Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
CHAPTER-3 JANE AUSTEN AS A HUMORIST
CHAPTER-4 HUMOUR IN PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND EMMA
Gentle Satire and Irony
Humor through Delusion
Genial Spirit of Humour
Keen Sense of Humour
Humour Through Dramatic Irony
Mr. Woodhouse as a Comic Character
Miss Bates as a Comic Character
Emma as a Comic Character
Mr. Knightly as a Comic Character
Mr. Bennet as a comic character
Elizabeth and Darcy as humorous Characters
Mr. Collins A Highly Comic Character
Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a comic character:
Mrs. Elton as a comic character
Minor comic characters
A novel can be defined in broad terms as a piece of prose fiction, which dramatizes life with the help of characters and situations. It presents some aspect of human experiences and creates real-life atmosphere that is often gripping. The test of a great novel lies in its universal appeal. Being a fiction, it is an imaginary story. Even though it is imaginary or fictitious, it is life-like. A novel dramatizes life. This means the details, the situations and the characters are like real-life people. They act, react, struggle, suffer and triumph as one does in life. A novel is great or successful when it engrosses the reader and inspires him to identify with it. The author achieves this by giving a coherent and sincere picture of life, human relationships and human strengths and weaknesses.
The term "novel" is derived from the Italian "novella" meaning "a little new thing’’. A novel is a long story but it is difficult to determine its length. The accepted length is usually more than 50,000 words. Anything shorter than that is called a "novella"(Saintsbury,p-2). The novel is an extended narrative and distinct from a short story. A short story is more concentrated and does not have much scope to develop characters and situations, but a novel has this scope because of its length. A "novelette" or a "novella" is a narrative between the short story and the novel in length. In most European literature the word "roman" is used for the novel. "Roman" means romance (Saintsbury,p-3).
The earlier narratives were associated with the romantic adventures of the heroes and the heroines. The novel has achieved a wider scope and is no longer a "romance", though the term "roman" stays on (Charlotte Morgan,p-127). Primarily novels are read for entertainment and also to learn about life. Novels provide insight into different aspects of human existence, human psyche, social and familial relationships and the philosophy of life.
The novel at its most interesting is a process of inhale-exhale, a life-giving inspiration, a prose poem which releases the body and soul, even a new visionary glimpse of the miracle of life itself.
The genre encompasses a wide range of types and styles, including picaresque, epistolary, gothic, romantic, realist and historical novels. (www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/42)
The word "Picaresque" is derived from the Spanish word picaro, which means a rogue. The Picaresque novel presents the story of the adventures of some man or woman who keeps on moving from place to place. Since the novel records the different episodes in his or her journey, the plot remains loose and episodic. Some good examples of the early Picaresque novel are: Don Quixote by a Spanish writer Cervantes, Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, and Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
The term Gothic came from the word Goths used for a Germanic tribe. The Gothic novel is a type of fiction, which has supernatural elements like ghosts, haunted houses etc. It evokes fear, suspense and uncertainty. The setting is medieval. This novel became popular with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story (1765), and Mrs. Ann Radcliff's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Elements of a Gothic novel can be found in modem fiction and horror films.
"Epistle" means a letter. In an Epistolary novel the story advances through the exchange of letters between the main character and other people. This type became particularly popular in the 18" century with Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747), and Fanny Bumey's Evelina (1778).
A psychological novel, as the name suggests, has an interest in the innermost motives and desires of a character. In it, the individual is important and the events in his or her life are seen through his/her feelings, reactions and experiences. The stream-of-consciousness technique is best suited to this type. Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) are psychological novels.
The Historical novel takes its setting and some of its characters and events from history. Sir Walter Scott brought this type into prominence with his Ivanhoe.
The Regional novel is set in a particular geographical region and deals with the life and society of that particular area. A regional novelist usually sets his novel in a specific area like Thomas Hardy's Wessex (a fictional name given by him to the south-west area of England)
The novel is actually a relatively young form of imaginative writing. Only about 250 years old in England—and embattled from the start—its rise to preeminence has been striking. After sparse beginnings in seventeenth-century England, novels grew exponentially in production by the eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century became the primary form of popular entertainment.
