This passage of Pride and Prejudice exemplifies Austen's flexibility as an author. The dialogue is natural, whilst showing a lot about the characters and the relationships between them. The third person omniscient narration makes use of indirect free speech and focalization to give us insight into several characters and add to our impression of a close-knit community. This passage also shows Austen's ability to create irony and comedy subtly through dialogue and narration. The development of characters, or lack thereof, can be seen in this passage, when compared to earlier parts of the novel.
The passage begins with dialogue, through this speech Austen shows us a number of things about Mrs. Bennet's character. Mrs. Bennet's excitement at her daughter's engagement is boundless- the couple won't 'exceed their income' she cries, because Bingley has 'four or five thousand a-year', any other quality of Bingley seems secondary to her. Mrs. Bennet is primarily concerned with Bingley's financial standing- indeed, her reaction to Elizabeth's engagement to Darcy is nearly identical; 'what pin money, what jewels', 'ten thousand a-year!' (Austen, 1813, p.358) and once again seemingly as an after thought, comments on the handsomeness of her fiancÃ© and his other qualities. Though Mrs. Bennet's concern with these men's wealth seems superficial in comparison to Elizabeth's desire for affinity and virtue, Mrs. Bennet's was an essential concern at the time, because as Austen said, 'single women have a propensity for being poor- which is a very strong argument in favour of matrimony' (Austen, as quoted in Knowles, 2010).
Austen's 'showing' of her character even through brief dialogues, is very effective. Mrs. Bennet's ebullience on this occasion is clear from the dialogue of the first paragraph, as it is for each of the engagements her daughters secure, she 'invariably perform[s] in the same way whenever [she] appear[s] in the story' (Morris, 1995, p.40). Judging by her dialogue, Mrs. Bennet's memory is very selective, on first hearing of Bingley's return, only a few chapter's before, she dismissed the subject, saying 'not that I care about it' (Austen, 1813, p.311). Now, she frames the engagement as something which she 'always said... must be so'. Mrs. Bennet's dialogue portrays a fickle character, always willing to forget- or emit from conversation- what is not to her advantage.
In the fourth paragraph, the narrative moves forward from this specific scene and an unspecified amount of time passes. In free indirect speech, 'barbarous' neighbours are 'detested' for taking up Bingley's time. The tone of this comment is redolent of Mrs Bennet, but their source is uncertain.
A section of dialogue between Jane and Elizabeth's in Bingley's absence follows, in which Jane shows some definite character development, by being able to place blame for this incident on Bingley's sisters and feel it was unjust. This character development is related entirely through dialogue, by showing, but it's very effective, due to Jane's reluctance to place blame up to this point in the novel. Bingley's sisters whom she once saw as beyond reproach, Jane can now distance herself from them, saying 'we can never be what we once were to each other.' Jane is also finally confident enough to disclose the extent of her feelings for Bingley, which even in the preceding chapter she refused to admit to Elizabeth, saying she enjoyed 'his conversation... without having a wish beyond it' (Austen, 1813, p.323). In comparison to her reflections earlier in the novel, where Jane supposed her 'own vanity [had] deceived' (Austen, 1813, p.129) her into thinking Bingley had such regard for her, she is now confirmed in his regard.
Jane's happiness at the engagement is added to by the news from Bingley that 'he was totally ignorant of [Jane] being in town' when he failed to visit her. Elizabeth is rather circumspect about this subject, knowing as the reader does, how much Darcy was involved in keeping the two apart. The reader, knowing of Elizabeth's growing attachment to Darcy can see that Elizabeth's pretence of ignorance- 'how did he account for it?'- is no longer to spare her sister's feelings as it was when she first learned about the circumstances of their parting and feared that 'it may only grieve her sister further' (Austen, 1813, p.205), but to avoid damaging his sister's opinion of an increasingly attractive man. In a later paragraph of free indirect speech, we see Elizabeth's private concerns, she reflects how glad she is that Darcy's part in the separation has not be revealed to Jane. Her relief is ironic, as on page 129, Elizabeth had accused Darcy of acting 'in conjunction' with Miss Bingley to separate the two, and Jane had refused to believe the the accusation. This nervousness functions both to show Elizabeth's growing attachment to Darcy and foreshadow the difficulty Elizabeth will have defending her relationship with Darcy before his sister and father later in the novel.
The last two paragraphs deal with how the 'world consisting of a small inter-knit neighbourhood' (Morris, 1995, p.33) as Morris puts it, consider the news. Mrs. Bennet, her actions showing her rather boastful character, lets slip the news of the engagement, and the news spreads quickly.
In the last paragraph of the passage, the fickleness of opinion in this close-knit community is readily and comically demonstrated by Austen, in free indirect speech. The community forget that the Bennets had been 'marked out by misfortune' so recently, and they are 'pronounced to be the luckiest family in the world.' Such language, typical of the exaggerations of gossip, is also used in the first description of Bingley on p.6 and throughout the novel. It helps to set the scene for the reader of a neighbourhood so close, and so concerned with each other's affairs.
In conclusion, Austen uses both dialogue and narration to create meaning. Her use of dialogue is particularly effective in conveying both character and plot. She also uses a range of tones in her narration, making significant use of free indirect speech.