Jane Austen: The 'Novel of Manners'



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The 'Novel of Manners'
Jane Austen contributed to what has been called as the NOVEL OF MANNERS, a kind of fiction focused on everyday routine life and events.
Her novels are based on the premise that there is a vital relationship between manners, social behaviour and character. They are usually set in those levels of society where people do not ha-
ve to struggle for survival and where they are free to develop more or less elaborate RULES, CODES and CONVENTIONS of daily behaviour. Given this kind of situation, the novel of
manners explores character, personal relationships, class distinctions and their effect on cha-
racter and behaviour; the role of MONEY and PROPERTY in the way people treat each other;
the complications of LOVE and FRIENDSHIP within this social world. CONVERSATION plays a central role in these novels and PASSIONS and EMOTIONS are not expressed directly but mo-
re subtly and obliquely.
The DEBT to the 18th century NOVEL
Jane Austen owes much to the 18th century novelists:
• from Richardson and the epistolary novel she learned the endless possibilities offered by the insight into the psychology of the characters and the subtleties of the ordinary events of life, like balls, walks, tea-parties and visits to friends and neighbours;
• from Fielding she derived the OMNISCIENT NARRATOR and the technique of bringing the character into existence through dialogue.
Unlike the Augustan writers, however, she restricted her view to the world of the COUNTRY GENTRY she knew best.
The traditional values of the families of the landed gentry and upper middle class ( PROPERTY, DECORUM, MONEY and MARRIAGE ) provided the basis of the plots and settings of her novels.
Jane Austen's preoccupation was with people, and the analysis of character and conduct. She remai-ned committed to the common sense and moral principles of the previous generation but checked
them through her own direct observation and spontaneous feeling.
Her work is amusing and, at the same time, deals with the serious matters of LOVE, MARRIAGE and PARENTHOOD. The happy ending is a common element to her novels: they all end in the marriage of hero and heroine. What makes them interesting is the concentration on the steps through which the protagonists successfully reach this stage in their lives.
The author treats love and sexual attraction according to her general view that strong impulses and intensely emotional states should be regulated, CONTROLLED and BROUGHT TO ORDER by private reflection, not in favour of some abstract standard of reason but to fulfill a social obligation.
The heroine's reflection after a crisis or climax is a usual feature of J. Austen's novels because understanding and coming to terms with her private feelings allows her personal judgement to establish itself and secures her own moral autonomy.
( 1813 )
The novel's plot is based on the Bennet family who belong to the country gentry. It is set at Longbourn, a small country village in Hertfordshire, where Mr and Mrs Bennet live with their five daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia and Kitty. One day a rich bachelor, Charles Bingley, and his two sisters rent a large estate in the neighbourhood, called Nether-
field Park..
After a series of balls and parties that bring the members of this little society together, Mr
Bingley falls in love with Jane, and his best friend, the aristocratic Fitzwilliam DARCY, be-
gins to feel attracted by ELIZABETH. But she dislikes him because of his snobbish behaviour
and because she considers him responsible for the separation of Bingley and Jane.
When Mr Darcy declares his love, he cannot help showing contempt for her inferior social
position; so Elizabeth rejects him and accuses him of separating his sister and Bingley, and
of ill-treating George Wickham, a young officer who was the son of Darcy's former steward.
Darcy writes her a letter where he reveals that Wickham is an unscrupolous adventurer. Meanwhile Wickham elopes with Lydia;Darcy traces them and provides for their marriage.
Elizabeth realizes that she was mistaken about Darcy and accepts his renewed proposal, in
spite of the opposition of Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Darcy's arrogant aunt.
Bingley comes back and becomes engaged to Jane, so the novel ends with the happy marria-
ges of the two couples.
Pride and Prejudice comes alives for the reader in the vividness of character and the brightness
of dialogue. The narration of events is balanced by passages of reflection and by letters. The epi-
stolary technique, derived from Richardson, is used more frequently in the later chapters when the characters have been fully outlined and the scope of the novel has expanded beyond the small
world of Longbourn. But the charm of the novel lies in CHARACTERIZATION
All the characters have their place in the plot and contribute to the main story. J.Austen makes
her characters reveal a lot about themselves through what they say, through dialogues which
are very significant in the novel.