Elizabethan prose writer who distinguished themselves in prose fiction were John Lyly, Robert Green, Thomas Lodge, Sir Philip Sidney and Thomas Nash. John Lyly is the pioneer of the English novel - the first stylist in prose and the most popular writer of his age. In 1579, Lyly published the first part of his famous fiction, Euphnes, the Anatomy of Wit, which was received with general delight and approbation.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, the novel developed many of the traits that characterize it in modern form. Rejecting the sensationalism of Behn and other early popular novelists, the novel built on the realism of Bunyan's work. Three of the foremost novelists of this era are Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson. Defoe is credited with the emergence of the true English novel by virtue of the publication of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. In the work of these three writers, realism and drama of individual consciousness that one most associate with the novel took precedence over external drama and other motifs of continental romance. Contemporary critics approved of these elements as supposedly native to England in other genres, especially in history, biography, and religious prose works.
Elizabethan literature was a starting point for identifying prototypes of the novel in England. Although not widespread, works of prose fiction were not uncommon during this period. Possibly the best known was Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, a romance published posthumously. The novel also owes its debt to Elizabethan drama, which was the leading form of popular entertainment in the age of Shakespeare. The first professional novelist—that is, the first person to earn a living from publishing novels—was probably the dramatist Aphra Behn. Her Oronooko, or The Royal Slave typified the early English novel by featuring a sensationalistic plot that borrowed freely from continental literature. Concurrent with Behn's career was that of another important early English novelist, John Bunyan whose Pilgrim's Progress became a landmark during the Elizabeth age.
The novel first took firm root in England and France. Novels began to be written from the seventeenth century, but they really started flowering during the eighteenth century (John Richetti,p-46). New groups of lower middleclass people such as shopkeepers and clerks, along with the aristocratic and gentlemanly classes in England and France formed a new readership for novels. As readership grew and the market for books expanded, the earnings of authors increased. This freed them from financial dependence on the patronage of the royal and gave them independence to experiment with different literary styles.
For a long time the publishing market excluded the poor. Initially, novels did not come cheap. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) was issued in six volumes priced at three shillings each (www.excellup.com) – which was more than what a labourer earned in a week. But soon, people had easier access to books with the introduction of circulating libraries in 1740. Technological improvements in printing brought down the price of books and innovations in marketing led to expanded sales. In France, publishers found that they could make super profits by hiring out novels by the hour. The novel was one of the first mass-produced items to be sold. There were several reasons for its popularity. The worlds created by novels were absorbing and believable, and seemingly real. While reading novels, the reader was transported to another person’s world, and began looking at life as it was experienced by the characters of the novel. Besides, novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private, as well as the joy of publicly reading or discussing stories with friends or relatives. In rural areas people would collect to hear one of them reading a novel aloud, often becoming deeply involved in the lives of the characters.
The novel originated in Europe at a time when it was colonizing the rest of the world. The early novel contributed to colonialism by making the readers feel that they were part of a superior community of fellow colonialists.(Baker,p-97) The hero of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) is an adventurer and slave trader. Shipwrecked on an island, Crusoe treats coloured people not as human beings equal to him, but as inferior creatures. He rescues a native and makes him his slave. He does not ask for his name but arrogantly gives him the name Friday. Crusoe’s behaviour was not seen as unacceptable or odd, for most writers of the time saw colonialism as natural. Colonized people were seen as primitive and barbaric, less than human; and colonial rule was considered necessary to civilize them, to make them fully human(Richetti,p-122). It was only later, in the twentieth century, that writers like Joseph Conrad wrote novels that showed the darker side of colonial occupation. The colonized, however, believed that the novel allowed them to explore their own identities and problems as well as, at times, their own national concerns.
More than other forms of writing which came before it, novels are about ordinary people. They do not focus on the lives of great people or actions that change the destinies of states and empires. Instead, they are about the everyday life of common man. In the nineteenth century, industrial revolution in Europe led to economic growth. But at the same time, workers faced problems. Cities expanded in an unregulated way and were filled with overworked and underpaid workers. The unemployed poor roamed the streets for jobs, and the homeless were forced to seek shelter in workhouses. The growth of industry was accompanied by an economic philosophy which celebrated the pursuit of profit and undervalued the lives of workers. Deeply critical of these developments, Charles Dickens wrote about the terrible effects of industrialization on people’s lives and characters. His novel Hard Times describes Coke town, a fictitious industrial town, as a grim place full of machinery, smoking chimneys, rivers polluted purple and buildings that all looked the same. Here workers are known as hands, as if they had no identity other than as operators of machines. Dickens criticized not just the greed for profits but also the ideas that reduced human beings into simple instruments of production.
