a little wooden when he does speak, whereas the highly defective characters like Sir Walter Elliot and his spoilt and snobbish daughter Elizabeth sometimes say memorable things in memorable ways, even if those are unpleasant. In Northanger Abbey Henry Tilney talks impressively like a Johnsonian book, Isabella Thorpe has had some kind of literary training but has been corrupted by it or has corrupted it, and it shows through—her insincerity and mercenary motives are finally discerned even by the ingenuous heroine Catherine. Isabella’s brother, John Thorpe, on the other hand, is insufficiently ‘like’ a book, and he talks incoherently and without regard to veracity also (as he is up at Oxford he should obviously know more about books ancient and modern than he does about horses, but obviously doesn’t). Yes, I agree the question is awkward and I’ve only given you a start. So find some examples of your own to talk about which have impressed you, or just enjoyed.

With best wishes

Jane Austen.

June 26, 2004 02:55:11 (GMT Time)

Name:Richard                     Top
Question 56 My friends birthday is coming up and i want to get something engraved for her. She's obsessed with Jane Austen and so i'd like to use a quote from one of her works, something touching or inspiring. But I'm completely unfamilliar with JA's works. Anything you could come up with would be greatly appreciated.
Reply Dear Richard,

So sorry, I’ve been on hols. Incredible but true; I left my resting place in Winchester and travelled south, for a beaker-full of warmth, as my contemporary Keats might put it (I think he wrote his similar phrase in Winchester, now I come to think of it; however, you may already be somewhat fatigued with literary reminiscence). I was looking at my last completed novel, Persuasion and I find that of one of my favourite heroines, Anne Elliot, it is said that ‘she had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning’. (Ch. 4). (She had originally, ironically, turned down the man of her choice, over-influenced by that formidable substitute for her deceased mother, Lady Russell.)

However, it may well be that you both still have youth on your side here, and hence not on mine in this context, if you see what I mean, Richard. On the closing page of that work (Ch. 24), with Anne’s triumphantly achieved engagement imagined as marriage, it is said that ‘[Anne] was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in [Captain Wentworth]’s affection’. This slightly enigmatic statement depends on the ironic involvement of ideas of wealth and happiness in the previous sentences devoted to Anne’s friend Mrs Smith, which prepares you for the unusual use of the word ‘worth’ here. Substitute your friend’s name for ‘Anne’ and your own for that of ‘Captain Wentworth’ and you may find you have produced an acceptable maxim. With best wishes to both of you.

Jane Austen.

June 19, 2004 21:15:35 (GMT Time)

Name:Serena Nichole                     Top
Question 55 I'm working with a group of people to do collages of themes in Pride and Prejudice.  Mine is family.  Are there any quotes that i can use?
Reply Dear Serena,

Commiserations or congratulations on your commission: in fact it seems quite revealing in that the components I assemble and the moves I make to define and characterise the (dysfunctional) Bennet family are fairly simple ones. Suggestions you are not obliged to follow include:

Ch. 14: Read from ‘Mr Bennet’s expectations were fully answered’ to end of chapter. Reveals something of Bennet family life, implying that Novel-reading aloud is a family practice (includes Pride and Prejudice?) Mr Collins in all his narrow-mindedness is shocked by the idea, and ‘never reads novels’. He reads from a book of sermons but is soon interrupted by Lydia and Kitty, the young family tearaways who will shortly leap over the traces in more serious way. Here the impoliteness of the girls is pinpointed, showing that they have not been properly brought up, but the reader sympathises with them a bit in the face of Mr Collins' prosings.

Ch.20 Read from ‘Oh! Mr Bennet . . .to ‘I shall be glad to have the library to myself’: After Elizabeth refuses Mr Collins, the scene is in Mr Bennet’s library, to which he too often withdraws to get some peace, but also perhaps to evade responsibility: however, he has his power: ‘from this day forward you must be a stranger to one of your parents. . . and I will never see you again if you do’. This shows Mr Bennet’s wittiness, and his authority. However, his wit is exercised at the expense of his own wife. His terseness goes with a certain arrogance, a firm belief that explaining things clearly is something like a waste of time here.

Ch. 23. Read from ‘Mrs Bennet was really in a most pitiable state’ to end of chapter. Shows Mrs Bennet’s pettiness in refusing to rejoice in Charlotte‘s happiness ‘however oddly constructed such happiness might seem’ (Persuasion). He also points out her insensitivity in assuming that he will die first. Also explains how the entail affects the household. The anxiety over the entail arrangements causes the hysteria of Mrs Bennet, and may indicate that Mr Bennet’s sarcasms may arise from guilt.

