Pride and Prejudice is a passionate epistolary novel written by Jane Austen in 1813. Letters are an important part of this novel as they are used to tell the story, develop the characters and build the exposition of themes. Correspondence was a common way of communication during that era. Based on this fact, Jane Austen draws the reader’s attention to characterization, themes, and stylistic devices and used them to develop the plot. This essay delves into the role, purpose, and significance of letters in the novel. The paper also focuses on the literary techniques evident in the letters to declare the writer’s intention to the audience.
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Correspondence is the main literary approach that the author uses in this novel by having the characters continually written to one another. It can be noted that there were letters written by Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennett, Mr. Darcy, Jane, and Lydia, all of which reveal details about the personality traits of people within the society. Austen adopted this technique and naturally wove her series of letters into a dialogue and description of events. For instance, the written narrations become instrumental in shaping and describing crisis points in the novel (Devine 10). Through the letters by Elizabeth and Darcy, the writer exposes the flaws and strengths of her characters.
Moreover, Austen uses this opportunity to portray the gaps in the social standing and education of different characters in this particular work of art and further reveal their traits. According to Devine the significance of the letter is brought out when it becomes possible for the reader to relate with the character and learn about the other’s age, personality, social status, and feelings (14). This literary method enhances an individual’s ability to communicate contrary to the societal norms at the time when women were not expected to speak much about their feelings.
Characterization is revealed through the use of several letters in the novel. For instance, two letters by Mr. Collins, both addressed to Mr. Bennett, revealed more of his traits. The first letter is a masterpiece that reveals his personality and what to expect in the plot as it is noted that Mr. Collins is a proud man and holds his associates in high esteem. This is evident from his guidance on how Lady Catherine de Bourgh should be handled by Mr. Bennett when she arrives.
This develops the plot of the novel as it gives a glimpse of what to expect when Lady Catherine arrives (Sullivan 105). He proposes to Elizabeth to marry him and she refuses. This also presents a stylistic device – situational irony as portrayed in the novel as the characters’ search for love. Wan says, “It is a novel that explores the difficulties for unwedded women seeking a husband (349).” For example, Mr. Collins’ offer to Elizabeth is turned down, and he opts to propose to Miss Lucas, Elizabeth’s very close friend. This also contributes to the development of the novel’s characters.
The novel is written at a time when social status, wealth, and education take center stage in all the formations within this society. Marriage is proposed with this in mind; one marries focusing on the wealth and status they will enjoy because of such a union. In her letters, Elizabeth makes it known that she believes in love but not wealth and fame. Wan expresses that Austen reveals her ideal marriage by using the different love stories through Pride and Prejudice.
For instance, the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy proves a need for individuals to accommodate each other’s personalities and traits for a better marriage to exist ((349-350). The letters have been instrumental in proving that love and marriage do not solely depend on social status and wealth but rather Austen’s main point, which is marriages are built on respect, understanding, and mutual love.
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Austen satirizes the social behavior towards money, which was, in those times, a major preoccupation. People are judged based on their fortune and social status, as illustrated by Mrs. Bennet. Certainly, if Mr. Bennet died, the Bennet girls would be left with nothing since when there is no male inheritor all the family’s possessions are given to a male cousin. This threat is what makes Mrs. Bennet obsessed with her daughters marrying wealthy men. For her, happiness is measured only in terms of money. This also explains why Mr. Collins is surprised at Elizabeth’s refusal of his proposal.
Epistles in this novel are used to inform one character of the other’s inner self. It is noted, “When they were gone, Elizabeth, as if intending to exasperate herself as much as possible against Mr. Darcy, chose for her employment the examination of all the letters which Jane had written to her since her being in Kent” (Austen 177). Elizabeth takes it upon herself to examine all the letters Jane had written to her to gain an insight into Jane’s life. She believes that Charles Bingley is frustrating and mistreating her sister, which may cause her unhappiness. In exploring the letters, more is revealed to the readers about the problems being faced by Jane. Elizabeth discovers through the narrations that Jane is suffering, and this is also the device that the author uses to make the readers feel the misery and pain the two sisters are enduring.
In conclusion, in the novel Pride and Prejudice, Austen illustrates her ability to use the benefits of the epistolary genre through letters passed between the characters: when Darcy wrote his letter, he changed the views of the readers about his personality. For Elizabeth, through the prism of letters, he changes from a proud man to one who is truthful and protective. Letters appear only at points where they seem a natural means of communication between the characters, at moments of separation, whether physical or emotional. The letters seem to give a clear and detailed exposition and reveal the characters of the novel.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Book On Demand Ltd, 2017. Print.
Devine, Jodi A. Epistolary Revelations: Reading Letters in Nineteenth-Century British Novels. University of Delaware, 2007.
Sullivan, Gavin Brent, ed. Understanding Collective Pride and Group Identity: New Directions in Emotion Theory, Research and Practice. Routledge, 2014.
Wan, Yongkun. “Study on Jane Austin’s Original Views toward Marriage in Pride and Prejudice.” 2019, Francis Academic Press. Web.