The vast majority of readers of the novel lived in the city. The novel created in them a feeling of connection with the fate of rural communities. The nineteenth century British novelist Thomas Hardy, for instance, wrote about traditional rural communities of England that were fast vanishing. This was actually a time when large farmers fenced off land, bought machines and employed labourers to produce for the market. The old rural culture with its independent farmers was dying out. The novel uses an idiom which is a local variety. By coming closer to the different spoken languages of the people, the novel produces the sense of a shared world between diverse people in a nation. A novel may take a classical language and combine it with the language of the streets and make them all a part of the vernacular that it uses. Like the nation, the novel brings together many cultures.
The most exciting element of the novel was the involvement of women. The eighteenth century saw the middle classes become more prosperous. Women got more leisure to read as well as write novels. And novels began exploring the world of women – their emotions and identities, their experiences and problems. Many novels were written about domestic life – a theme about which women were allowed to speak with authority. They drew upon their experience, wrote about family life and earned public recognition. The novels of Jane Austen give us a glimpse of the world of women in gentle rural society of the early nineteenth century England. They make us think about a society which encouraged women to look for good marriages and find wealthy suitors. The first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice best exemplifies the custom:
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”(p-1).
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This observation unveils the prevalent social and family tradition which is preoccupied with marriage and money, as typifying Austen’s society. Jane Austen was writing highly polished novels about the life of the landed gentry, seen from a woman's point of view. Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), is often considered the epitome of the romance genre, and some of her other most notable works include Sense and Sensibility , Mansfield Park , Persuasion and Emma . But women novelists did not simply popularize the domestic role of women. Their novels often dealt with women who broke established norms of society before adjusting to them. Such stories allowed women readers to sympathies with rebellious actions. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, young Jane is shown as independent and assertive. While girls of her time were expected to be quiet and well behaved, Jane at the age of ten protests inst the hypocrisy of her elders with startling bluntness.
Novels for young boys idealized a new type of man, someone who was powerful, assertive, independent and daring. Most of these novels were full of adventure set in places remote from Europe. The colonizers in these novels are heroic and demand respect– confronting native people and strange surroundings, adapting to native life as well as changing it, colonizing territories and then developing nations there. Novels like R.L.Stevenson’s Treasure Island or Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book became great hits. G.A. Henry’s historical adventure novels- Wulfp the Saxon and In Times of Peril for boys were also wildly popular during the height of the British empire. They aroused the excitement and adventure of conquering strange lands. Set in Mexico, Alexandria, Siberia and other countries, they are the novels about young boys who witness grand historical events, get involved in some military action and show what they called ‘English’ courage. Love stories written for adolescent girls also first became popular during this period, especially in the US, notably Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson and a series entitled What Katy Did by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, who wrote under the penname Susan Coolidge.
In the 18th century literature, the most important phenomenon is the complete collapse of drama and rise of novel. Expansion of education and rise of a new class of readers and publishers, the new patrons of literature, the circulating libraries and the increased leisure enjoyed even by the lower sections of society all contributed to the popularity of the novel. This new kind of prose fiction reflected the life of middle classes and is distinguished from the earlier romances by its realism. There are four outstanding novelists of the age-Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, George Smollett and Laurence Sterne.
Scott gave birth to new kind of fiction-the historical novel. As a novelist, he is the creator of world of events and characters. His novels are pieces of reconstructed history, invested with the life and flavoured with humanity. Guy Mannering, The Heart of Midlothian, Rob Roy, The Bridge of Lemmer Moor, Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward are his important novels.
One of the earliest romance was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was revolutionary on two counts: it focused almost entirely on courtship and did so entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist. The main plot of a romance novel usually revolves around two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship together. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel are directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel contains subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love. Furthermore, a romance novel has an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. English novel has achieved its popularity at the turn of the 19th century. It has eclipsed poetry and drama. A prominent feature of the modern English novel is its immense variety and complexity..