1. Dialogue is used to reveal the character of its speakers
2. It can add drama to the story (note the dialogues between Darcy and Elizabeth especially;
for ex. Darcy's proposal of marriage)
3. It often adds humour (for ex. in the speeches of Mr Collins)
4. Jane Austen's dialogue is usually 'realistic'; it is what the people in her world would have spoken, only it has been 'polished' ( made more pure ) by the author.
ELIZABETH BENNET – She is the heroine. She is her father's favourite daughter , having inherited his WIT and INTELLIGENCE. She has a good sense of humour and a lively mind
One of the qualities that wins Darcy to her; she is capable of complex impressions and ideas.
She has a strong spirit of independence: she refuses to take on the roles which her family or peo-
ple in socially superior positions attempt to impose on her. She is impulsive but has an affectio-
nate nature ( she walks three miles through dirty field to come to her sister ).
Not only Mr Bennet and Darcy, but also Sir William Lucas, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Wickham
admire her. She has great qualities but also great weaknesses: she makes bad MISTAKES OF
JUDGEMENT (against Darcy and Wickham). She allows her own PRIDE to prejudice herself against Darcy.
Elizabeth has originality, especiallly in her liveliness, which makes her an interesting character.
In doing the unexpected she is unconventional but at the same time she remains SENSIBLE.
She has high ideals on marriage.
FITZWILLIAM DARCY – He is temperamentally unsociable, he is ALOOF and SUPERIOR
in his behaviour toward new acquuaintances. His manners are proud and his speech measured
and formal. He is a cultured man. The vulgarity of the Bennet family soon offends him but Eliza-
beth attracts him against his will.
• he is generous to his servants, his tenants
• he is affectionate to his sister
• he knows the meaning of discretion
He is a good man who has been made stiff and proud by his upbringing.
Darcy, as a lover, is deeply in love, but SHY and EMBARASSED. He finds difficult to speak
about his deepest feelings and his manners make him unpopular.
Both Elizabeth and Darcy set out with an imperfect understanding of themselves and each other.
She accuses him of PRIDE and he accuses her of PREJUDICE. They are HUMBLED one by
the other:
• she learns from Darcy's letter that she has based her opinion of him on a misfounded prejudice
( all that Wickham told her had been wrong ) so she realises her error and she is humbled by Darcy. Also when she learns of what Darcy has done for Lydia she is humbled, she recognises his generosity .
• he realises that his pride had made him certain of her accepting his marriage proposal.
The novel involves both characters in a journey towards SELF-AWARENESS and SELF – KNOWLEDGE. They change throughout the novel, they evolve and become aware of their real feelings.
JANE BENNET – Jane is the eldest and most beautiful of the Bennet sisters. She never thinks ill of
anybody, and has, in addition to her warm sympathetic feelings, an outward composure and easy
manner.She suffers patiently and she is a nice person but her judgement is faulty: she takes a long time to see Miss Bingley's hypocrisy, she is no more able to see what Wickham is really like, she
refuses to believe that he could live with Lydia without marrying her, and still imagine their marriage may be a happy one.
Jane remains the same throughout the novel.
CHARLES BINGLEY – He is no SNOB, like his sisters, but gentleman-like and prepared to fit in
with most people. In the eyes of his female neighbours “he was quite young,wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable”. Unlike Darcy, he comes from the new gentry, the new rich – those who have made money in trade and risen socially.
He is, however, a little too easily influenced by the others; he allows others to separate Jane and himself. But once Darcy removes his objection, Bingley proposes to Jane without the slow caution of his friend.
