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Last Updated on June 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 925

Narrative Style and Point of View

Pride and Prejudice is told from a third-person omniscient viewpoint that primarily follows Elizabeth Bennet. This gives the majority of the novel a detached feeling, as the story focuses more on dialogue and events than on emotions. However, Jane Austen also employs a narrative technique known as free indirect discourse to provide greater insight into her characters.

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  • Free indirect discourse is a form of third-person narration that channels the direct thoughts and feelings of characters through a narrator. Essentially, the narrator reports the thoughts of the characters without explicitly telling readers that they are doing so.

A prime example of how free indirect discourse impacts a narrative can be found during George Wickham’s introduction:

“Mr. Wickham began to speak on more general topics—Meryton, the neighborhood, the society; appearing highly pleased with all that he had yet seen, and speaking of the latter, especially, with gentle but very intelligible gallantry.”

Though the narrator does not directly indicate as much, the biased language—including terms such as “intelligible gallantry”—suggests that these are Elizabeth’s thoughts as opposed to an objective, third-person account. However, because they are being presented as objective statements of narrative fact, readers are more likely to believe they are truthful. The narrator's tendency to present Elizabeth’s opinions as fact allows readers to falsely trust Wickham and prematurely judge Darcy, just as Elizabeth does.

In addition to allowing Elizabeth’s thoughts to flow into the narration, free indirect discourse allows Austen to explore the thoughts of other characters. After Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, the narrative provides a brief look at how Charlotte Lucas comforted him and how their decision to marry came about. Free indirect discourse is also used to indicate Darcy’s growing feelings for Elizabeth. Though the narrator primarily focuses on Elizabeth’s experiences and opinions, Austen’s choice of perspective and writing style breathes life into her surrounding cast of characters.

The Estates as Symbolic of the Characters

Pride and Prejudice is not a heavily symbolic novel, but the prominent estates are often representative of their inhabitants. When Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins at the Hunsford parsonage, she describes their abode as “neat” and “comfortable,” which also describes their marriage in general. There is little love between the Collinses, but Charlotte seems pleased to have her own humble house to run and Mr. Collins is pleased to have a respectable wife to run it. By contrast, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate, Rosings, is grand and impressive. Mr. Collins provides Elizabeth with a number of details regarding the costs of the different fixtures. However, in Elizabeth’s eyes, the building is more expressive of status and decadence than of comfort or elegance. Much like Lady Catherine, Rosings is expensive, tasteless, and more concerned with appearances than functionality.

Pemberley is the most blatantly symbolic estate in the novel. Elizabeth even jokingly mentions that she fell in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy after viewing his grounds. While this comment is meant to be facetious, there is some truth to Pemberley as an extension of the true character of its owner. Rather than being gaudy and expensive like Rosings, Pemberley is tastefully “elegant,” “handsome,” and “natural.” In contrast to Elizabeth’s perceptions of Darcy as arrogant and proud, his estate suggests that he is simply reserved. It is no coincidence that Mr. Darcy is much more congenial when he greets Elizabeth at his estate.

Pride and Prejudice as a Regency Novel

In 1811, in the midst of the Napoleonic wars with France, King George III of England was declared unfit to rule, and so his son took over as Prince Regent. This led England into a period of artistic, technological, and social change that would come to be known as the Regency Era. Jane Austen wrote most of her novels during this period, and many of them contain elements and criticisms of Regency society. The Prince Regent was known for his extravagant lifestyle and excessive spending, which inspired many of the upper classes and aristocracy to follow suit. Jane Austen highly disapproved of the Prince Regent for his opulent lifestyle, and this attitude is reflected in her works. Pride and Prejudice depicts the heroic Darcy as a reserved and modest gentleman who refrains from decadent displays of wealth. In contrast, the boorish Lady Catherine adopts the Regency mindset of gaudiness and excess.

Austen also criticizes the idea that young women must be not only well-mannered and intelligent, but also “accomplished.” After hearing Caroline Bingley and Darcy discuss the astronomical qualifications of an “accomplished lady,” Elizabeth remarks that it is a surprise that anyone should have met such a woman. In Austen’s works, young women are valued less for their social statuses and material accomplishments and more for their principles and intellects.

However, for all that Austen’s novels criticize Regency values, they also portray many of the common customs of the era in a positive light. During the regency era, there was a strict code of etiquette surrounding social interactions and correspondences. Mr. Bennet’s negligence around writing letters to his connections is criticized as rude and irresponsible, indicating that Austen did not disapprove of all Regency customs. There is also a distinct absence of religiosity in most of Austen’s novels. When Mr. Collins attempts to read sermons aloud to the Bennet daughters, Lydia Bennet vocally complains, and no other attempts are made. Lydia’s attitude is consistent with the decline in religious fervor and piety in England after King George III’s retirement and subsequent death.

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