The Victorian novels appealed to readers because of its realism, the impulse to describe the everyday world the reader could recognize, introduction of characters who were blends of virtue and vice, attempts to display the natural growth of personality, expressions of emotion: love, humor, suspense, melodrama, pathos and moral earnestness and wholesomeness, including crusades against social evils and self-censorship to acknowledge the standard morality of the times. It was in the Victorian era that the novel became the leading form of literature in English. Most writers were now more concerned to meet the tastes of a large middle-class reading public than to please aristocratic patrons. The 1830s saw a resurgence of the social novel where sensationalized accounts and stories of the working class poor were directed toward middle class audiences to incite sympathy and action towards pushing for legal and moral change. Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South contrasts the lifestyle in the industrial north of England with the wealthier south.
The Victorian era was the great age of the English novel—realistic, thickly plotted, crowded with characters, and long. It was the ideal form to describe contemporary life and to entertain the middle class. Dickens was the most successful of the English Victorian novelists, a master of sentiment and a militant reformer. He is admired for his fertility of character creation, depiction of childhood and youth and comic creations. His major works are A Christmas Carol , most popular Christmas story in the English speaking world, David Copperfield , essentially autobiographical and Dickens' own favorite novel, Bleak House , the first Dickens novel with a carefully-knit plot. The novels of Charles Dickens overflow with drama, humor, and an endless variety of vivid characters and plot complications. On the other hand, William Makepeace Thackeray’s chief subject is the contrast between human pretensions and human weakness. He excelled at portraying his own upper middle class social stratum. He is best known for Vanity Fair, which wickedly satirizes hypocrisy and greed. Emily Bronte’s single novel, Wuthering Heights, is a masterpiece propelled by a vision of elemental passions but controlled by an uncompromising artistic sense. The novels of Charlotte Bronte, especially Jane Eyre and Villette , are more rooted in convention, but daring in their own ways. The novels of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) appeared during the 1860s and 70s. A woman of great erudition and moral fervor, Eliot was concerned with ethical conflicts and social problems. George Meredith produced comic novels noted for their psychological perception. Another novelist of the late 19th century was the prolific Anthony Trollope, famous for sequences of related novels that explore social, ecclesiastical and political life in England.
Thomas Hardy's profoundly pessimistic novels are all set in the harsh, punishing midland county which he called Wessex. Samuel Butler produced novels satirizing the Victorian ethos, and Robert Louis Stevenson, a master of his craft, wrote arresting adventure fiction and children's verse. The mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing under the name Lewis Carroll, produced the complex and sophisticated children's classics like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Lesser novelists of considerable merit include Benjamin Disraeli, George Gissing, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins. By the end of the period, the novel was considered not only the premier form of entertainment but also a primary means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems.
In the Victorian age women held no rights. They were forced to be robots, performing only for the men they had to marry. The only jobs that women were allowed to hold was that of motherhood, they were not allowed to speak unless spoken to and certainly were not expected to have personal opinion. It was not until the inception of Women's Liberation Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the whole outlook on women changed. If it was not for women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Tubman, women would have been living in a world revolving only around men. A woman, during these times, was basically meant for cleaning, cooking and bringing pleasure to their husbands. The guidelines of how to treat a woman were probably the same as the ones used on how to treat a servant or an animal.
In order to understand the Victorian Society one needs to grasp the background and views of these times. Women were only there for men, and the most important aspect of that was marriage. From the time they were young they were set to be beautiful, because only the pretty girls got the richest man. The girls were groomed and basically put on show like a common day racehorse. In addition to being good-looking, a young girl was expected to be able to sing, play an instrument and speak French and Italian. They needed to be gentle, innocent and ignorant of their intellectual opinions. Women in the Victorian society were meant to be weak, helpless, fragile and unable to think for themselves. Their only job was to make sure the home was comfortable for the children and the man of the house. In those times male was the bread earner and the woman was there to keep the house clean and tranquil. In Jane Austen’s time, Britain continued to maintain the two concurrent ruling systems including monarchy, regime and ministerial system. Specially, the country was ruled by King George IV and the government was divided into hostile parties including the liberal wigs which determined to safeguard regular liberty and the Conservative Tories which tried to leave as much authority as possible in the royal and noble’s hands.
