By the use of vivid descriptions, Radcliffe imbues the scenery with an importance of its own, apart from any action that may take place there. In fact, the scenery itself is active:

Spreading thinly, [the clouds] opened and admitted partial catches of the landscape — the torrent, whose astounding roar had never failed, tumbling down the rocky chasm... (pp. 164, 165)

This word-painting gives the reader the simulated experience of viewing the scene; the Romantic emphasis on details gives an almost cinematic effect. In contrast, Austen's descriptions are reminiscent of Neoclassicism in their sparsity. This is Austen's version of a panoramic view:

The eye was instantly caught by Pemberly House, situated on the opposite side of the valley... It was a large, handsome stone building... in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. (part II, p.83)

The descriptions are clear but unadorned. Unlike Radcliffe, Austen's descriptions of setting usually relate to the characters in some way, rather than existing for their own sake; in the above example, the description of the swelled stream reflects on Darcy's social standing and good taste, and the phrase "the eye was instantly caught" (p. 83) implies the awe that is felt by the visiting characters. Thematically, Pride and Prejudice is wholly unrelated to Radcliffe's word-painting; pride and prejudice, and their pervasive effect on society, comprise the major theme of Austen's novel, minor themes deal with such things as the place of the woman in society and the interaction between the sexes.

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000