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.
- 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.
Publication History, Reception, and Legacy
Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813. It was Austen’s second published novel, following the success of her debut novel, Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice was well received by the public,...
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