This passage is an account of a conversation that goes on largely between Mrs Bennet and Mr Bingley, yet at the same time, it manages to reveal aspects of the other characters in the way that they react to this situation. In accomplishing this, the passage is a showcase for many vague of the narrative techniques that Austen has employed consistently throughout the course of the novel.
In this extract, like many other passages, characters that go off on tangents and have long monologues to bored audiences hardly have anything worth saying, and it is the short, sharp, personal introspections of other characters that truly provide accurate assessments of situations and people. As in this excerpt, the more Mrs Bennet talks, the more she reveals herself to be shallow and ignorant, as when she goes off into a long discourse about Lydia leaving her (which Mr Bingley does not particularly care about), finally trying to end with a pointed remark towards Mr Darcy “he has some friends, though, perhaps, not so many as he deserves”, leaving the reader to cringe irony with the stupidity and ignorance that she seems so eager to flaunt.
In fact, this is repeated throughout the entire novel, such that characters like Mrs Bennet, Lydia, and Mr Collins allow themselves to indulge in long, rambling monologues that no one is particularly interested in listening to, revealing themselves to be flat and superficial characters. Significantly, the characters that are developed, and have moral fibre, whilst thinking a lot and having a lot of reflection, largely permit themselves to indulge in over verbosity in conversation, as Elizabeth shows in this extract, making observations on her mother’s behaviour (“such unnecessary, such officious attention!”) and her own state of mind, yet she never actually voices out her thoughts to those present. This reticence is also reflected in Mr Darcy, who is similarly disinclined towards exposing his views. This provides a stark and glaring contrast between the various characters, and it is Austen’s way of reminding us gently throughout the novel that the one who expounds the most may not necessarily be the most knowledgeable.
Austen allows characters such as Elizabeth, that are normally calm and rational, to indulge in exaggeration and melodramatics, before revealing a comic let down, an anti-climax of sorts. In this extract, Elizabeth works herself up into a frenzy, passionately decrying how that “their (Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley) society can afford no pleasure, that will atone for such wretchedness as this!” She then goes on to resolutely wish that she will “never see either one or the other again!”. Austen then goes on to romance vs. reason gently poke fun at her heroine, by teasingly telling the reader that “the years of misery, for which years of happiness were to offer no compensation”, (using Elizabeth’s own melodramatic words and showing the humour in the exaggeration), “received soon afterwards material relief”. That Elizabeth’s great and tragic misery can be so quickly alleviated by something as seemingly trivial as Mr Bingley admiring Jane again, lends a comic element to Elizabeth’s fevered proclamations. Lizzy’s character
This technique is used in a later passage, in which Elizabeth frantically tries to grab the attention of Mr Darcy. With great despair, she passionately wonders how she could “ever be so foolish enough to expect a renewal of his love?…There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!” Yet, immediately following that outburst, Austen again makes us laugh at our heroine, by telling us that she “was a little revived” gd, by nothing more than the trivial act of him bringing back his coffee cup. Once again, the humour lies in the exaggerated declaration being disproved, or forgotten, in a minor and commonplace occurrence.
This technique works because it allows us to see another side to our normally stoic heroine, by revealing how she too can be irrational and prone to dramatics when emotionally flustered. At the same time, it allows for great comic relief and displays Austen’s impeccable comic timing, which makes excerpts such as these a real delight to read. gd
Austen also enjoys having a common idea or symbol running throughout the gd novel, to lead a sense of consistency and togetherness to the various sub-plots that occur in the story. What we see in this extract is Mrs Bennet’s obsession with keeping a good table, needlessly fretting that “she did not think any thing less than two courses could be good enough…”. This fixation of hers runs throughout the entire novel, from Volume I, in anticipation of Mr Bingley’s first dinner at Longbourn, her biggest concern was that “she would take care to have two full courses.”
In having this common thread run through the entire story, it aids the reader in give parallel eg.s seeing that Mrs Bennet remains staunchly the same throughout the course of the novel, and that events like Lydia’s elopement have neither effect, nor education upon her, such that she remains fixated on the same trivial, shallow concerns all her life.
Austen also displays here a great subtlety in judging her characters. In this extract, and throughout most of the novel, she hesitates writing her moral judgement of her characters, but enjoys merely displaying the facts about their silliness and pomposity and letting the reader derive for himself the true extent of the contempt that she feels for many of her characters. In this extract, other than Elizabeth’s frustrated outburst that her mother was giving “unnecessary, such officious attention”, Austen refrains from explicitly condemning Mrs Bennet, yet through her dialogue and musings, there is no mistaking what sort of opinion Austen desires the reader to form.
This is consistent with her writing throughout the novel. We see obvious judgements such as “she was a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper”, very rarely. Largely, it is through the fantastically stupid things that these characters say that our opinions are moulded. eg.?
Austen is a master at ending each chapter with a bang, providing great humour or insight into a character within a few lines, giving a greater impact because of the fact that it is the conclusion to each little situation. In this extract, she ends with Mrs Bennet’s frivolous thoughts on whether her dinners would be “good enough for a man, on whom she had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year”. By ending the chapter in this fashion, the reader forms a lasting impression of Mrs Bennet’s superficiality. This is displayed in many sections of the novel, and a prime example would be in chapter 6, in which she describes Caroline Bingley, by saying that “as his composure convinced her that all was safe, her wit flowed long”. Again, none of her stupidity or foolishness is lost and the impact of such a mocking statement is re-emphasised by it being at the end of a chapter.
In all, this extract provides a good range of the techniques that Austen employs with consistency throughout her story.