MR BENNET – He is an intelligent man, a gentleman by birth; but having made an unwise marriage with a woman of low intelligence, he retreats into his library. ( a gentleman through his ownership of the Longbourn estate, he has married beneath himself socially and is unable to provide his daughters with a dowry; added to this hia estate is entailed to the MALE LINE and he has no son to inherit it ). He takes pleasure in ridiculing his wife and his daughters.With no one to understand him, exept Elizabeth, he lives apart He fails to discipline his younger daughters, allowing their mother to encourage their ignorance and vanity.
Mr Bennet often makes penetrating remarks, and is the source of much of Jane Austen's IRONY.
He is a character who does not change by the end of the novel. However, he gains happiness through Elizabeth's marriage, as after it he often visits Pemberley: He and his daughter are much alike in their wit, humour and intelligence.
MRS BENNET – The chief COMIC character:we enjoy and laugh at her ridicolous character.
She was a woman “of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper”. The business
Of her life was to get her daughters married. Her schemes to marry off her daughters are carried out with exaggeration and no subtlety. When things go wron, she becomes IRRITABLE and complains of her NERVES. She often change of face, particularly with Darcy; from being “disagreeable” and “hateful”, he is suddenly “charming” when he becomes engaged to Elizabeth.
She is PETTY and MATERIALISTIC and she is a rich object of J; Austen's satire and comedy.
MR COLLINS – His personality is revealed as much in his letters as in his actual behaviour. The letter announcing his arrival to Longbourn is long, formal and pompous, and when he arrives he
Carries his formalities and AFFECTED HUMILITY to the point of RIDICULOUSNESS. His
proposal of marriage is really HUMOROUS, he is completely unaware of anyone's feelings but his own. He is 'absurd', he has adopted a “mixture of pride and obsequiousness, of self-importance and humility”. He praises Lady Catherine excessively because she is his patroness and his social supe-
rior. He is a very WORDLY CLERGYMAN, he is mainly concerned with carrying out the prescribed rituals of the Church but he has no deeper Christian feeling.
GEORGE WICKHAM – His father was the steward of Darcy's father, he is not therefore of 'high birth', and his immoral habits make him squander the chances open to him: of rising in the Church or the Law. His good point is his CHARM: “he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a
good figure”. “… his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully”. In spite of his appearance he deceives everyone.
He is the exact opposite of Darcy; Elizabeth realises the truth about him when she says: “ one has
got all the good qualities, and the other all the appearance of it”.
Wickham's seduction of Lydia follows his attempted seduction of Georgiana Darcy. Like Mr Col-
Lins, he is a selfish character who only cares about outward appearances and has no good feelings. But, unlike Collins, he breaks the social code.
LYDIA BENNET – She is the youngest daughter and is most like her mother. Her favourite occu-
pation is walking to Meryton to flirt with the officers. Allowed by her mother to do as she pleases, and worst of all, encouraged in her unrestrained behaviour with men, she ends up living with a man
with no thought of marrying him. She doesn't understand even the social marality accepted amongst her class.
Elizabeth's judgement of her is probably Jane Austen's: she is “ignorant, idle and vain”.
CHARLOTTE LUCAS – She is sensible and intelligent, and Elizabeth's best friend. But she is plain in appearance and having no fortune she is in a difficult position. In Jane Austen's time, a woman who remained unmarried would almost inevitably be worse off than if she married. It
explains why so many of the female characters are worried with the material advantages of marriage.
So she accepts Collins because she fears she will not be married otherwise. Her view of marriage
Is therefore completely UNROMANTIC; she thinks happiness in marriage is a matter of chance.
Elizabeth is probably right that she cannot be happy with Collins, but Charlotte does not demand the same kind of happiness as Elizabeth.
CAROLINE BINGLEY and MRS HURST – The Bingley sisters are RICH and PROUD, social snobs.
Mrs Hurst does not play any significant part in the novel.
Miss Bingley is very jealous of Darcy's attention for Elizabeth and she is another MATERIALISTIC character who criticises Elizabeth for her low manners and points out the inferior social position of the Bennets. She tries flattery to win Darcy, but is no match for Eliza-
beth's intelligence. She is HYPOCRITICAL in pretending to be Jane's friend.
