Jane Austen Questions and Answers

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Who is the narrator in Jane Austen's novels? Why is this important to consider?

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Jane Austen's novels are narrated from an omniscient third-person perspective. The narrator is not a character in the novel but sees everything her characters say and do from a godlike perspective.

This is important for a number of reasons. It creates a cool, detached atmosphere appropriate for a classical novel. Austen judges and sometimes condemns her characters. In Pride and Prejudice, for instance, Elizabeth discusses with her father whether Mr. Collins will turn out to be a sensible man. Austen then tells us definitively, from the authorial perspective, that Mr. Collins was not a sensible man. However, unlike later nineteenth-century novelists such as George Eliot, Jane Austen does not apostrophize or scold her characters. Though it is clear that she likes and sympathizes with some much more than others, she remains detached.

This omniscient perspective is also important when considering the greatest commonplace of Jane Austen criticism: that she never wrote a scene in which no women are present. Though there are a few lines of all-male conversation in Mansfield Park, this is overwhelmingly true, and it is obviously significant in maintaining the authorial omniscience. Since Jane Austen had no means of knowing how men talked when no women were present, she did not write scenes in which this happened, since she was not prepared to compromise the precision of her dialogue or her psychology by guessing.

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