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Letters and their role in revealing class and personal identity in Pride and Prejudice.

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. For example, Miss Bingley keeps commenting as Mr. Darcy writes to his sister: "The perpetual commendations of [Miss Bingley] either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter ... formed a curious dialogue [for Elizabeth]" (47). A little later in the conversation, Miss Bingley says of her brother's style of writing, "'Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest'" (48). Miss Bingley's comments reflect the purpose of many letter-writing guides; that is, to write in the proper form, paying due attention to handwriting, neatness, and the length of a letter suitable for the occasion.

Miss Bingley's concern with the outward appearance of a letter contrasts with Elizabeth's evaluation of letters; Elizabeth's interests lie in the content and in how the diction, tone, and style reveal a letter-writer's identity. For example, Mr. Collins's first letter to Mr. Bennet indicates much about Mr. Collins's character. Each member of the Bennet family reacts to his letter after Mr. Bennet reads it aloud. Mary, the middle sister who is always reading, declares, "'In point of composition, ... his letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed'" (64). Mary's interpretation follows the first precept outlined by Samuel Richardson in his letter-writing manual--to observe the requisite forms for the proper occasion. However, Elizabeth dwells on Mr. Collins's style and his word choice: "Elizabeth was chiefly struck with his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying his parishioners whenever it were required" (64). Elizabeth then goes on to voice her opinion of the letter: "'He must be an oddity, I think,' said she. 'I cannot make him out.--There is something very pompous in his style.--And what can he mean by apologizing for being next in the entail.--We cannot suppose he would help it, if he could.--Can he be a sensible man, sir?'" (64). With this analysis, we see that Elizabeth reads letters not only for their manner of composition, but more importantly, for insights into the character of the writer. Mr. Bennet confirms Elizabeth's first impressions by replying, "'No, my dear; I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well'" (64). Of course, Mr. Collins's letters do provide Mr. Bennet with a source of entertainment. He declares to Elizabeth at the end of the novel, that "'Much as I abominate writing, I would not give up Mr. Collins's correspondence for any consideration. Nay, when I read a letter of his, I cannot help giving him the preference even over Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my son-in-law'" (364). Though Mr. Collins is a gentleman, his letters expose his education, especially his first letter, which reveals to the recipients character traits that do not reflect his class. His tone is pompous and condescending to Mr. Bennet, a man of equal class and status.

Mr. Collins's education, "spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father" (70), makes him the ideal audience for a letter-writing manual. Had he used one, he would have learned the following precept, here outlined in The Correspondent, a manual published in 1796:
 The efforts of the student should be unceasingly directed to the
 acquisition of a GENTEEL, ACCURATE, and CORRECT manner
 of writing; and all his care directed to avoid every appearance
 all these points the extremes of the good decline so rapidly into
 the vices of the bad style, that it is necessary to exert the
 utmost caution, and to keep attention alive by continual practice,
 to retain that happy medium in which correctness resides. (9)

The letter Mr. Collins sends after news of Lydia's elopement has reached Hunsford reflects "the extremes of the good [which have] decline[d] so rapidly into the vices of the bad style" (9). While he expresses his desire to "condole" and "sympathize" with Mr. Bennet and his family during this crisis, the rest of his letter belies these intentions, thus revealing that he lacks social graces and the ability to properly express such sentiments. Mr. Collins writes:
 And [the elopement] is the more to be lamented, because there is
 reason to suppose, as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this
 licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter, has proceeded from
 a faulty degree of indulgence, though, at the same time, for the
 consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think
 that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not
 be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age. (297)

While Mr. Collins thinks he is being genteel, he actually insults Mr. and Mrs. Bennet by laying the blame of Lydia's conduct on them and then further insults them by laying the blame on Lydia, all of which may reflect the situation but are not sentiments to be expressed under the guise of condolence. In addition to insulting Mr. and Mrs. Bennet on the upbringing of their daughter, Mr. Collins has the bad grace to refer to Elizabeth's refusal of his marriage offer as saving him from being personally involved in Lydia's affair: "And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect with augmented satisfaction on a certain event of last November, for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace" (297). Mr. Collins has turned his letter of condolence back on himself to reveal a selfish, self-centered man whose main concern is his own comfort. Before any of the details of the elopement are known, such as who led whom astray, Mr. Collins advises Mr. Bennet "to throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence." These final words of Mr. Collins's do not reflect the charity of his profession or his concern for a family member. While Mr. Bennet is angry enough with Lydia to wish never to see her again, his first impulse is to go to London to save her; paternal regard for the welfare of his daughter overrides the abhorrence of her actions. Mr. Collins's neglect to perceive that paternal instinct would guide Mr. Bennet at this time does not bode well for the advice he gives to his parishioners.

