“Jane Austen’s use of dialogue has long been regarded as one of her most significant creative achievements. She uses conversations to show the ways in which her characters are behaving” (Pride and Prejudice and the Art of Conversation). Jane Austen is an English novelist who lived in the eighteenth century and has created famous works such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abby. Her ability to beautifully craft conversations between characters is a direct result of her understanding of how to incorporate linguistic elements of the English language. This statement will be proven through the breakdown of numerous conversations within the works mentioned above. Some of the elements to be touched upon include syntax, free indirect discourse, ambiguity, and the overall use of the English lexicon. Examples of these elements learned in class will be identified to relate their importance to both the story and the reader.
This first conversation takes place within Jane Austen’s work titled Pride and Prejudice. This piece follows the life of a women named Elizabeth Bennet as she survives unconventionally through the British land gentry period around the 18th century. The scene is when Mr. Collins, a wealthy man set to inherit a great estate, proposes to Elizabeth. Mr. Collins proposal, an absolute failure, is shown through Austen’s use of syntax between the two characters. His proposal rambles onward in circles stating that he is a “clergyman in easy circumstances” (Austen. 1995). His long proposal is ended quickly with Elizabeth’s straight and to the point answer of “no”. This clear difference in syntax between the two characters offers a text representation of just how different the two characters are from each other. Mr. Collins crafts a long circling statement as to why he’s a worthy catch while Elizabeth doesn’t waste time in powerfully stating the obvious; “it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline”. This scene can also be used as a way for Austen to show her lack of support for Regency England.
The second conversation, hailing from the same tail, takes place more towards the climax of Elizabeth’s story when she begins to question her feeling with Mr. Darcy. In the beginning, she felt distaste for him and wanted nothing to do with the man. These feelings began to change in this passage:
“She certainly did not hate him. No; hatred had vanished long ago, and she had almost as long been ashamed of ever feeling a dislike against him, that could be so called. The respect created by the conviction of his valuable qualities, though at first unwillingly admitted, had for some time ceased to be repugnant to her feelings; and it was now heightened into somewhat of a friendlier nature, by the testimony so highly in his favour, and bringing forward his disposition in so amiable a light, which yesterday had produced.” (Austen. 1995)
Austen, within this inner monologue, expresses Elizabeth’s wavering and uncertain feelings towards Mr. Darcy by using steadily gentler diction and a combination of choppy and lengthy syntax. This passage offers a stream of her consciousness as she is figuring out her own feelings. Elizabeth can use extremely short one-word clauses such as “No” to create this inner monologue interruption to show she is questioning herself. This turmoil Austen is creating is beautifully crafted and offers readers a window into the characters mind. This is just one of many perfect examples where Austen utilizes dialogue to flex her creative writing mastery.
The second work by Austen to be broken into is titled Emma. This story, similar to that of Pride and Prejudice, is about a young woman living through the British land gentry period around the 18th century. The main protagonist, Emma Woodhouse, lives in a small town and delights herself by playing matchmaker. She attempts to match a friend of hers and drama ensues until everything eventually figures itself out. The lesson taken from the tale can suggest that true love can always find a way and should not be predetermined by upbringing or social status.
The first conversation to be investigated is a meeting between Emma and a character named Jane Fairfax, a woman who is new to the town and doesn’t mix with our protagonist well. A part of the section described is contained below:
“Emma wished he would be less pointed, yet could not help being amused; and when on glancing her eye towards Jane Fairfax she caught the remains of a smile, when she saw that with all the deep blush of consciousness, there had been a smile of secret delight, she had less scruple in the amusement, and much less compunction with respect to her.—This amiable, upright, perfect Jane Fairfax was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings.” (Austen. 2003)
Within this passage, Austen ‘renders not merely the point of view of a given character but gives the flavor of a character’s speech or thought” (Hargraves). This development of free indirect discourse presents the readers a third person narrator to offer observational insight into what is being thought of Jane. We, as the reader, are fair to assume this extra observation contained at the end of the quote above is indeed Emma’s thought process through this vexing situation. Austen’s implementation of free indirect discourse within this internal conversation, although rarely used before her time, has now become a staple in novel writing as a genre.
This second conversational circumstance being evaluated within Emma deals with “the reflection of the specific fictional consciousness apparently responsible for the observations presented in the text” (Dry). This narrative point of view, also contained in the first example, is at the staple of Austen’s writing style within Emma. These particular examples strung together all exemplify what she is achieving with this narrative point of view:
“(Mrs. Weston’s communications furnished Emma with more food for unpleasant reflection. . .) The child to be born at Randall’s must be a tie there even dearer than herself; and Mrs. Weston’s heart and time would be occupied by it. They should lose her; and, probably, in great measure, her husband also. . . All that were good would be withdrawn; and if to these losses, the loss of Donwell were to be added, what would remain of cheerful or of rational society within their reach? Mr. Knightley to be no longer coming there for his evening comfort!—No longer walking in at all hours, as if ever willing to change his own home for their’s!—How was it to be endured?” (Dry)
Austen is displaying Emma’s consciousness in a way suitable for readers to understand as such while also giving us an indicator to her current mental state. If the inner monologue is in a state of distress, then we can assume she is in fact distressed. Although these types of “conversation” are within Emma’s own subconsciousness, it should not be turned away as examples of Austen’s mastery of linguistic elements within the English language. She paved the building blocks to modern literature. That is why her works are so popular even to this day.
This final work to be broken down by Janes Austen is her first title to be published. Northanger Abby is the story of Catherine Morland, a young woman in the heart of 18th century Britain. This coming-of-age tale of the young girl contains adventure, drama, gossip, love, and heartbreak. Being Austen’s first published novel, it doesn’t lack in conversational mastery in the English language. The linguistic style of ambiguity is ever present, from the beginning statements to the final sentence in book two. “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine” (Austen, 2007) are the first words we read as this book opens. Almost as if it should be narrated before a superhero movie, we as readers are introduced to a sense of mystery and expectation for a character we initially know nothing about. This introductory sentence acts as the narrative hook to capture readers focus as the story unfolds in front of them.
At the end of Catherine’s story we are left as readers with the same subtle hints of ambiguity. Seemly directed at readers who are trying to retrieve a learning lesson from the tale, Austen appears to have commentary to add. “I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience” (Austen. 2007). When combined with the first sentence of the novel a much different picture is taken when peering into the authors opinion of Catherine. We are greeted to this story with the expectation that Catherine will become a heroine against all odds yet at the end we are met with an entirely different outcome. Catherine wasn’t the hero Austen initially painted her to be. She went through life, made mistakes, and let life continue. It almost appears as if Austen was portraying some gentle mockery to the story and its readers. She used her lexical grasp to convince the readers of one thing only to have significantly less happen. These two sentences alone offer a fantastic example of how Austen used her grasp of linguistic elements within the English language. She offers her own commentary, her own conversation, to the characters and the readers in a way that is still discussed to this day.
“Jane Austen’s use of dialogue has long been regarded as one of her most significant creative achievements.” (Pride and Prejudice and the Art of Conversation). Although Jane Austen’s list of novels is short, she wasted no time crafting some of the most rememberable novels in the modern era. Her ability to beautifully craft conversations between characters is a direct result of her understanding of how to incorporate syntax, free indirect discourse, and ambiguity within the English language. She has found ways to insert readers into the minds and emotional wellbeing’s of her characters. She has shown a mastery for indirect conversation through the flawless interpretations of inner monologues. She has captivated the interests of readers on a multigenerational scale that is rarely seen today.