The Letters In Pride And Prejudice English Literature Essay
To reveal how useful the letters are in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, we need to look at the history behind letter writing. Jane Austen’s novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was written in 1813. The main form of communication then was by letters. However, they did not have a Central Postal system that we have today, where if you want to send a letter or parcel urgently then it could arrive within a few hours, instead they had their mail sent by Mail Coach. Although, you could send the mail by ‘express’, which was where you would pay an extra amount of money to have your mail sent faster, for example Mr Gardiner’s letter in chapter 44 was sent by express.
There were no separate envelopes so letters were folded and the address would be written on the back, often they would seal it using wax. If the letter was private then the writer may have made an envelope which would be made from simply folding paper. In chapter 35 Darcy makes an envelope for his letter to Elizabeth because it is so long. Paper would have been extremely expensive in Jane Austen’s time, so to save paper the writer would write in the margins making sure they used up every space upon the paper. The letters would have been written using a pen made from a quill feather, which would have been sharpened to a point and dipped in ink.
The lost original first version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was written in epistolary form and was called, ‘First Impressions’. Other eighteenth century authors wrote in this form. A twentieth century novel also written in epistolary form is, ‘The Color Purple’, Alice Walker.
In total there are 40 letters either paraphrased or directly quoted in the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Letters are useful because they give secrecy between two characters allowing for complete privacy. They allow the characters to express feelings they can never convey aloud, they have time to think. Letters allow one to reveal their thoughts more personally and intimately than they can in person. Staring at a blank page of paper is definitely less intimidating than looking into someone’s eyes. Letters allow you to communicate without travelling yourself. They are good for the use of invitations. Communication is such an important vitality, and letter-writing lacks the loss of words, stuttering, awkward silences, and uneasiness that conversations can sometimes carry. You can read a letter over and over again each time gaining a better understanding. In Chapter 36 Elizabeth reads the letter from Darcy intently it quotes, ‘… commanded herself so for as to examine the meaning of every sentence.’, ‘she read and re-read with the closest attention.’, ‘Again she read on….’ They show that you can study a letter and read beyond the surface.
As a reader a letter makes you feel as if you are prying. It gives you a quick coverage so you know what is happening in the novel. They are used to catch up with reasons of behaviour which advances the plot. From using letters it shows Jane’s ability to provide a variety and also break up the narrative at the same time. From the letters in the novel you can learn about the character of the writer and also the characteristics are revealed without being said bluntly.
In the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, letter-writing is almost as much a form of communication as face-to-face conversation. In fact, letters provide some of the most intense and important climaxes in the story, not to mention some of the most intense secrets. This method that Austen uses effectively conveys the situation without any interruption or delay. The most obvious example of a letter revealing intimate feelings is Darcy’s letter in chapter 35.The content is informing her of the truth about Wickham. Darcy writes this letter to Elizabeth to apologise and explain for his behaviour. He writes it in a letter because he does not know whether he should reveal the truth to her. He writes ‘You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you last night; but I was not then master enough of myself to know what could or ought to be revealed.’ He decides to confide in her. He says ’I write without any intention of paining you…’ This reveals that his character is not as arrogant as you are made to think about him and that he is considerate and sensitive which is everything Elizabeth needs to be reading at this time. He is focussed by sticking to the point and uses an anxious but calm tone. His letter is in detail and in great length. He uses a widened vocabulary and his style is varied. He is original and open-hearted. His letter shows that he is an educated writer. This explanation to Elizabeth is a crucial piece of text because it alters the way she thinks and her feelings towards Darcy and Wickham, ‘Her feelings as she read were scarcely to be defined’. Until he writes this letter, Darcy does not show his true emotions and feelings towards people. The letter is useful to Darcy because it lets him express his feelings that have been locked up inside him. He trusts Elizabeth enough to confide in her.
