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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Jane Austen's Style

Jane Austen's style is simple and elegant; but it is much more. She avoids the slipshod, the inflated and the cliché. Her precise choices of words and crisp turns of phrase are borne along by lively sentence rhythms. There is a blend of the hard-hitting with the light touch. Her own voice is heard frequently as she nudges us into attitudes towards her characters, though rarely does she use the pronoun 'I', as in 'I come now to the relation of a misfortune which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood' (Sense and Sensibility). (The 'misfortune' is that she does not have an opportunity of denying her husband's sisters, Elinor and Marianne, an invitation to a party!)

There was no great variety of human interest coming under the eyes of a clergyman's daughter who lived in unbroken quiet in the south and west of England, but her clear eyes took in the minutest movements and set them down in lucid, cool, sub-ironical prose. Richardson was her favourite author, and at first inclined her to use the epistolary form. He gave her, perhaps, her unconvincing patterns of men, but he also showed what could be done with the minute, yet significant, psychology of women in everyday middle-class settings. She, however, is not prolix like Richardson. There is a deft economy in her technique which allows the fullest effects from each device, together with a quiet resourcefulness which for ever springs surprises. The playful irony, which discounts the romantic emotion, slowly reveals evidence of more abiding worth; the sublime mediocrity of her manner shifts ever so slightly from gentle innuendo to quiet seriousness, steering clear of farce or tragedy, so that her course is perfectly, if unadventurously, run.