The industrial revolution which originated from England made the country become the most powerful in the world. In the late 18th century everyday life in Britain was transformed by the revolutions in industry and politics. Social status was still largely determined by wealth and economic standing. The middle and upper classes had a quiet and pleasant lives. They lived in luxurious and spacious houses, wore the finest material and the finest crafted outfits and never knew hunger. In contrast, the lower class had to suffer from a miserable and needy life. Men of the time typically made most of the money for the household and women did most of the housework and never went outside to find the work.
Jane Austen’s literary craftsmanship, subtle irony, and insights into women's lives have greatly influenced the development of the English novel. While Walter Scott was developing the historical novel and fancifully exploring Scottish and English history, Austen limited her fiction to the lives and manners of the upper middle class of the English provinces, with little hint of great events transpiring on the Continent during the Napoleonic era. Virginia Woolf called Austen, the most perfect artist among women (Robert Lovett,p-19).
Austen's novels typically center on the lives of intelligent heroines embedded in family life who unmask falsity and pretension on the ultimate path to successful matrimony. Although modern readers may find that social rank plays an inordinate role in social and particularly marital attachments, qualities of character take precedence in Austen's fiction. The role of religion is largely formulaic, with clergymen performing a social as much as clerical function, and religious devotion and spirituality largely reduced to proper church attendance.
Austen was a master of irony, and her novels stood out during her time and are preeminent in the literature for their astute observations, sophisticated dialogue, and realism of characters. Of her six completed novels, all of which remain popular both in print and film adaptation, four were published during her lifetime, all under a pseudonym. Austen endures over the more romantic and sentimental novelists of her time for the complexity and intelligence of her fiction, which is considered part of the Western canon.
Jane Austen began to write stories early. Some of her early works survive in three note-books entitled Volume the First, Volume the Second and Volume the third, containing short novels, plays etc, all written before she was sixteen. By 1796, she wrote a novel called Elinor and Marianne, in the form of a series of letters modeled on Richardson. This was afterwards recast and rewritten in 1797 and became Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice which shows her at the height of her powers, was written in 1796-97. Its publication was followed by that of Northanger Abbey.
It may be noted that Jane Austen wrote hardly anything during the period the Austen family lived in Bath. Her interest in writing seems to have revived after the family moved to Chawton. It was at Chawton that she began to publish her writings, though her life as a publishing author lasted only six years. Sense and Sensibility in 1811, Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1815. All these novels were published anonymously together with Northanger Abbey in 1817 and Persuasion in 1817.These two were the only novels that were published under her own name. Persuasion was written in failing health.
Jane Austen is universally admitted to be an English classic, though she has in her credit only half a dozen novels. Though her field was very limited and narrow one, she cultivated it with such perfect art as to win an immediate passport to eternity of literary fame
Pride and Prejudice
One of the world's most popular novels, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has delighted readers since its publication with the story of the witty Elizabeth Bennet and her relationship with the aristocrat Fitzwilliam Darcy. Like her other works, Pride and Prejudice is a humorous portrayal of the social atmosphere of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, and it is principally concerned with courtship rituals of the English gentry. The novel is much more than a comedic love story, however; through Austen's subtle and ironic style, it addresses economic, political, feminist, sociological, and philosophical themes, inspiring a great deal of diverse critical commentary on the meaning of the work.
In a 2008 survey of more than 15,000 Australian readers, Pride and Prejudice came first in a list of the 101 best books ever written (www.excellup.com). Though it is not the most humane of Jane Austen’s novels, it is the most humorously written and the most boldly constructed. In its original form it was called First Impressions (Varshney,p-12) and being turned down by the first publisher to whom the manuscript was offered, it was laid aside for about twelve years, to be published in 1813, after Sense and Sensibility. The book is not based, like Sense and Sensibility, on the opposition of two embodied principles, one right and other wrong. On the other hand, it reveals to us the clash of two opposing foibles which have to be mellowed and softened before the hero and the heroine who is separated by them can be brought together. While Darcy is full of aristocratic pride, Elizabeth is filled with the prejudice that he is full of pride. The revelation of Darcy’s true character comes only towards the very end and like Elizabeth, the reader too is very slow in recognizing his good qualities. From being a Johnsonian caricature, Darcy slowly emerges into an honorable and lovable human-being, in the course of the story. His character even becomes changed a little owing to the transforming power of love.
