In this passage from The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Anne Radcliffe employs a narrative technique that differs markedly from that used by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice (1813).
Emily, often as she travelled among the clouds, watched in silent awe their billowing surges rolling below; sometimes, wholly closing upon the scene, they appeared like a world of chaos, and, at others, spreading thinly, they opened and admmitted partial catches of the landscape — the torrent, whose astounding roar had never failed, tumbling down the rocky chasm, huge cliffs white with snow, or the dark summits of the pine forests, that stretched midway down the mountains. (Anne Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, pp. 164, 165)
Radcliffe bombards the reader with rich and detailed descriptions of the environment, allowing her characters to become secondary to the world around them. In this passage, Emily observes scenes such as "the billowy surges rolling below," "the torrent. . . tumbling down the rocky chasm," and "the dark summits of the pine forest that stretched midway down the mountains." Nature takes an active roll in Radcliffe's narrative, providing a framework against which to set Emily and reflect her inner feelings of "rapture" and "silent awe" (Huang, "Setting in Dickens and Radcliffe," Intermedia, i.e. now in the Victorian Web).
Austen, on the other hand, tends to downplay the external physical world in favor of dialogue between the characters, who are described only in ambiguous terms. Mr. Bingley, for example, is introduced simply as being "good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners" (Pride and Prejudice, p. 6). Such descriptions tell us precious little about the true individual natures of the characters. Instead, Austen allows them to grow in a more organic fashion, letting them gradually evolve through the intricate process of conversation and interaction.
The contrast in narrative techniques between Radcliffe and Austen helps to underscore the thematic differences between the two. Radcliffe uses the technique of word-painting to concentrate on the relationship between people and the natural world, rendering mankind insignificant in comparison to the beauty, splendor, and power of Nature (Huang). Whereas in this sense Radcliffe is a Romantic, Austen seems to blur the gap between Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Her concise and formal writing style, emphasis on wit and the art of conversation, and satirical method all indicate Neoclassical influences. On the other hand, Austen also shows Romantic influences, particulary with regard to the development and growth of Elizabeth as she and Darcy overcome their respective prides and prejudices and discover their love for each other ("The Cultural Context of Pride and Prejudice").
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000