LADY CATHERINE DE BOURGH – She is an EGOIST, wholly conscious of her self-importance
and rank; she behaves in an insensitive way, ordering everyone's lives.
This aristocratic woman displays her worst behaviour when she tries to make ELIZABETH pro-
Mise not to become engage to her nephew, Darcy. She wishes to unite Rosings and Pemberley by marrying her daughter to Darcy. She does not care about marriage for love.
THE LUCASES – Sir William Lucas has risen by trade. He is materialistic as most of the others, but being a weak, simple character, he is not unlikeable.
Lady Lucas is no more intelligent than Mrs Bennet.
KITTY and MARY BENNET – They are badly brought up. Kitty is 'weak-spirited, irritable and under Lydia's guidance. Mary studies hard because she is the only plain daughter but she has not
Genius or taste, she plays the piano with vanity and affectation.
THE GARDINERS – Mr Gardiner is Mrs Bennet's brother; he is a sensible, gentlemanlike man,
greatly superior to his sister as well by nature as education.
Mrs Gardiner is intelligent and elegant. They are the most sensible relatives of Bennet's girls.
Mr Gardiner is in trade, has money and pratical sense.
COLONEL FITZWILLIAM – the youngest son of a Lord, he is well-bred and likeable. But he must
Marry for money to keep up his social position, otherwise he would have been even more attracted to Elizabeth.
GEORGIANA DARCY – Miss Darcy is shy and only sixteen. She escaped Wickham's evil designs on her by confessing to her brother. In the end, we are told, Elizabeth and she grow to be great friends.
Jane Austen has great skill in constructing her plots at it's simplest level. It is the place of a novel in Pride and Prejudice. First of all we see that she is telling the LOVE STORY of two young people. This story falls into an easily observed symmetry:
1. The FIRST PART deals with the meeting of DARCY and ELIZABETH and shows how they form impressions of each other and how Darcy becomes so much in love. Then he asks Elizabeth to marry him. The CLIMAX of DARCY'S PROPOSAL and ELIZABETH'S REJECTION of it.
2. The SECOND PART shows how both of the lovers come to a BETTER UNDERSTANDING of each other. They are about to become united when an obstacle appears (Lydia's elopment, the shame of the Bennet family) which threatens to ruin their affections. However this is overcome and they are united at last.
There are also SUB-PLOTS which influence the main plot. For example:
1. Bingley's courtship of JANE. This runs parallel with Darcy's courtship of Elizabeth. (They interreact when Darcy separates Bing and Jane. This reinforces Elizabeth's prejudice against him).
2. Charlotte Lucas's marriage with Collins. This is necessary because it causes Elizabeth to go to KENT where she again meets Darcy. One event is well connected and linked to the other.
3. Darcy's relations with Wickham. (At Meryton Wickham prejudices Elizabeth against Darcy).
The other characters contribute to the MAIN STORY. Every character cannot be considered a part or unnatural, but it links well with the main event. None of the characters can be isolated.
Elizabeth is probably the mouthpiece of J. Austen ( vol.Ichap.2 ); like Elizabeth, Austen was fascinated by human character. Her intelligent SENSE OF HUMOUR, especially enabled her
to see the follies and nonsense of the people she portrayed. Her treatement of Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins, Lydia are fine examples: she laughs at the follies and NONSENSE of these characters
without being cruel or unfair.
However, her use of IRONY and SATIRE is more serious (Vol.III chap:10).
Satire in J. Austen's novels usually has a social meaning ( when she satirizes the snobbishness
of attitudes like Miss Bingley's towards Elizabet; she forgets that her brother's fortune has been acquired by trade ). J. Austen uses satire to show up the VANITY and CONCEIT of her charac-
ters, it expresses their SOCIAL SNOBBERY and WEALTH and RANK are the objects of her satire.
We can see that the author satirises people's HYPOCRISY, VANITY and STUPIDITY. She shows up the difference beetween what they think they are and what they are really like.