Though her other works, such as Emma and Persuasion are excellent in their own way, Pride and Prejudice is unrivalled in displaying the finest elements of Jane Austen’s art, such as brilliance, wit satire and never- failing and entire felicity of expression. Of the heroine, Elizabeth, one of the most delightful in all English fiction, Jane Austen wrote :
“ I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print : shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her, at least, I do not know”(Varshney,p-13).
A century of readers have shared Miss Austen’s feeling about this favourite child of her imagination. She impresses us as being perfectly natural in the same way in which Falstaff or Mrs. Poyser or Sam Weller does, though no young woman could probably have been so unfailingly brilliant and humorous and could have combined in herself so much wit and charm, so much sense and character as Elizabeth Bennet and her parents with a sense of actuality, by the way in which art intensifies the qualities it wants to bring out. Though no man could have laughed at his family so consistently as Mr. Bennet does, and though no woman could have been so delightfully lacking in common-sense or intelligence as Mrs. Bennet is, the novelist’s wonderful art makes both the husband and the wife convincing and alive. The love-affair between the brilliant Elizabeth and the proud Darcy is the most exciting in all Jane Austen’s novels. In the words of Rajinder Paul,
He is the biggest fish that swims in any of Jane Austen’s waters and, silly or not, we are happy that he has fallen into the basket of our dear Elizabeth. He is favourably contrasted with the other lover, Mr. Bingley, and he stands out among Jane Austen’s other heroes as the most difficult to win and the most worth winning (p-28).
In him one traces the difficult victory of love over pride. Though Darcy had some disagreeable qualities to begin with, these were slowly modified and purified by the power of love. Like Elizabeth herself, Darcy was something of a favourite with Jane Austen.
The book appeals to the readers by its very pleasing combination of irony and probability. Jane Austen shows us the play of life’s little ironies without sacrificing the sense of probability. All the characters in the novel, except Mary Bennet and the scoundrel Wickham, are highly realistic and perfectly drawn. Of all the novels of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is not only the most brilliant but also the strongest and the most realistic.
Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility, began in 1797 and published in 1811, was her earliest published work since First impression; the earliest draft of Pride and Prejudice, though written earlier, was published much later. Though there was a sign of immaturity and the crudities of a beginner, the novel shows us that the author is an admirable artist, a perfect mistress of language and one of the finest creators of the comedy of manners. The earliest draft of the book was called Elinor Marianne, and it is the life of these two sisters that Miss Austen wants us to become interested. Poetry, romance and unreasoned love are found fault with in the sensibility of Marianne Dashwood, while her sister Elinor who is dreary enough is lauded as an ideal of patient, well ordered sense. Both the sisters are tried, deceived and humiliated by various selfish, gross and fickle persons. All the orders of humanity representing the transitional changes from cherry vulgarity to frigid meanness are represented by people like Mrs. Jennings, the two Misses Steels and the Palmers. There is in the book much brilliant comedy and much interesting satire on human nature. The wit and humour are all the more enjoyable because we cannot help perceiving that they come from a head that had thought about life, and a heart that had felt its joys and sorrows.
Mansfield Park, published in 1814, is the third of Jane Austen’s novels. It has hardly any plot and keeps no secret for long. The humble, grateful, clear-judging, Fanny Price, is generally considered too low-spirited and submissive. She does not challenge the irony of which Elizabeth Bennet and Catherine Morland are the victims. The gay sharpness of Pride and Prejudice is here refined into greater subtlety and a gentler temper, and a finer modulation characterizes the whole work. All the events are made to take their point and value from fanny’s connection with them. The novelist’s chief concern is with fanny’s happiness and toward this all the other characters are made to work unconsciously. Fanny’s final and happy installation at Mansfield Park, in contrast to her first insignificance, forms such a contrast as time is forever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction and their neighbours’ entertainment.
