How is formal realism manifested in "Pride and Prejudice"?

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Formal realism is defined as truth discovered by the individual through his or her senses."  This definition can be applied to the marriage plot between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Early in the novel, Elizabeth rejects Mr. Darcy's proposal.  She says:

"From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.'' (Ch 34)

As Elizabeth proceeds in the normal course of her life, visiting with family, touring the country, etc.  She encounters Mr. Darcy both at Rosings and while she is on his estate at Pemberley. 

After she has had time to understand who he really is, to learn the truth of his fine character, as evidenced by the servants at his estate and by his assistance to her family in the dire situation of finding Lydia and Mr. Wickham, she comes to love and admire him and wishes that he would propose again.

By the end of the novel, she is of a different mind: she says to him:

"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it.''(Ch. 58)

lit24 | Student

 Ian Watt who coined the term Formal Realism in his pioneering work "The Rise of the Novel,"(1957)  defines it as "the narrative method whereby the novel embodies this circumstantial view of life...[It] is the narrative embodiment of the premise or primary convention that the novel is a full and and authentic report of human experience."(P.32).

The term itself is controversial and its precise meaning continues to be debated even today.

Ian Watt, when explaining and elaborating on FORMAL REALISM, emphasises the following three important features:

1."Individuality of the actors (characters) concerned": Every Jane Austen heroine is unique and asserts her independence and individuality:Eliabeth on rejecting Collins' proposal remarks,"I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on  the chance of being asked a second time." (ch.19).

2."The particulars of the times and places of their actions":  In Ch.12 on Jane's and Eliabeth's return from Netherfield Catherine and Lydia inform them that "a private had been flogged". This is an oblique refernce to the harsh discipline in the militia during a time of national emergency-the fear of Napoleon invading England.

3."Referential use of language": Lengthy and detailed descriptions  are an important feature  of a realist novel:Ch.53 contains a long and detailed description of Pemberley.