Now, my dear, I’m sure you can find at least one example for yourself. That should satisfy your hearers, who may indeed chorus that you have delighted them long enough, in Mr Bennet’s phrasing.

With kind regards.

Jane Austen.

June 5, 2004 01:46:48 (GMT Time)

Name:jasleen kaur kohaar                      Top
Question 54 "How do authors from various time periods and cultures use narrative forms and language to communicate universal truths?" - I was given Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey to read and i have to base my answer on that novel. I have to use the influence of the author's background and Genre conventions to ans. this ques.I would like to know something about the Genre Conventions of that age and the culture and society of that age and something about the universal truths Jane Austen communicates?
Reply Dear Jasleen

I’m so sorry, your question took time to reach me for some reason, and I had a little indisposition. I must take you to task a little for questioning me in the third person. I am Jane Austen, after all, not just a miserable critic.

But your question: I mean, like, Wow! Northanger Abbey is itself above all an unpretentious piece of work, especially given my huge reputation, my dear, and its satire on ignorance is equalled only by its satire on pretensions to superior knowledge. Anyone who could answer your question would be such a Paragon (good heavens, that was one of my Bath addresses!) that She would be a great object of irony in Northanger Abbey, and everyone would keep well out of her way.

But let’s see. Without expecting too much, my dear, I notice that in NA I was writing a dry-eyed, modern, realistic novel, set in everyday Bath as I knew it, being most careful as to times, dates and humdrum details and humdrum places. However, the novel is also about those who read reality by the light of other works of art like the one they are in. In a sense this is a work about the effects of other works of art, and the narrative outcome depends on such meditations. The narrative issue is bound up with the heroine’s response to what she reads and its relation to reality as she finds it, or creates it.

In particular the story (narrative) relates to Catherine’s attempt to find the mystery, romance, depth, and horror that her reading of the romantic, Gothic works of the preceding half-century have aroused in her innocent breast, in a modern society, in prosaic surroundings, in a context in which her gently bullying mentor Henry suggests, ‘nothing serious’ can happen.

For this, Catherine is satirised, and also rebuked, especially over her theory that the gruff and peremptory General Tilney murdered his wife, which would make the plot of Northanger Abbey more in conformity with her previous reading. Her mentor Henry, the son of the General, has noted her lack of experience—calling on Mrs Allen in up-country Fullerton is a local adventure. (‘What a picture of intellectual poverty!’)

Catherine is thus in a position to be led astray by the reading she does. And she is, literally. Her theories about how things are, especially at Northanger, seem wrong. However, what she does have is a moral uprightness, straightness, and honesty, an ‘innate principle of integrity’ as Henry calls it, which sees to it that she is not so wrong after all.

The question is, did the Gothic novel really lead her astray, or was it the provider of a clue to the modern-style, quiet, capitalistic villainy of the General who, in the end, treated her so very badly? The novel this shows that the novel at least can be about the nature of fiction to fact, the imagination to the real, of the relation of one’s own art work to what went before as in itself the potential provider of narrative surprises. A contrast with Catherine here is Isabella Thorpe, a spoilt girl who reads for thrills and is merely mercenary. Her words cannot be trusted; and this opens on a larger theme for novelists—whether the words used by the characters are reliable, and the narrative results of attempts to deceive. Also puzzling for the nicely-brought up Catherine—as the daughter of a parsonage which goes in for truth and sincerity she cannot quite cope either with Isabella or her brother John Thorpe, a rattle who contradicts himself egregiously as he speaks for effect and has no integrity, no notion that telling the simple truth is more worthwhile than nicely embroidered lies. A large amount of creative mileage in the history is the novel is extracted from putting into question the reliability or otherwise of what people are told, are saying or reporting.

One question the novel also seems to raise with respect to one of your keywords is: what is a ‘genre’? Isn’t the word often used a bit loosely? There is a speech here (try chapter 5) to the effect that novels are wonderful and hugely underrated as works of the imagination by comparison with works of fact. There is also the suggestion that there are novels, or novels of a sort, which might just lead you astray, either because of their intrinsic qualities or because of the use you make of them or the response you have to them. Are they therefore bracketed as different in kind or bad but of the same kind? Is it your fault or theirs? Are works of art culpable? Or is it only our misapprehension of them?

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

May 21, 2004 23:58:00 (GMT Time)