A complete opposite of Darcy is Mr Collins. There are many distinctive differences between them. In chapter 13 Mr Collins writes to Mr Bennet to invite himself over to Longbourn. He writes the letter so he can meet the daughters and hopefully marry one, which will make him feel better about his inheritance. It is seen as being extremely rude inviting himself, but he assumes it will be acceptable. He writes a brief and formal letter in a pompous tone to reinforce gossip. He uses words such as: ‘honoured’, ‘pleased’ and ‘grateful’ to grovel and show his respect, especially towards Lady Catherine de Bourgh who he thinks the world of and boasts about knowing. He thinks he is really important by boasting about his position of the Church of England, he says, ‘As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to….’ This is an example of him flattering himself. He uses a good range of vocabulary to boast of his intellect. He is shown as being patronising towards the Bennets by saying ‘and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn……’ He likes to remind them that he will inherit their home which will make the Bennets annoyed. His letter is rushed I know this from the way he wanders around the point and does not stay focussed. From this letter it reveals that Mr Collins is already being recognised as a buffoon.
Mr Collins and Lydia have similar traits. In chapter 47 Lydia writes to her friend Harriet to inform her that she is planning to secretly disappear to Gretna Green and elope with Wickham. She writes to brag, to send her apologies to Pratt for not being able to dance with him and also to ask Sally to mend a great slit in her worked muslin gown. Lydia’s letter does not take the plot further or introduce any new storylines. It is a very short and informal letter that is disorganised. All of the information is at random; this is proof that it has been rushed. Lydia shows no respect for the reader, she says, ‘…if you cannot guess who with, I shall think you a simpleton,’ She is also inconsiderate towards her family, she writes, ‘ You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going,……, for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write to them and sign my name “Lydia Wickham”.’ From writing this it shows Lydia to have no concern for possible consequences and that she is self-centred. She uses short sentences and a giddy tone, she writes, ‘What a good joke it will be!’ She does not take anything seriously; everything is a big joke to her. She writes carelessly and with simple vocabulary which suggests her naiveté and silliness. Lydia’s letter gets across her character as being selfish, immature, unsophisticated and definitely inconsiderate.
One may think that sisters would share the same characteristics but Jane’s letters in chapter 46 proves that she is nothing like Lydia. Jane’s letters are to Elizabeth and are about Lydia’s ‘unexpected’ elopement with Wickham to Gretna Green. Jane wrote these letters to Elizabeth to inform her of the event and to urge her to return home. Jane’s letters are long and detailed and are written in a more mature tone than Lydia’s. They are written in a formal manner. She is also informative and uses a variety of sentence lengths. She uses words such as ‘imprudent’ and ‘exigence’ which show her use of a more complex vocabulary. She also uses more complex sentences and a good use of commas and semi-colons for example, ‘ I am truly glad, dearest Lizzy, that you have been spared something of these distressing scenes; but now, as the first shock is over, shall I own that u long for your return?’ Even though she is very distressed and concerned she manages to stay pleasant towards Wickham, she says,’….I am willing to hope the best, and that his character has been misunderstood.’, and, ‘My father and mother believe the worst, but I cannot think so ill of him.’ She is still kind even in thoughts. She uses a comforting tone towards Elizabeth because she knows that she will be distraught by the news, she writes,’ I am very, very sorry.’, and ‘ My dear Lizzy…’ She is being sympathetic and a true sister! Jane uses abbreviations for places and names that she knows Lizzy will understand, these are, ‘Mrs F.’ , ‘W.’ and ‘Colonel F.’ The letters reveal that Jane’s character is comforting, kind-hearted and considerate.
I have learned that in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ the letters are very useful because they move the plot along and introduce new storylines. They give secrecy between two characters and allow them to express their true feelings. The characters will find it much easier to reveal their thoughts more intimately in a letter then saying it in person. Most importantly they allow us to see what the letter reveals about the writers character and give us a better understanding for their actions and behaviour.
By Alana Holmes
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