Austen does not have Jane or Elizabeth comment on Mr. Collins's letter; his previous letters and conduct have revealed his true identity to them, and while this letter must have been offensive, they are too concerned with their father's and Mr. Gardiner's search for their sister to offer criticism of it. The readers are left alone to discern Mr. Collins's weaknesses and lack of breeding, which he makes clear every time he speaks or writes a letter. In this regard, Mr. Collins, intentionally or not, has followed the advice commonly offered by letter-writing manuals, including David Fordyce's 1790's The New and Complete British Letter-Writer. "As letters are the copies of conversation, just consider what you would say to your friend if he was present, and write down the very words you would speak, which will render your epistle unaffected, and intelligible" (24). This is advice Jane Austen mocks in a letter to her sister Cassandra in which she writes, "I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter" (January 3, 1801). However, Austen has created characters in Pride and Prejudice, such as Lydia, Mr. Darcy, the Gardiners, and Mr. Collins, who do write as they speak. With Mr. Collins the humor, of course, lies in his ignorance of how absurd he sounds. Since Mr. Collins's upbringing did not expose him to speaking in a genteel manner and his preferment by Lady Catherine gives him "a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility" (70), he believes the words he speaks and writes are not pretentious. By including his letters, Austen not only provides humor for Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, and the readers, but also illustrates the faults of those who aspire to a higher rank without the necessary etiquette and education.

Lydia, likewise, lacks the proper education and etiquette for her to retain the distinction granted to a gentleman's daughter. Readers see only a few of Lydia's letters, including her letter to Mrs. Forster announcing her elopement. However, the letters Lydia sends to Kitty once she is settled amid all of the officers in Brighton expose much about her character; her long letters to Kitty do not reveal much to the whole family because they "were much too full of lines under the words to be made public" (238). We have already seen Mr. Bennet reading Mr. Collins's letter out loud to the entire family, a practice common at the time and also depicted by Austen in her other novels. Concealing information by underlining words not to be shared with the greater family is either an agreed upon technique between Lydia and Kitty or else was a commonly known technique at the time. The letter-writing guides I consulted do not have sections on how to deceive family members. When Jane reports the details of Lydia's elopement to Elizabeth in person, Jane explains, "'Kitty then owned, with a very natural triumph on knowing more than the rest of us, that in Lydia's last letter, she had prepared her for such a step'" (290). The two youngest Bennet sisters are allowed to run wild, much to Elizabeth's chagrin; their lack of education and social deficiencies are evident in Lydia's letters and in Kitty's withholding the content of them from her parents. Not only is Lydia's reputation nearly ruined, but her behavior nearly jeopardizes Jane's and Elizabeth's chances of marriages to Bingley and Darcy, respectively.

Class distinctions are an important element in Pride and Prejudice, and letters, both in style of composition and in content, help make class barriers permeable. Johanna M. Smith, in a Marxist-feminist reading of the novel, states that "While Austen is no revolutionary, this novel does challenge her culture's received signs of class status" (67). Smith analyzes the influence of class on Mrs. Bennet:
 Mrs. Bennet married up when she captivated the landed Mr. Bennet
 and ... her continued associations with her own class--her
 sister married her father's clerk; her brother is in trade--pose
 problems for Elizabeth's romance with Darcy. We see, for example,
 that although Elizabeth's father is a careless parent and her
 cousin Mr. Collins is an egregious ass, these masculine relatives
 are represented as a less serious threat to her romance than the
 vulgarity of her mother and younger sisters. (69)

Mrs. Bennet's marriage has not improved her social graces. While Lydia and Kitty are the daughters of a gentleman, their mother, the daughter of an attorney, has had the most influence on their education. However, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's letters help to bridge the gap between the trading class and the gentry. Their deportment at Pemberley when they first meet Mr. Darcy, their help in searching for Lydia after she elopes with Wickham, conducted in a proper and serious manner, and their dealings with Darcy in securing that the marriage actually occurs make Darcy aware that even though Mr. Gardiner is a merchant, he and Mrs. Gardiner have all of the social graces of the gentry. Mr. Gardiner's letters to Mr. Bennet follow the requisite form of a proper letter and also, the diction and tone are appropriate for the situation. A comparison of extracts from Lydia's letter and Mr. Gardiner's letter illustrate in which class their respective educations place them.
 Lydia writes to Mrs. Forster on her elopement:
 My Dear Harriet, You will laugh when you know where I am
 gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow
 morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green,
 and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton,
 for there is but one man in the word I love, and he is an angel. I
 should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off.
 You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you
 do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I
 write to them, and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it
 will be! I can hardly write for laughing. (291)