Though the didacticism is there, it is very delightfully swathed irony that entertains readers. The feeling for beauty, particularly for beauty of character, as in the case of Fanny, is evident. The novelist watches over Fanny’s fortunes with fond, parental care, determined that she should thrive against neglect and disregard and injustice. The ethical interest of Jane Austen’s work is more predominant in Mansfield Park than anywhere else. The modesty and goodness of Fanny is the key to the book and all the characters are seen through her spectacles. Though she appeals less to one’s head than Elizabeth Bennet, she appeals more to the heart and in this respect she resembles Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion.
In Edmund Bertram readers have a thoroughly good, matter-of-fact plain-spoken being who is far from being a picture of perfection. One feel that he will prove to be a good husband to Fanny Price, and also a good clergyman. In the Crawfords, brother and sister, readers have Jane Austen’s most amusing bad characters. Neither of them is very convincing or real, because they are the kind of people that Miss Austen did not know very intimately. The novelist’s failure in investing the Crawfords with reality, partly accounts for Mansfield Park being considered by Paul Rajinder as, “the least convincing and possibly the least brilliant of all the novels”( p-14).
Emma (1815) is the fourth among Jane Austen’s novels in the order of publication. In his review of the novel, published in the Quarterly Review, Scott pointed out,
“the neatness and point with which Jane Austen tells her tale; and the quite yet comic dialogue through which the characters reveal them with dramatic effect’’ (p-124).
Scott was among the first to acknowledge the novelist’s power of describing “the involvements and feelings of ordinary life”(p-126). The art which makes commonplace characters and incidents, interesting and the felicity of expression which gives a keen edge to her wit and humour are among the great gifts of Jane Austen and these are clearly revealed in Emma. The heroine, Emma, stands out as unique among Jane Austen’s heroines in one respect. In the course of the story, she learns and changes and grows. A blind, willful and conceited girl, to begin with, she ends up as one who has been taught by bitter experience to see herself and others as they truly are. In this respect, she is comparable to Darcy whose character also changes and develops in the course of the story. As in the case of Darcy, so in the case of Emma Woodhouse too, love is responsible for opening the eyes to the truth about character and situation. The opening of Darcy’s eyes is a conscious and painful thing, while the opening of Emma’s eyes to reality is a slow, unconscious and very entertaining process. The business of this novel, as well as of all other novels of Jane Austen, is to get people engaged and happily married. Emma is rightly regarded by most critics as a comedy of match-making errors.
Emma is one of the best drawn of Jane Austen’s characters. She believes she can see into the minds of other people and sets about the business of match-making in all earnestness. Before the story closes, she is so often chastened and humiliated. However, the ending is all bright and happy and the characters are left talking pleasantly of their past errors and mistakes.
Northanger Abbey, posthumously published in 1818, was somewhat a crude production, by the side of the novels already published, but it was too good to be put on the shelf as Jane Austen had suggested. It is the most extravagant and violent of her novels, according to all critics, and it is the farthest removed from probability. Jane Austen’s chief intention in writing the novel was to satirize the novels of mystery like The Mysteries of Udolpho. When the thing satirized is a fashion, satire is the least permanent of all literary forms. Samuler Butler’s Hudibras was very popular in its own day as satire on the Puritans, but it is of much less interest to a world totally unacquainted with Puritanism.
Similarly, Northanger Abbey which is a satire on the world of Mrs. Radcliffe’s Romances cannot be as alive or interesting to the general reader as those other novels of Jane Austen, which satirize vanity, vulgarity, selfishness and worldliness which have always characterized human beings. In this novel, the business of ridiculing Romance is given undue importance and on that account; the book is of less interest to people on whom the satire is lost.
The first two-thirds of the book, where the incidents take place in Bath, are far more interesting than the rest. The characters in the novel are all young, the heroine Catherine being only fifteen and as such, the youngest of Jane Austen’s heroines. Henry Tinley is the youngest of her clergymen and one who takes his clerical duties more seriously than many others. Except Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, he is the only parson who is raised to the position of the hero of one of Jane Austen’s novels. It is evident that Jane thought kindly of parsons like Henry and Edmund.
Though Northanger Abbey is the least important and the least interesting of its author’s works, it already shows her as an entertaining satirist. The vulgarity of John Thorpe and the foolishness and vanity of his sister are very interestingly portrayed. The unexpected effect of the vanity and dishonesty of Thorpe, of the greed of General Tinley, is brought out with a quick concentration and a sureness of touch which remind us of the mature art of Jane Austen.
