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ENL 4122
English Novel


Spring 2006
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00- 12:15pm


Class 18

Reading Assignment:

Mar. 20 Pride and Prejudice: Volume One, pp. 3-89
    Post #9 (Group A)
    Historical Annotation: Megan Hennecke's presentation

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Class Objectives:

  • To intoduce Austen's novel and writing style
  • To discuss Elizabeth's first rejection of marriage

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Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Austen's style

From the famous opening sentence, throughout the novel, the reader senses an immediate change in the feel of the prose in Austen's writing. Using the opening sentence, "It is a truth universally acknowledged..." analyze the different style of writing represented in the novel. Begin with observations on how it feels or seems different, and move to find examples that illustrate the observation.

Try answering the following questions:

    Whose perspective is represented in the opening sentence?
    Where does the story begin?
    What is the significance of this point of entry in the story?
    To what extent are we to accept this "truth"
    What might you conclude about the narrative style, based on these observations?

HINT: Words frequently associated with Austen's style include "subtle," "irony," "precision," "conciseness."

In an oft quoted phrase that Jane Austen wrote to her sister, the author describes Pride and Prejudice as "rather too light, and bright, and sparkling," (her letters, see Butler p. 319). In what sense in the novel "light," "bright," or "sparkling"? Translate these terms into stylistic categories as well as issues of character, plot or content.

Free Indirect Discourse: Although this concept has become somewhat controversial among scholars and students of narrative, Austen is generally associated with the style. Free indirect discourse, also known as "style indirect libre," involves the use of a third person omniscient narrator whose perspective shifts seamlessly into the thoughts and language of the characters. For example, note how the narrative relates the various responses to Elizabeth's muddy arrival at Netherfield on p. 23.

To what extent does Austen rely upon this style? What effect does this have on her narrative?

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2. Elizabeth's first rejection of marriage

Marriage is the central preoccupation of most of the characters in Pride and Prejudice. It is, therefore, a very serious theme, but also one that is handled with light, good humor. What makes marriage so important to the women in this novel? Compare the Bennet girls with the Lucas daughters and Miss Bingley.

On page 16 (chapter VI), Charlotte tells Elizabeth: "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least." How does Elizabeth respond to Charlotte's pragmatism? How are Charlotte's views of marriage different from Elizabeth's?

Examine Mr. Collins' proposal to Elizabeth (Chapter IX). Upon what grounds does Mr. Collins expect to be accepted by Elizabeth? Why is he rejected? How do you explain Collins' refusal to give credit to this rejection? What role does the oft repeated Austenian phrase "understanding" play in Elizabeth's rejection? Why does Elizabeth's father support her rejection while her mother does not?

Compare this series of scenes with previous narrative depictions of refused offers. How is Austen's story different and what does that suggest about a) the novel and b) society?

Why is Collins good enough for Charlotte but not for Elizabeth? Discuss Elizabeth's ideal of marriage.

Why does Charlotte's marriage to Collins bother Mrs. Bennet so deeply?

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