There are at least four violations of decent social conduct for a member of the gentry in this excerpt. First, Lydia announces her elopement; second, she claims there is no harm in it; third, she tells Mrs. Forster that she does not need to tell Lydia's parents; and last, she thinks the surprise she gives her parents would be great fun rather than a great disappointment for them. The main point of Alistair Duckworth's book The Improvement of the Estate is that "the manner in which individuals relate to their cultural inheritance [is] a means of distinguishing responsible from irresponsible action" (xxix). In analyzing Lydia's letter, Duckworth writes: "The moral chaos of Lydia's character is here revealed in her choice of correspondent (not her family but her friend) [and] in her motive for writing (not to dispel alarm, but to inspire admiration).... Linguistically, as usual, all is disorder, as grammatical errors and lexical hyperboles silently comment upon the enormity of Lydia's [actions]" (138). Lydia's tone and flippant style reflect that in manners and social graces, she more appropriately belongs to the trading class she has inherited or learned from her mother's side, leading to actions about which she has no remorse but which shock Elizabeth and Jane, inheritors of Mr. Bennet's more genteel sensibilities.

As Lydia's letter-writing reveals her character traits, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's letters provide evidence of their etiquette and social graces. A brief excerpt from Mr. Gardiner's letter to Mr. Bennet on the discovery of Lydia and Wickham shows his poise, common sense, good business management, and tone appropriate for the situation: "They are not married, nor can I find there was any intention of being so; but if you are willing to perform the engagements which I have ventured to make on your side, I hope it will not be long before they are [married]" (302). Mr. Gardiner then provides details of the plan he has undertaken, we later find out with Mr. Darcy's intervention, of ensuring that Lydia's honor is saved by a marriage to Wickham. In manner, tone, diction, and style, Mr. Gardiner's letter could serve as a good model for a letter-writing manual. Mr. Gardiner, a member of the trading class by profession, writes better than Mr. Collins and Lydia, members of the gentry by birth. Austen uses letters to mock the folly of class distinctions. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's letters reveal aspects of their identity, which cross class barriers and which mirror their actions in the novel. This may be why Austen ends the novel with a nod to the Gardiners; she writes, "With the Gardiners, [Darcy and Elizabeth] were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them" (388). Even though Darcy does not read the Gardiners' letters, the readers of the novel are privy to them, allowing them to better understand why a man of Mr. Darcy's temperament and class would embrace such friends.

