Austen apparently wrote most of Pride and Prejudice (then titled "First Impressions") between 1796 and 1797, although the book was not published until 1813, after Sense and Sensibility had made a small success.
According to Katherine Mansfield, "every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alonečreading between the lines — has become the secret friend of the author." If this statement is true, what we know about Austen must come from the way she tells the story. Consider what you think of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (see chapters 29-31). Who is it that tells us what she is like, Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Austen (or "the narrator")? Find the specific statements about Lady Catherine, and see if you can determine who makes them.
Charlotte Brontë thought that Jane Austen was out of touch with the Passions — that she was "a complete and most sensible lady, but she was a very incomplete woman." On the other hand, D.W. Harding, in an essay about her work titled "Regulated Hatred," finds her satire more astringent than delicate. Which do you think is more important in the book, the satiric picture of this middle-class society or Elizabeth's and Darcy's finding an acceptable niche within it? Is Austen more in tune with Jonathan Swift, Dr. Johnson, or Pope?
One introduction to the book says that "the masculine reader must make some allowance for the subject," and in an often-quoted passage, Austen speaks of "the little bit (two Inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour." Do you find this an accurate assessment or a coy self-deprecation? Is she a miniaturist? Virginia Woolf said, "of all great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness." An interesting term paper might attempt that difficult task.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000