Letters and Their Role in Revealing Class and Personal Identity in Pride and Prejudice

By Devine, Jodi A. | Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Letters and Their Role in Revealing Class and Personal Identity in Pride and Prejudice


Devine, Jodi A., Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal


The true art of letter writing is not simply a communicative technique. It is also a complex experience of feeling and insights, through which individual perception and human relationships are defined. (167)

Lloyd W. Brown Bits of Ivory: Narrative Techniques in Jane Austen's Fiction

IN 1741 SAMUEL RICHARDSON, the author of Pamela and Clarissa, published a letter-writing manual entitled Familiar Letters on Important Occasions. In his Preface, he expresses his hope that the letters "will answer several good ends, as they may not only direct the forms requisite to be observed on the most important occasions; but, what is more to the purpose, by the rules and instructions contained in them, contribute to mend the heart, and improve the understanding' (xxvii, Richardson's emphasis). To achieve his purpose of mending the heart and improving the understanding, Richardson distinguishes his 173 letters by such titles as "General Rules for agreeable Conversation in a young Man. From a Father to a Son"; and "To a Country Correspondent, modestly requesting a Balance of Accounts between them." A string of letters has the following titles: "A modest Lover, desiring an Aunt's Favour to her Niece"; followed by "The Aunt's Answer, supposing the Gentleman deserves Encouragement"; and then "The Answer, supposing the Gentleman is not approved." These titles started me thinking about possible titles for the letters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins's first letter to Mr. Bennet could be titled "How to be pompous and condescending to your estranged relatives, even as you seek reconciliation." Lydia's letters to Kitty, when Lydia is with the regiment in Brighton, could be entitled, "Younger sister to older one, detailing exploits with soldiers, with directions for secrecy." And finally, Darcy's letter to Elizabeth could be titled "Spurned Lover to a young woman, explaining that he is indeed a gentleman."

While Pride and Prejudice is not an epistolary novel, Austen includes many letters in this work, illustrating the influence of the epistolary tradition of the eighteenth century. Austen originally wrote Sense and Sensibility in the epistolary genre, so she was well aware of the effects of using letters in fiction. The letters in Pride and Prejudice provide the characters with multiple voices; readers see and hear the actions and the dialogue via the filter of the narrator while the characters' letters provide insights into their thoughts and emotions. In addition to the third person narrator, the readers are privy to the voices of the multiple letter writers, including Mr. Collins, Jane, Lydia, Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, and Mr. Darcy. What Austen does with letters anticipates the theory of Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian literary critic who wrote over a hundred years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice. In "Discourse in the Novel," Bakhtin explores the idea of novels containing multiple voices to illustrate techniques authors use in creating a style for their fiction; letters add to the rich variety of voices in a novel, reflecting different elements of society, and which can be understood by members of that society (261-63). Through the multiple voices presented by the letters in Pride and Prejudice, the characters infer elements of the letter-writer's identity and mark class distinctions; in some cases, the recipient of a letter learns, upon reflection, something about him or herself. For this paper, I would like to focus on the revelation of class and individual identity through letters in conjunction with the social constructions of letter writing etiquette.

Letter-writing guides proliferated in the eighteenth century driven by increases in the number of epistolary novels and collections of letters published, advancements in education, and improvements in the postal service; the latter two trends continued in the nineteenth century. While Austen makes no mention of letter-writing manuals in Pride and Prejudice, mainly because the guides were intended for students and lower class audiences, the narrator and the characters frequently remark on the style and tone of letters in addition to their contents, indicating their awareness of letter-writing etiquette. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Letters and Their Role in Revealing Class and Personal Identity in Pride and Prejudice
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.