The park was very large, and contained a great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through the beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a lively considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of the valley. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where beauty had been so little counteracted by awkward taste. (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813)

This passage describing the nature and natural beauty of Pemberly illustrates the fine line Austen walks between Neo-Classicism and Romanticism. Her subject of natural beauty, an archetypal Romantic subject, is shared with Shelley's poem "Mont Blanc" (text) yet Austen's word choice, syntax, and point of view delineate the differences of her nature and that of Shelley.

Austen writes in balanced sentences, most of them divided midway by the prose césure of a comma: "The park was very large, and contained a great variety of ground." Her smooth sentences describe the eye's ascension to Pemberly with such soothing images as "a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent" Shelley's description of the icy Mont Blanc is choppier, full of lists of adjectives: "dark," "glittering," "rude, bare, and high/ Ghastly, and scarred and riven." His words are active; they depict power and awesome might. Mont Blanc's sense of motion mentioned in line 32 — "Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion" — is provided by poetic sentences that frequently spill into the next line.

Austen writes in the third-person limited point of view, in which the "narrator tells the story in the third person but confines narration to what is experienced, thought, and felt by a single character through a single consciousness." (Intermedia) From Elizabeth the reader learns about the grounds of Pemberly. This technique provides a scenic description that remains intrinsically related to Elizabeth and her state of mind. Shelley writes Mont Blanc in a first person narrative which keeps the description even closer to the narrator and his state of mind: "when I gaze upon thee/ I seem as in a trace sublime and strange." Shelley's point of view is highly emotional and personal, whereas Austen's retains a bit of intellectual distance. Along with the word choice and syntax differences, the diverse points of view illuminate the slight difference in themes. Austen's nature theme concerns the order and calm of natural beauty in the Neoclassical style. Shelley's theme extols the chaotic and powerful beauty that a Romantic extracts from nature.

Thus, Austen writes about a Romantic subject, nature, in a predominantly Neoclassical style. Her description of nature, the grounds of Pemberly, focuses on ordered beauty rather than the wild, emotional, and chaotic aspects of nature a Romantic would highlight. A glimmer of the Romantic ideal of sublime disorder is apparent in Elizabeth's delighted observation of this "place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty has been so little counteracted by an awkward taste," but even that pales in comparison to Shelley's highly Romantic, highly emotional, motional, and active description of Mont Blanc: "yet gleams on high - the power is there."

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000