"What are men to rocks and mountains?": self-interest, civility and the unnameable in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Ackland, Michael (2016) "What are men to rocks and mountains?": self-interest, civility and the unnameable in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In: Colomba, Caterina, (ed.) Pride and Prejudice: a bicentennial bricolage. Università degli Studi di Udine, Udine, Italy, pp. 159-174.

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[Extract] One of the criticisms most often levelled at Pride and Prejudice focuses on the novel's self-imposed constraints and its alleged disjunction from momentous contemporary events, as well as from a considerable gamut of human emotions and experience. Charlotte Brontë articulated this view-point well in an often quoted letter to G.H. Lewes of 1848:

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point [...] I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.

And Austen herself seemed virtually to anticipate some of these reservations in a letter of 1813, a year notable alike for the appearance of Pride and Prejudice and for fateful Napoleonic campaigns. Her novel, she conceded, was "rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there" to embrace wider issues, such as "Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté [sic], or anything that would form a contrast, and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and epigrammatism of the general style". The bulk of her readers of course have demurred, as Austen predicted her correspondent would do ("I doubt your quite agreeing with me here"). They have happily embraced the novel's sparkling comedy of manners, joyed in the author's intelligence and deftness of touch, and in the seemingly satisfying resolution of the plots various romantic conundrums. But 200 years after its publication Pride and Prejudice is still dogged intermittently by the charge of bright superficiality and lack of 'shade' – a charge which this essay seeks to reassess in terms of modern expectations, the novel's preoccupations and its much-debated conclusion.

Item ID: 38400
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-88-8420-833-0
Keywords: Jane Austen; literature
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2017 01:32
FoR Codes: 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing @ 100%
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