Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Start Free Trial

Student Question

In Pride and Prejudice, how does Jane Austen use free indirect discourse to mislead the reader?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Here is another good example of an instance in which Austen uses free indirect discourse to be misleading (it comes from Chapter of Book/Volume 1):

Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report, which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.

The free indirect discourse here occurs in the latter half of the quote, and we can generally assume it's voicing the perspective of the guests, especially of the ladies. At first glance, the idea that Darcy is "proud... and above being pleased" seems to be an objective opinion; however, looking more closely, it actually seems to be an opinion held by Darcy's guests that is communicated through free indirect discourse. This idea is misleading because, though Darcy is certainly proud to an extent, we also find out later in the novel that he is somewhat shy, and also awkward. In that case, what seems at first to be rudeness is actually Darcy's mere discomfort with formal social situations. Indeed, as the book goes on, we find Darcy to be a kind and thoughtful individual.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before answering this question, it helps to make sure we know what free indirect discourse is. Free indirect discourse is a special kind of third person narration that combines elements of third person and first person narratives. In other words, free indirect discourse has access to a character's inner consciousness, but delivers this knowledge in a third person format. As such, with free indirect discourse, the narrator will report the thoughts and/or inner feelings of a character, but will simply say them, rather than directly attributing them to the character. Thus, with free indirect discourse, we get an indirect access to a character's consciousness. James Joyce and Jane Austen are notable authors who use free indirect discourse, although they approach the technique in different ways.

In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses this technique on several occasions, and she sometimes does so in order to mislead us, as we're drawn into thinking the thoughts and feelings of a particular character are actually objective judgements coming from the narrator. Take, for instance, this passage from Book/Volume 1, Chapter 16 discussing Elizabeth's opinions of Mr. Wickham (the quote is taken from eNotes' excellent online version of the text):

Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham's attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Philips's supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said was well said; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away with her head full of him.

At first glance, this passage seems to be a conventional passage coming from the narrator. However, if we look closer at it, we see that much of it is actually coming from Elizabeth's inner thoughts and feelings, specifically her inner thoughts and feelings in regards to Mr. Wickham. As the latter half of the passage suggests, Elizabeth is becoming quite infatuated with Mr. Wickham and believes him to be an upstanding gentleman. Moreover, since this passage comes soon after Mr. Wickham's explanation of Mr. Darcy's "wrongs" against him, it shows us that Elizabeth is quite ready to believe everything he says. This use of free indirect discourse is very misleading, in the end. Mr. Wickham proves to be a scoundrel and Mr. Darcy is, in fact, an honorable (if overly proud) man. Thus, Elizabeth's initial feelings about Wickham are misleading, especially since they're delivered through free indirect discourse and seem like objective fact.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial