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<---More Recent 113. Human understanding in P&P 112. Elizabeth vs Lydia 111. All about Emma Earlier Answers-->

Name:Crystal                     Top
Question 114 How effectively does Jane Austen use irony in Persuasion?
Reply Dear Crystal,

Being me, and given the applause which has greeted my efforts, throughout the ages of time elapsing since my much too early doom, I’m not inclined to be critical: very effective indeed. Another interesting point is that irony is double-sided. It seems to be put there by the author, but it is also ascribed or imputed by the reader. You might be able to make something of that. One irony seems to be that the girl Wentworth the hero courts in place of his true love Anne (Louisa) is supposed to be headstrong and independent, but becomes so on his orders, as it were, without their realising it. Then, Anne has suffered terribly from rejecting the dashing Wentworth on her snobbish friend Lady Russell’s advice, but when he returns enriched by the war he punishes her a  bit more, and a bit more than he would like to if he knew the truth, by ignoring her, almost as if she had died. One of Lady Russell’s arguments is that Wentworth was a high insurance risk, and the decision to reject him was predicated on the prospect of his death. A parallel plot-line, ironically, concerns a man who has lost his fiancé when he was about the dangerous task of fighting Napoleon. Wentworth will define himself in relation to what he sees as Benwick’s fickleness, slightly ignoring the fact that he himself has been courting other people. Ironically, Benwick falls for Wentworth’s current girlfriend after she fell from the Cobb. Benwick liked Anne as a poetic soul, but ironically Anne finds that his love of poetry makes him self-indulgent. There is a lot of irony surrounding the theme of curacies (minor clergyman roles to be filled), combined with imagery of curing, nursing, nursing unacted desires, in Blake’s idiom, and Bath as a curative place (perhaps less curative than Lyme, a sea-port with people who have a ‘healthier’ attitude to life. Invalided-out Captain Harville is discovered to be a ‘gentleman’, something Anne’s stupid father Sir Walter would find ridiculous. More even than usual, much of the irony turns on what being a gentleman means, and this opens on the wider theme of ‘what is worthy of respect’.). Please find some more examples for your self. Study the Cobb incident carefully, for example, when Louisa falls, Wentworth flees, Anne takes charge, and William Walter Elliot turns up to put Wentworth on his mettle. This seems ironic as no one can suggest what he is doing there. Wentworth makes a joke (unusual) to the effect that he must have arrived in Lyme as arranged by Providence especially so that he shall not meet his cousins Mary and Anne. You can’t write about Persuasion without uncovering ironies somehow.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.  

July 24, 2006 22:38:42 (GMT Time)

Name:Hannah                     Top
Question 113 I have to write an assignment which requires me to either discuss the treatment of "human understanding" or the use of humour in Pride and Prejudice. I am at a loss as to how to approach the former and am not quite sure how human understanding is relevant to the story apart from the way an opinion may change after the first impression. As for the latter, which particular instances could I highlight and what purpose do they serve?
Reply Dear Hannah,

Sorry about the delay over this answer:
Human understanding: well, people seem to be ranked according to their level of this in P and P; in this respect there’s something almost academic about the novel. Elizabeth, misinformed and misled can cry out that until this moment she has never known herself, as she ponders the implications of Darcy’s letter in Hunsford after her rejection of him, while he experiences similar emotions after hearing her opinion of his arrogance as she construes it, though this estimate was partly based in misrepresentations. We were warned that single men with money would be sought after by designing ladies, not for themselves, but for money, status and social security. A sardonic understanding follows the doings of the middle-class Hertfordshire crowd, but posh and pompous Lady Catherine De Bourgh is similarly motivated, arranging a marriage of social equals and equal fortunes while the participants are in their cradles! Darcy, understanding Bingley’s callowness and not-so-hidden motives of greed, tries to protect Bingley from the designs of such as Mrs Bennet, but falls in love with one of her daughters himself, partly given her intelligence and understanding which he ranks with his own. Darcy, Elizabeth and Mr Bennet are intelligently privy to all this greed and grasping which subordinates the spontaneity which should reign in love-choices, while Jane Bennet remains innocent and undesigning, though by no means stupid, as her mother plots an escape from the conditions of the hated entail with unscrupulous tactics.

What Darcy has to has to learn is that he has something to learn, and Elizabeth teaches him this; Mr Bennet is a flawed character despite his intelligence, and he learns something about that; the unpleasant lesson Darcy learns from Elizabeth, is, roughly, not to cultivate the arrogance of rank, and her uncle and aunt Gardiner show that ‘middle-class’ people are up to his level of civilised discourse and understanding. Again, we are finally told rather than shown that Mrs Bennet became less nervous and silly and Kitty became less insipid and Mary became less pedantic, while Lydia and Wickham, hardly the great villains the narrator seems to think them, specifically learn nothing; perhaps Wickham is a gambling addict and needs ‘counselling’(!) People are learning and unlearning all along the narrative way, and I’m sure you can find examples that appeal to you now.

