Jane Austen’s iconic novel Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1893. The story follows five sisters in Georgian England, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia Bennett, whose lives are turned upside down when Mr. Bingley and his best friend Mr. Darcy move into their neighborhood. Despite her lack of formal schooling, Jane Austen taught herself a variety of literacy arts. Indeed, even though Pride and Prejudice was written during a difficult period in England, Austen relies on a dream of a comfortable spot where women can sit and gossip. Hence, this paper examines letters’ role, function, and significance in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Austen employs letters in her novel as a literary device to advance the storyline and themes, provide a social context and aid in the revelation of the key characters’ personalities.
Letters’ Significance in Jane Austen’s Novel Pride and Prejudice
Austen makes extensive use of letters as a dramatic or literary device. When characters write letters to a specific individual, they are more explicit than a regular dialogue (Robben). The choice of words or diction reveals the dramatic encounters and enables the reader to assume the role of reading. For instance, Austen asserts that “From herself to Jane—from Jane to Bingley, her thoughts were in a line which soon brought to her recollection that Mr. Darcy’s explanation there had appeared very insufficient, and she reread it. Widely different was the effect of a second perusal” (146). According to Robben, whether Austen’s plot is an epistolary novel or not, letter writing plays a vital role in her work. The listener can focus on the protagonist’s emotions, revealing their inner self. They can also concentrate on proper knowledge of letter usage from various perspectives. The author uses notes to increase the relationship between the actors. Finally, the answers are crucial because they allow the reader to deduce the messages’ hidden teachings.
The author utilizes the letters of Elizabeth and Darcy to portray the characters’ class, age, and personality as seen by their equivalents. For Austen, the manner a person reads indicates other types of perception (Prior). Multiple communications from Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennett, Lydia, Jane, and Mr. Darcy, to name a few, are included in the series of letters in Pride and Prejudice. Additionally, Mr. Collins’s repetitive letters to Mr. Bennett portray the characters of persons in society to the audience. Austen posits that:
Elizabeth took up some needlework and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady, either on his handwriting, on the evenness of his lines, or the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue and was exactly in union with her opinion of each (31).
Essentially, this allows the author to delve further into their actions, highlighting their virtues and shortcomings. Focusing on Elizabeth’s work and targeting the writing strengths disclose themes of multiple personalities, educational disparities and social status. As the novel progresses, the sisters’ passion and love for one another demonstrates the importance of letters. Jane’s letter to Elizabeth reveals her change of heart towards Miss Bingley, portraying the letter as a vehicle for revealing the innermost secrets and feelings. When family members were separated, establishing a social context became increasingly crucial. The close relatives thought it was necessary to strengthen their bond by writing letters to one other. Moreover, the epistles are a source of contention and an important tool for settling various concerns. When Lydia elopes, her lack of communication through letters interchange causes alarm. Mr. Collin’s message to Mr. Bennet, in which he emphasizes Lydia’s dreadful behavior, exemplifies yet another facet of conflict resolution. Generally, the correspondence reinforces a sense of belonging and, as a result, creates a social context.
The novel’s use of letters in numerous chapters allows other characters to learn about their companions. According to Robben, epistles offer readers a sense of isolation and privacy to express their thoughts and sentiments. For example, Austen writes, “When they were gone, Elizabeth…chose…the examination of all…letters Jane had written to her…” (294). Elizabeth is enraged by Mr. Daisy’s continued mistreatment of her sister in this case. After reading all of Jane’s letters, Elizabeth realizes this, which shows unhappiness. The author continues to uncover Jane’s troubles while Elizabeth begins to investigate her letters. Jane enables her to realize that all is not well in her current residence. However, as seen in the two inscriptions by Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennett, the letters are also used to unearth the characters. The first one depicts the specifics of the law, which provided that in the absence of male successors, the property would be funneled to the closest male relative, in this case, Mr. Collins. Generally, his constant mention of Lady Catherine De Bourgh demonstrates his self-importance and position gained through her company.
Finally, the novel’s different letters assist in unraveling the story. The function Mr. Collins will play in the strategy is indicated by the letter announcing his arrival at home (Robben). Austen employs letters as plot devices, as evidenced by Mr. Collins’ letters to Mr. Bennett showing gratitude and seeking acceptance. Collins states, “I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters and beg leave to apologize for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends—but of this hereafter” (Austen 44). Jane’s writings also aid in the development of the narrative when she notifies Elizabeth of her trip to London. The letter is important because it exemplifies Jane’s personality and reveals the relationship between the two sisters. Jane finally admits that she was accurate about Caroline Bingley’s friendship being fake. Ultimately, she makes excuses for her inattention, claiming that she has no choice but to be unpleasant for the sake of her brother.
The use of letters in Pride and Prejudice has equally been met with critics. Discrimination against women and unfair treatment is one of the issues raised by detractors. Austen writes, “Mrs. Bennet: Oh! My dear, I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it” (83). The concept of entailment reflects the novel’s discriminatory treatment of some people (Kiren and Awan 491). Essentially, it can be observed that a woman is reliant on her husband’s possessions. Additionally, Austen asserts that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (1). Generally, this reveals some controversies, especially in defining wealth and relationships in the novel in financial stability and marriage.
In brief, Austen uses letters as a literary device in her novel to advance the plot and themes, establish a social setting, and help reveal the personalities of the main protagonists. The letters are crucial because they depict the characters’ joys and sorrows after receiving and reading the letters. The author wants the audience to see writing as a literary tool for conveying personal feelings. The love story is primarily delivered through several letters, making it an epistolary. Austen’s prowess in ingeniously weaving in the narrative genre assists in giving the novel distinction. Overall, the style contributes to the storyline and serves as an essential communication medium.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Gutenberg, 1998.
Kiren, Asifa, and Abdul G. Awan. “Critical Discourse Analysis of Jane Austen’s Novel “Pride and Prejudices”.” Global Journal of Management, Social Sciences and Humanities, vol. 3, no. 3, 2017, pp. 82-498, Web.
Prior, Karen S. “What Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Teaches Readers.” The Atlantic, 2018, Web.
Robben, Julia B. “Preserving Jane Austen’s Letters in Modern Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.” Jane Austen Society of North America, 2017, Web.