A210 Approaching Literature
Pride and Prejudice
- How do the narrative techniques of ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ work at this point in the novel?
- How does this passage relate to the themes of the novel as a whole?
The first part of the passage is dialogic, in that it contains only conversation between Lydia and Mrs Bennet. Jane Austen, through the use of narrative techniques, gives the reader an in-depth understanding of the story. One of these techniques is ‘showing’, which with the use of dialogue, allows us to gain an understanding of the characters. The characters of Lydia and Mrs Bennet, through the use of dialogue in this passage, are ‘shown’ to be excessively concerned with the expectations of the society in which they live, by being obsessed with the importance of marriage. Lydia is passionate in her manner; this is ‘shown’ to the reader when she talks of getting husbands for her sisters, “They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get husbands”. She is pleased with herself and even boastful in her ability of having secured a husband before any of her sisters. She puts him on a pedestal, ‘shown’ by the narrator, with statements such as “Is he not a charming man?” and “I am sure my sisters must all envy me”. Austen also ‘shows’ how eager both Lydia and her mother are about securing husbands for her sisters, with the use of this narrative technique of ‘showing’, using phrases such as “there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all” (Lydia) and “I should like it beyond anything!” (Mrs Bennet). This dialogic form of ‘showing’, allows us to view both characters during their conversation with each other, firmly establishing the characters and views of Mrs Bennet and Lydia. This ‘showing’, gives us a further insight into Elizabeth’s feelings and Lydia’s morals. When Lydia states “I will take care to get good partners for them all” Elizabeth replies “I thank you for my share of the favour, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands”. This immediately gives us a picture of Elizabeth’s more orthodox and moralistic views and portrays the contrasting opinions and morals between Elizabeth, and her mother and sister. Moreover, this is confirmed during the last piece of dialogue in the passage, this time between Elizabeth and Lydia; Eager that ‘Lizzy’ should hear of her wedding, Lydia asked if she was “not curious to hear how it was managed?” “No really,” replied Lizzy; “I think there cannot be too little mentioned on the subject”. This indifference ‘shown’ by Elizabeth with the use of Austen’s narrative, enables us to focus on her as having an important role in the story. She appears as having stability and moral values, amongst Lydia’s thoughtlessness towards the feelings of her family, and Mrs Bennet’s obsessiveness in procuring husbands for her daughters.
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In comparison, when the narrator (Austen) takes over and starts ‘telling’ us the story, and about the characters, she uses free indirect speech, giving the reader more of an insight into the characters and of their private thoughts or feelings. This narrative is directed to the reader, and includes such phrases as ‘Wickham’s affection for Lydia was just as Elizabeth had expected to find it; not equal to Lydia’s for him.” The character of Lydia doesn’t have this insight into her husband’s character due to the ‘naïve consciousness of the character and the knowing consciousness of the narrator’, (p.59 The Realist Novel). Using free indirect speech, the narrator (Austen) ‘tells’ us how Mrs Bennet advocates and encourages Lydia’s non-conformity by ‘having very frequent parties at home’, and ‘telling’ us with the use of hyperbole how Lydia was ‘exceedingly fond’ of her ‘dear Wickham’ and how he did ‘everything best in the world’. This exaggeration, which is in Lydia’s reported voice or style, enables us to view and understand the story with more depth, giving us an insight not only to what the characters are saying, but also to what they are not saying. These techniques of ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ help to bring out the character of Austen’s writing. There is an irony in her work, where we, as the reader, are shown the two sides of the story. The dialogue between the characters, ‘shows’ how they converse with each other and what they are willing to share of their lives, then in contrast, the narrative gives us their secret, innermost feelings and desires. Eventually they share with the other characters, what we already know, because that is how Austen uses irony in this novel. Although in the case of Lydia and Wickham, Lydia remains innocent of his feelings towards her, as the narrative indicates with, ‘their elopement had been brought on by the strength of her love, rather than by his’. On the contrary, she is intoxicated by her own happiness, as shown in the fist paragraph, in her conversation with her mother about the possibility of her sisters all envying her, “I only hope they may have half my good luck”. This innocence and excitedness ‘shows’ us her character’s naivety, and the irony involved here.
The passage relates to one of the main themes of Austen’s novel, the fact that in her society, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women were expected to get married; this was their pre-determined role in life. Austen produced her novel during a time when ‘Evangelicalism was a growing force throughout English social life’, which stressed the condemnation of ‘frivolity in behaviour, dress, social intercourse, thought and word’. (P.49 The Realist Novel). The conversation between Lydia and her mother firmly establishes that they both agree with the rules of society – but their manner offers a critique of that society too.
The techniques of ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ accentuate the conflict shown by Elizabeth and indeed of her indifference to the events of Lydia’s wedding. It becomes obvious that there is a difference of opinion, and that Elizabeth’s judgement was distorted by her knowledge of Wickham, obtained from Darcy’s letter to her. This letter, written by Darcy after his and Elizabeth’s confrontation when he had proposed to her, (chapter 34, Pride and Prejudice), stated how Darcy’s father, being Wickham’s godfather, ‘supported him at school and afterwards at Cambridge, and when Darcy’s father died, Wickham expected ‘immediate pecuniary advantage’, (p.156 Pride and Prejudice). Her prejudice deriving from her ‘ill-founded pride in the astuteness of her first impressions of Wickham’. (P.43 The Realist Novel). Austen uses her characteristic irony to ‘tell’ us that although Lydia was in love with her ‘dear Wickham’, he in fact (according to Elizabeth’s character), only married her ‘by distress of circumstances’ and ‘he was not the young man to resist an opportunity of having a companion’. The irony of this situation being that, through the narrator, we know that Elizabeth was aware of Wickahm’s past conduct, after all, ‘her heart had been but slightly touched’, ‘believing that she would have been his only choice, had fortune permitted it’ (page 118 P&P). Through Darcy’s letter, she had learnt of Wickham’s advances towards Darcy’s own sister, with the chief objective of his ‘sister’s fortune’ of ‘thirty thousand pounds’. (Page 158 P&P). Then of course there was Miss King, who had come into a fortune of ten thousand pounds; Wickham ‘had paid her not the smallest attention till her grandfather’s death made her mistress of this fortune’, (Page 121 P&P). His ‘distress of circumstances’ compelled him to seek a fortune, for which he would apparently go to any length to secure. We are encouraged by the use of dialogue and narrative to differentiate between Elizabeth’s personal and emotional integrity, Lydia’s immorality, and Mrs Bennet’s persistence in securing husbands for them all, no matter what it takes.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- The Realist Novel –
Chapter One – The Genre Approach
Chapter Two – Reading Pride and
Realism and Romance
Realism and the novel form
Jane Austen and the war of ideas