Darcy's letter to Elizabeth reveals elements of his character that his behavior at Netherfield betrays. Elizabeth, who watches as Darcy writes a letter while she is staying at Netherfield to nurse Jane, knows that Darcy believes he writes "rather slowly" (47) and takes the time to carefully craft his sentences. In the opening paragraph of his letter to her, where he encourages Elizabeth to read his letter despite her obvious dislike for him, he writes: "the effort which the formation, and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read" (196). Darcy's character requires that this letter be written and read! Given his haughty manners at Longbourn and Elizabeth's description of him in her refusal of marriage as being full of "'arrogance, ... conceit, and ... selfish disdain of the feelings of others'" (193) readers would not necessarily expect him to feel that he believed his "character required" others to be privy to his thoughts. In writing the letter, Darcy does not just explain his conduct toward Wickham and his role in separating Bingley and Jane; he feels it necessary to clear his name of inaccurate charges and to provide Elizabeth with details that she could not have possibly known. It is important to him that Elizabeth knows the truth so she can correctly judge him. Darcy is not trying to persuade her to marry him; he is presenting facts and an accurate account of events so she can form opinions based on the truth. In this, we see a new side of Darcy. His disdain for all outside his circle at Netherfield shows a lack of concern about what others think of him. On the other hand, in the letter, he takes pains to be gentle, even when presenting the lack of social graces of members of her family, and asks for forgiveness in doing so; he succeeds much better in his letter than he did in his proposal to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth's repeated perusal of Darcy's letter is the linchpin on which all subsequent action depends. Elizabeth begins the letter in character: "With a strong prejudice against every thing he might say, she began his account of what had happened at Netherfield" (204). Her prejudice causes her to believe Darcy's claims about Jane's emotions "to be false," and she thinks his style "all pride and insolence" (204). Likewise, her reading of Darcy's account of Wickham's behavior leads her to exclaim "'This must be false! This cannot be! This must be the grossest falsehood!'" (204). It is not surprising that Elizabeth, who thinks she knows herself so well and who has been described as intelligent and rational, should immediately think that Darcy's representation of events is false. During her second reading of the letter, we see Elizabeth's ability to think logically as she slowly accepts Darcy's version over Wickham's. We have already seen, from Elizabeth's reading of Mr. Collins's letter, that she extracts from letters aspects of the letter-writer's identity. She does not focus solely on style as her younger sister Mary does. It is, of course, through reading, re-reading, and subsequently analyzing Darcy's letter that she gains a better understanding of Mr. Darcy and a better comprehension of herself. Austen emphasizes the importance of Elizabeth's analysis by devoting a whole chapter to it. This self-reflexive contemplation provides an example of what Samuel Richardson meant when he said the main purpose of composing a letter-writing manual was to "mend the heart, and improve the understanding" (xxvii). Through her review of the evidence provided by Darcy's letter and of her own conduct, Elizabeth definitely "improves her understanding" of Darcy's identity and of her own character. Once Elizabeth accepts the truth of Darcy's statements, she exclaims:

"How despicably have I acted! ... I, who have prided myself on my discernment!--I, who have valued myself on my abilities!... How humiliating is this discovery!--Yet, how just a humiliation!--Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of [Wickham] and offended by the neglect of [Darcy], on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself." (208)

Elizabeth realizes that she is not the person she thought she was, and in order to make amends, she subtly alters her personality in order to become a more thoughtful and responsible person who reflects the ideals of being genteel, accurate, and correct. Darcy's letter does not cause Elizabeth to fall in love with him; on the contrary, while Elizabeth has learned not to be so judgmental, she has mixed feelings toward Darcy: "His attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect; but she could not approve him; nor could she for a moment repent her refusal, or feel the slightest inclination ever to see him again" (212). It would take another letter, Mrs. Gardiner's to Elizabeth, to erase all of Elizabeth's past prejudice and to reconcile Darcy's true character for her.

Elizabeth is not the only one to improve by Darcy's letter. During Elizabeth and Darcy's reconciliation near the end of the novel, Darcy admits that Elizabeth's refusal of his marriage proposal because he was not more gentlemanlike in his manner (367), propelled him to write his letter. Darcy tells Elizabeth, '"You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled'" (369). According to Patricia Meyer Spacks, "one reason novelists draw on the epistolary form ... is that letters provide a way of focusing on the tension between self and world" (164). We see the tension between self and world played out in Mr. Darcy. Like Elizabeth, Darcy subtly alters his character in order not to be so proud and not to be so prejudiced when dealing with a member of the gentry who has connections with the trading class. We have already seen in Darcy's friendship with Mr. Bingley, whose "fortune ... had been acquired by trade" (15), that Darcy does not eschew friendships with people associated with trade as long as their behavior is respectable and genteel. While Elizabeth cannot correct her mother's and younger sisters' behavior, the letter influences her to make alterations in her own way of thinking by becoming less quick to judge; likewise, the letter helps Darcy show that he can be an aristocrat and a gentleman at the same time.

Many critics have suggested how the letter bridges the gap between the opposing views of Elizabeth and Darcy, while others, like Grete Ek, propose that from the beginning there is an affinity between Elizabeth and Darcy and that "the resolution ... terminates a process of clarification rather than one of substantial change" (178). Their affinity is that they are both proud and prejudiced. Elizabeth's pride stems from her being her father's favorite and the most reasonable and intelligent of her sisters and neighbors. Darcy's pride emanates from his family name, wealth, and connections. Their pride in their respective belief that they know how to act properly in society interferes with their ability to judge properly; instead, they quickly form incorrect opinions of each other's behavior based on prejudice. The novel could have easily been titled "Pride and Vanity" (with loss, of course, of the nice alliteration); Mary succinctly sums up the two terms: '"A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us'" (20). Elizabeth's and Darcy's pride and vanity lead to a shared prejudice. Both characters have an excessive amount of pride and prejudice, of which they are initially unaware. Darcy's letter and Elizabeth's reflection on it lead to a rethinking of their assumptions about each other and eventually to a mutual understanding and regard. The multiple letter writers in Pride and Prejudice offer a range of voices that reflect different identities and social classes. Darcy's letter acts as a catalyst to alter both Darcy's voice and Elizabeth's voice. Both characters need to change in order for them to reach their final understanding and love. Elizabeth and Darcy have different voices after the letter is written and read, thereby adding to the multiple layers of identity in the text.

