Jane Austen deliberately and intentionally kept her novels limited to the ordinary day to day lives of rural lower gentry: “3 or 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on” She wrote to her niece, Anna Austen and later to her brother she describes it as“the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory” as the boundaries of her work. Her fans applaud her for the miniature delicate and exquisite ‘Chinese fidelity’ or bonsai effect produced. Her critics find it limited, confining and parochial.
Jane Austen experimented with narrative techniques, variable perspectives, indirect comments, dramatic interplay, nuances of tone, revelatory dialogue and the compelling design of her novels that we can discover her main concerns.
Austen uses a shifting point of view in her novels. At times situations are depicted from the composer’s omniscient Olympian perspective and next time from the restricted tunnel vision of one character.
Characters through dialogue, letters and actions
Characters become alive and distinctive in a variety of ways; either by their actions, their words, their interactions with other characters, their thoughts and rarely by the author’s direct description or comments. It is her style of language that impressed many of her audience. The fact that her favorite words were civility, fancying and imprudence, may give us a clue on what she was on about.
Austen sends up many of her characters but the butt of most of the novel is Emma. (See language of Satire)
* “The narrative tone, the events that unfold, all speak of satire
passing itself off as romance.” *Sara Dowse
Emma (to Harriet) “You are a great deal too necessary at Hartfield, to be spared to Abbey-Mill”.
Knightley to Emma: “Elton may talk sentimentally, but he will act rationally”.
Direct dialogue: Chapter 5 Vol 1 – Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston discuss the relationship between Emma and Harriet Smith. Knightley, openly critical of Emma betrays a sub-conscious interest in her. Mrs Weston, respectfully counters many of Mr Knightley’s assertions critical of Emma.
**The romantic and personal epistolary language was very different from the simple narration as it give the author licence to give the characters a distinct personal voice.
“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.”
Archaic spelling and diction:
Emma described as handsome, Elton as pretty.