How do I write a detailed criticism for the first ten chapters of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Criticism of a literary text--also called literary criticism, critical appreciation and critical analysis--includes examining and analyzing (1) literary devices that comprise the elements of a narrative and (2) literary devices that comprise the techniques of a narrative. Elements include parts of a narrative that are shared by all narrative in common. Techniques include parts of a narrative that may be unique to that narrative and that the author intentionally selects from many varied techniques. Elements and techniques are illustrated below:

setting; time and place
tone: narrator's attitude
point of view
underlying story

mood, also called atmosphere (narrative's emotional ambiance)
modes of characterization
modes of dialogue
rhetorical techniques
figurative language
rhythm or cadence
author's aesthetic, or writing style

Let's briefly examine the first ten chapters of Volume I to see how some of this analysis/criticism might be undertaken so you can then fly forth on your own.

Elements: The structure of the first ten chapters is straight chronological narrative with some backstory but no breaks in chronology because of flashbacks or flash-forwards. The omniscient third-person narrator is subjective, making ironic but accurate comments on characters and events.

For comparison, Volume III, Chapter X (Ch. 52) breaks from the narratorial voice and from the straight chronological narrative. Aunt Gardiner tells of events that have already happened in a letter to Elizabeth. thus the structure here is epistolary (a letter) with a flashback to an earlier chronological event. During the letter, the narrator ceases to be third person and becomes first person.

Techniques: The general mood throughout, despite changes due to climactic events, is pleasant and energetic. This is mostly due to Elizabeth's witty and harmlessly mocking voice. Austen prefers uncomplicated characterization (as she also prefers uncomplicated setting description), so characters are described by the narrator's observations on the wit, amiability, follies, and accomplishments; by other charaters' reaction to them; and by the words the characters themselves speak. (This is a technique also used with great success by Robert Louis Stevenson.)

While there is admirable use of rhetorical word schemes, for the most part Austen avoids figures of speech. The first chapter has a good example of the rhetorical technique called "hyperbole," or exaggeration. Mrs. and Mr. Bennet actually share the hyperbole. For Mr. Bennet's part, he is teasing his family by saying he will not visit Bingley; he completes his protestations by saying that when twenty wealthy young men come to the neighborhood, he will visit them all. What he really means is that as there will never be twenty new wealthy young men in the neighborhood at once (as there are not houses enough to rent!), he need not visit even one right now.

"Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty I will visit them all."