The main theme in Austen's novels is LOVE and MARRIAGE, the choice people make for marriage partners, especially the difficulties two people have to overcome before they marry.
e.g. Elizabeth and Darcy have to understand and overcome their own PRIDE and PREJUDICE
before becoming suitable marrige partners.
Elizabeth is ATTRACTIVE, INDIVIDUAL and INTELLIGENT ---- but both have to gain
For Darcy is proud and will not demean himself and Elizabeth is too HASTY in her judgement
and liable to be taken in by appearances. Even though his pride is greatly offended by her social
standing, Darcy proposes marriage to Elizabeth ( but he has yet to humble himself ) but he is su-
re that Elizabeth will accept him because he is superior. Darcy is only seen through Elizabeth's eyes and those od society, only at the end we learn what his feelings were in the story.
Then, the events which occur in the novel eventually help them to realise their misatakes
and to esteem each other's character.
Thus, their marriage is founded on AFFECTION and UNDERSTANDING and is not a result of an immediate blind impulse.
We can compare this main love-story against the standards of the other marriage in 'Pride and Prejudice':
-Charlotte + Mr Collins = Being 27 and plain-looking Charlotte doesn't have a high view of marriage. She marries a man who is inferior in intelligence only for the position he can offer.
Collins only wants a wife because it is time, in the eyes of society, for him to settle and be married. He quickly changes his affections from Jane to Elizabeth and from Elizabeth to Charlotte: He has no deep feelings.
-Mr + Mrs Bennet = Mr Bemnnet captivated by youth and beauty had married a woman of weak understanding, Her behaviour put an end to all real affection for her in their marriage + no money.
Fromn every point of view their marriage is a failure.
-Jane + Bingley = Their marriage is based on good FOUNDATIONS. They are attracted at once, and have the fortune to have similar, easy dispositions, Bingley has also money.
NECESSARY QUALITIES for good marriage according to the novel:
• UNDERSTANDING each other's character
• GOOD DISPOSITION of the partners
• SIMILARITY in feeling and TASTE
Bad points in unsuccessful marriages:
• Lydia + Wickham's IRRESPONSABILITY
• Mrs Bennet's IGNORANCE
• unequal intelligence Charlotte and Collins
The question whether NOBILITY and GENTILITY are confined only to people of high rank figures in all of J:Austen's novels. She did not reject the HIERARCHICAL STANDARDS of SOCIAL RANK of her time but she was an intelligent OBSERVER of HUMAN SOCIETY.
She didn't wish to change society and accepted the world of Lords and Ladies, aristocracy and
Gentry, clergymen and landowners; she rarely introduces servants or working people; however:
• she did not believe that WEALTHY PEOPLE were necessarily always the most cultured
• while she would have defended the church, she was not BLIND to the WORLDLINESS of a clergyman like Collins.
The qualities J. Austen valued are : affection, common sense, good taste, culture.
There are some STRICT moral standards in Jane Austen's society that everyone is expected to respect.
e.g Lydia has to be married to Wickham because otherwise she would never be accepted again in society.
But Lady Cath and Collins interpret societies MORAL code in a PRUDISH, VINDICTIVE MANNER in the way that they condemn Lydia and wish her behaviour to hurt her sister's reputation.
JANE AUSTEN: Accepts SOCIETY'S MORAL CODE which came originally from the teachings of CHRISTIANITY. But she comments that Collin's remarks that Lydia should be forgiven is unchristian. She also shared the MORAL VIEWPOINT described as 'CLASSICAL'. She believed the PASSIONS should be controlled by REASON. The consequences are:
• Those characters who follow their PASSIONS or have no power of REASON are criticised (Wickham and Lydia).
• The standards of SOCIETY are not to be broken, but some characters (Miss Bingley, Collins and Lady Cath) follow them blindly to flatter their own society standing. The INTELLIGENT ones (Elizabeth, the Gardeners) use them as the MEASURE OF GOOD SENSE and PROPRIETY.
The MORAL VISION of Pride and Predujice--- Jane Austen believes in GOOD SENSE and COMFORTABLE LIVING--- Is she too materialistic?