In the conclusion of the novel, which is in the novelist’s most characteristic vein, a most agreeable blending of satire and sympathy and a combination of the critical and accepting view of human nature are found. It is these things which give the books its lasting value and importance.
Persuasion , completed in 1816 and published in 1818, was Jane Austen’s last book, having been completed less than a year before her death. It is the most romantic and tender of the stories of love ending in marriage which Jane has given us. Anne Elliot evokes our sympathy and tenderness more than Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, though one is certainly very much interested in both of them. To quote Bailey again,
“There are few heroines in fiction whom we love so much, feel for so much, as we love and feel for Anne Elliot”(Varshney 16).
In the character of Anne Elliot, who is twenty-seven year old when the book opens, one finds the conflict between two opposing schemes of values, those of prudence and those of love. Even though she can never abandon her commitment to the prudential values, she is so completely and convincingly human that the secret agony of her unfulfilled love affects us deeply. Even when Anne and Frederick are happily united at the end, the problem posed by the novel remains unresolved. There exists potentially in every relationship between man and woman, the conflict between love and prudence.
There is much more of tenderness and poetry in persuasion than in the earlier novels. The passage describing Anne Elliot’s feelings on discovering how much she mattered to Captain Wentworth, after all, is not paralleled in any of the earlier novels. The expression of tenderness and passion does not make the author forget either her humour or her common sense. Pomposity and self-importance have never been more agreeably satirized than in the scene of the letting of Kellynch Hall.
Similarly, the snobbery of rank is made most contemptible in the behaviour of Mary Musgrove. Jane Austen always hated any display of false sentiment and this is seen in her frank comments on the characters. One is able to see much of the likes and dislikes of Jane Austen from these comments of hers. Through the character of Anne Elliot, she justifies sense against sensibility. She also shows us in this novel as in her other works, the middle way of human life where neither the heights nor the depths of humanity are to be met with. In Persuasion, more than in any other work, she makes us feel that the narrow world she portrays is a place of joys and sorrows, quite moving in their own way and worthy to be enshrined in works of high literary value.
Jane Austen's feminist consciousness was the culmination of a line of development in thought and fiction which went back to the start of the eighteenth century, and which deserved to be called feminist since it was concerned with establishing the moral equality of men and women and the proper status of individual women as accountable beings. She sharply pointed out that the economic situation decided women's social status, which had made her different from other feminists, pressing on gender characters of women. In order to change women's living condition, Austen pointed out that women should clearly realize that they should consider mutual love besides loaves and fish. And that would need sense. She thought that only when they reached the balance between sense and sensibility would they achieve the same balance between thoughts and material.
In the Victorian Society, it could be imagined that if a woman could get married, and could marry a rich man even though the man was not her true love, her marriage could also change her social status. Austen dragged people back to the real world and created a new kind of woman. They never took the idea of marrying a man as a life-devoted purpose. From women's liberation, feminist consciousness was helpful for women to develop themselves and realized their ideal conscientiously. From the practical society, it provided women with theoretical basis for realizing their life aim. Specifically speaking, feminist consciousness contained the different and complex women's values they are thoughts on the career, the right, the attitude toward happiness, the view of marriage and the value, etc.
Jane Austen's novel Emma was basically a biography and a mature one. Austen reappraised and had the esteem for women's value. Advancing and emphasizing feminist consciousness was an inexorable trend for the development of women's liberation. Thus, they occupied an important position in British literary history. Jane Austen was different from the other women novelists of her age in which she possessed a keen realistic insight and she ruthlessly exposed and severely criticized some maladies of the society, so her novel was characterized by the unique feminine and keen realistic insight. However, she was also different from the other female novelists because she wrote from a keen feminine visual angle, which male novelists often failed to do. Her novels were concerned about women's lives and their unfair conditions in society, especially in education, marriage, etc. Feminist consciousness focused on the women characters' inner lives during their self-development written by women writers. Jane Austen's novels were often compared with Shakespeare's comedies, and she always described people's vivid characteristics and their attitudes towards marriage, which symbolized reconciliation and harmony.