As we have seen, fictional letters in novels may serve to help characters develop a new sense of who they are and how they see themselves and the world. The letters may function as a mirror that reveals truths to the recipient who may not have previously perceived them. Such a letter in a narrative serves as a space in which the recipient sees a reflection of herself or himself, and also allows the novel reader to analyze a fictional text within a framework of reality. While the letter is fictional, it reveals insights to the novel reader, who may be educated in the reading of the letter. Darcy's letter functions as a triple mirror. Darcy's written words act as a reflection back on Darcy to reveal elements of his character, which he had not adequately exhibited before to Elizabeth. She, in turn, reads this letter as an accurate representation of events because of Darcy's manner of presentation. The letter reflects Elizabeth's faults of vanity, prejudice, and partiality, character traits she had not previously seen in herself, and prompts her to alter her thinking and behavior. Finally, the letter provides a lesson for readers of the novel, allowing them to locate themselves within the text and to reflect on and make adjustments to their own character and conduct along with Darcy and Elizabeth. In his letter, Darcy illustrates a way to express facts without glorifying himself for his part in the events. Elizabeth's analysis of her own conduct and subsequent change in manner of thinking models proper behavior for readers, not only readers of the nineteenth century, but for those today as well. At one point or another, we have all been quick to draw a conclusion or readily believe one person's side of the story as fact. One of the reasons Austen's novels are still revered today is because of their timeliness. Some of the subtle lessons about conduct expressed in the early 1800s still apply today. Darcy's letter teaches readers that truth is necessary to make correct judgments and that it is possible to be polite in the face of incriminations. Elizabeth's reaction teaches readers that change is possible, that we are not always right even if we think we are, and that seemingly correct behavior can be modified to become truly socially acceptable.

Finally, I want to emphasize that letters within Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice reveal much about the class, education, and social etiquette of the letter writers, and for a few characters, serve to break down class boundaries. The letters do much more than propel the narrative as they provide insights into characters' identities. According to Ian Watt in The Rise of the Novel, one reason epistolary novelists employ letters is so their letter-writing characters can convey unspoken elements of their personality. Watt states that "it is the minute-by-minute content of consciousness which constitutes what the individual's personality really is, and dictates his relationship to others: it is only by contact with this consciousness that a reader can participate fully in the life of a fictional character" (192). Not only do the characters within Pride and Prejudice learn from other characters' letters, the readers of the novel may see elements of their own identities revealed in the letters, and like Elizabeth and Darcy, they may mend their ways.


Austen, Jane. Jane Austen's Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1997.

--. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1988.

Bakhtin, M. M. "Discourse in the Novel." The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of TXP, 1981.

Brown, Lloyd W Bits of Ivory: Narrative Techniques in Jane Austen's Fiction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1973.

The Correspondent. London: T. Cadell, 1796.

Duckworth, Alistair M. The Improvement of the Eslate: A Study of Jane Austen's Novels. 1971. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.

Ek, Grete. "Mistaken Conduct and Proper 'Feeling': A Study of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice." Fair Forms: Essays in English Literature from Spenser to Jane Austen. Ed. Maren-Sofie Rostvig. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975.

Fordyce, David. The New and Complete Letter-Writer; or, Young Secretary's Instructor in Polite Modern Letter-Writing. London: C. Cooke, ca. 1790.

Richardson, Samuel. Familiar Letters on Important Occasions. 1741. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1928.

Smith, Johanna M. "'I Am a Gentleman's Daughter': A Marxist-Feminist Reading of Pride and Prejudice." Approaches to Teaching Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Marcia McClintock Folsom. New York: MLA, 1993.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Gossip. New York: Knopf, 1985.

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel; Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: UCP, 1957.

Jodi A. Devine is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Delaware. Her current research explores fictional correspondence in nineteenth-century British novels.
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Title Annotation:AGM 2005: Milwaukee
Author:Devine, Jodi A.
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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