How does Austen go against the grain of traditional romance stories of the period in Pride and Prejudice?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Other romance writers of the periods Austen's career spanned were Sir Walter Scott, Horace Walpole, Emily Bronte, and Fanny Burney. One thing these all have in common is a tendency toward heightened emotionalism; passing events of terror; romanticized descriptions of room, settings, clothes and people. An example of the importance of terror is seen in Burney's Evelina when Evelina and two of her female companions on an outing to Vauxhall find themselves, due to their own folly, trapped by danger:

a large party of gentlemen, apparently very riotous, and who were hallooing, leaning on one another, and laughing immoderately, seemed to rush suddenly from behind some trees, and meeting us face to face, put their arms at their sides, and formed a kind of circle, which first stopped our proceeding, and then our retreating, for we were presently entirely enclosed. The Miss Branghtons screamed aloud, and I was frightened exceedingly; our screams were answered with bursts of laughter, and for some minutes we were kept prisoners ... (Fanny Burney, Evelina)

What Austen does that counters these tendencies is to depend upon reason and reflection, to describe by use of inner qualities important to considerations in moral philosophy, provide terror of the inner conflict variety (e.g., when Elizabeth unexpectedly sees Darcy round the corner of the building at Pemberley), and scant descriptions of rooms, clothes, people. One of the moments of terror in an Austen romance occurs in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth encounters Darcy at Pemberley. This event forms quite a contrast with the event in Burney's Evelina:

Elizabeth turned back to look again; her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables. (Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

In summary, Austen goes against the traditions of her periods (she began writing in the 1790s, the 18th century, though these works were not published until c. 1812-13, the 19th century) by:

  • adding reason and rational moral thought and shunning heightened emotionalism
  • generally making conflict and terror internal except for a few isolated cases (e.g., Harriet Smith and the gypsies, Emma)
  • reducing description to a minimum
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Pride and Prejudice

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