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Jane Austen has an aesthetic of style that sets her characterization off from many writers. She stands in contrast to Dickens, for example, because whereas he gives very detailed physical descriptions of characters and their environs, Austen gives minimal physical descriptions of characters and their environs. For example, in Pride and Prejudice it is well into the opening pages of the novel before we read a physical description of Jane and Elizabeth at all. The art of characterization employed by Austen is most established in dialogue; narrator comment; emotional denotations; personality quirks and habits; feelings, desires and attitudes.
Some of the tools Austen employs for characterization through dialogue are vocabulary, tempo and silence. For example, Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet are characterized through her vocabulary. Mrs. Bennet's is most often excessive and excited and often gossipy: "Oh! single, my dear, to be sure!" "Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man." Mr. Bennet's is most often patronizing: "You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it." As to tempo, Lydia, Kitty and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins and Lady De Brough go along at a fast clip in their dialog while Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy, Charlotte and Aunt Gardiner converse in a more reasoned, measured tempo.
Other important tools Austen uses are silence and narrated dialog. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy often reply with silence: "Mr. Bennet made no answer." In narrated dialogue, Austen will frequently speak as the narrator to tell what the character said which permits Austen to shade how we understand the character's remarks: "Mr. Bennet replied that he had not." This is accompanied by outright narratorial comment on the proceedings or on the characters and on the conversations or emotional state or thoughts of the characters: "Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice,..." Along with these narratorial interactions with the reader are emotional denotations added by the narrator: "cried his wife impatiently."
Another category of tools Austen uses in her art of characterization are personality quirks, like Mary's incessant quoting of author's she only imperfectly understand; habit, like Kitty's nervous coughing; and feelings, desires and attitudes of the character. With these tools for her art of characterization, Austen has painted some of the most life-like, lovable and memorable characters in the history of English literature.
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