The Language of Jane Austen

The Language of Jane Austen

The Language of Jane Austen

The Language of Jane Austen


First published in 1972, Norman Page's seminal study of The Language of Jane Austenseeks to demonstrate both the exceptional nature and the degree of subtlety of Jane Austen's use of language.

As well as examining the staple items of her vocabulary and some of the characteristic patterns of her syntax, attention is paid to her use of dialogue and of the letter form. The aim of the study is not simply to analyse linguistic qualities for their own sake but to employ close verbal analysis to enrich the critical understanding of Jane Austen's novels.


Jane Austen’s six short novels, with a volume of letters and a handful of juvenilia and fragments, have given rise to a stream of critical commentary which, starting quietly enough in her own lifetime and hardly increasing in the course of the nineteenth century, has in our own generation swollen to a mighty torrent. At times, indeed, its rushing and roaring threatens to drown the author’s own voice; and it may well be wondered whether there is just cause for yet another full-length study of the modest oeuvre of this novelist, whom Ian Watt has aptly described as ‘the most lucid and the least recondite of authors’. The justification of the present study must be that, rather than offering an ‘interpretation’ of the novels which claims to find new answers to familiar questions, it sets out to explore an area of her work that seems to be of indubitable importance and interest, yet which has, with only a very few exceptions, been generally neglected. This neglect has, of course, been only one example of an indifference, until very recently almost total, to the language of fiction. Or, when the attitude in question has not been one of indifference, there has been a basic uncertainty about the susceptibility of the material to analysis. The last few years, however, have seen a welcome and long overdue enlargement of stylistic horizons to include the English novel, and it is now more widely accepted that the language of a novelist is an aspect of his work that may reward serious and close attention. More than this, style-study, so far from being (in Graham Hough’s phrase) merely concerned with ‘the icing on the cake’, is capable of taking us quickly to the

I. Watt (ed.), Jane Austen: a Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1963) 1.

G. Hough, Style and Stylistics (1969) 39.

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