As for humour, I give you humour in the form of every line—unconscious and conscious irony, dramatic irony. Mr Bennet’s ironies, Elizabeth’s sardonic animadversions, Mr Collins as comic turn, Lady Catherine as comic yet vaguely menacing, but above all Elizabeth’s detached, linguistically brilliant appraisals corroborated and backed up by the narrator, except when she is misled, especially by Wickham’s misrepresentations. There are lots of little dramatic ironies sown in: for example, Darcy pays so little attention to Miss De Bourgh at Rosings that Elizabeth thinks he might be as likely to marry her. As Dryden said of Shakespeare’s excellences, here is god’s plenty, though I (also) say it (of) myself and my response to you. Now you can dig out a few instances of your own. Good hunting.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

July 2, 2006 03:59:30 (GMT Time)

Name:Katherine Kerr                     Top
Question 112 I have an essay question i am having trouble with.
"Compare and contrast the characters of Elizabeth and Lydia Bennet.  In what ways are they alike? In what ways are they different? What kind of relationship do these two sisters have, and why might Austen have rendered them as she does?"
I dont know if Im on the right track, is it something to do with a good sister gets a good husband and a bad sister gets a bad husband?
Reply Dear Katherine,

Nothing is easier than to contrast Elizabeth and Lydia, but by an irony they may prove to have something in common. Elizabeth is super-intelligent, Lydia is fairly vacuous, Lydia almost has a character note in a play list of not listening, while Elizabeth watches and receives impressions and analyses them. She has an analytic habit of mind, which she shares with her father. He loves and admires her but neglects and despises Lydia, while Mrs Bennet loves Lydia and is perhaps slightly afraid of Elizabeth, the least dear to her of all her daughters. Elizabeth is aware of social pressures and anxieties, of social opinion and ethical issues, and all this passes Lydia by. Lydia is attracted to men, as is Elizabeth in a much more sceptical mode. Lydia seems to respond to appearance, Elizabeth to qualities.

Where they do agree is that the choosing of a 'mate' is a pretty significant act, and Elizabeth finds that she is closer to Lydia, whom she finds it hard to empathise with in general, than her best friend Charlotte Lucas, who marries without affection to have a secure social position and comfortable income. Like Lydia, Elizabeth will only accept as partner someone she can love. She finds it hard to sympathise with Lydia's total lack of consideration for what effects her behaviour will have on her family in emotional and financial terms, but she can understand her emphasis on love and the fulfilment of desire(s) even if the ways Lydia sets about getting a lover (eloping with Wickham) fill her with disquiet. 

With best wishes

Jane Austen.

May 27, 2006 00:51:41 (GMT Time)

Name:Gem Binning                     Top
Question 111 I currently have an assignment task to compare and contrast two novels from different times, of which i have chosen Emma. I was just wondering if your able to help me with a few questions, so that I will be able to quote you in my assignment, and make my essay validated. That would be great if you could. The questions i have are:
- What is the reasoning behind the language use/style and how would you describe it?
- What genre do you think Emma fits into.
- What theme/s are apparent in Emma?
- The point of view of the story is obviously not from any character, so how would you describe the point of view of the story?
- What do you think the invited/dominant readings of the novel are?
- How would you describe the structure of the story ?
- What discourses are apparent in the novel?
Reply Dear Gem,

Firstly, I'm used to this but we generally answer one question at a time -that was the original rule.  And the ideas behind them are difficult. My first problem was to tell a story but let it unfold mainly in Emma's head with the irony that despite her cleverness and ingenuity and interest in narratives, especially those which lead to the altar, she gets things wrong and is much duped despite her confidence in her own abilities, or perhaps because of them. She is young and less worldly than she thinks. Irony was my motive, also to set up a sort of detective story (which reads differently second time around), that's one idea of genre. It's important to note the word is used in confusing ways to refer to different things: the novel is referred to as a genre, but it is a fairly modern thing which incorporates older modes: Hardy likes to write tragedies in novel form, but this novel of mine is a comedy, as marriage-plots as well as comic emphasis dictate; not that anguish isn't part of it, of course--the emotional range isn't stunted.

Point of view includes a commentating narrator, not necessarily omniscient, who fills in background detail but also enjoys irony at the expense of other characters, especially Emma. Much of the time we seem to be in Emma's mind, but the discourse slips in and out of it, and there is a chapter at least where things are related from Mr Knightley's viewpoint as he suspect the affair of Jane and Frank. The story tells a story of Emma's mistakes, maturation and move towards marriage, but there is an other side to the novel, which could, cleverly, be turned inside-out to reveal the whole affair of Frank and Jane. Sorry for the delay. Hope this helps.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen 

May 20, 2006 14:00:29 (GMT Time)