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Home » , » Write a note on Jane Austen's Characterization with reference to Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen's real talent is revealed much through her wonderful capacity for characterization. Like Shakespeare she presents her characters truthfully and realistically. She is sensitive to every small nuance of manner and behaviour and any deviation from the standard of good breeding and good sense appealed to her sense of humour.

The range of Jane Austen's characters is rather narrow and she confines herself to the landed gentry in the countryside. Servants, labourers and yeomanry rarely appear and even aristocracy is hardly touched upon. When Jane Austen does deal with aristocracy she satirizes them as in the case of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen's Characterization

Characters Never Repeated:

In spite of such a limited range to choose from, Jane Austen never repeats a single character in any of her six books. The snobbishness of the vicar Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice is unlike, that of Mr. Elton the vicar in Emma. Similarly there is a great difference between the vulgarity of Mrs. Bennet and the vulgarity of Mrs. Jennings. Macaulay conceding that her characters are commonplace declares: " Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings. In Pride and Prejudice we come across four really stupid characters: Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, Sir William Lucas and Mary. Yet, they are not unreal as they are finely discriminated from each other by their different kinds of stupidity.

Characters Individualized yet Universal:

But though these characters are highly individualized, Jane Austen has so comprehensive and so searching a view of human nature that she invests them with a universal character. Essential human nature ---- this is always Jane Austen's preoccupation. Her characters are universal types. Thus, when Mr. Darcy says 'I have been selfish all my life in practice but not in principal' he confesses the weakness of high minded dominating males in every age and climate; Wickham represents all pleasant looking but selfish and unprincipled flirts; Mr. Bennet is a typically cynical father and husband who has distanced himself from his moral responsibilities and is the type we meet frequently in the world; Elizabeth of course, is very real to us in her charm and wit and even in her prejudice. These qualities not only make her strongly individualistic and real as a character but also typically universal.

Realistic Portrayal of Characters:

Jane Austen's characters impress us as real men and women since they are drawn to perfection. They are never idealized. Even her most virtuous characters have their faults. Jane Bennet is sweet tempered and never likely to think ill of anyone but this also makes her lack proper judgement as regards other characters and their motives. Thus, she is able to think well of Bingley's sisters and even of Wickham. Elizabeth herself, is no conventional heroine. She has faults of vanity and prejudice and this leads her to misjudge situations badly. Elizabeth comes alive to the reader, in her wit, in her liveliness, in her prejudice and her vanity. The impartiality with which Jane Austen portrays her characters also imparts a touch of reality and volume to the characters. Thus, though Austen does not like Lydia or Lady Catherine, the moral judgement does not detract from her portrayal of them as real characters.

Intricate and Complex:

It is true that Jane Austen draws her characters only in their private aspect but this does not make it superficial. Nor is Jane Austen's view rendered less fundamental by the fact that she shows them as rule not in the moment of crisis but in the trivial incidents of everyday. Life is made up of little things and human nature can be revealed as much in a ball as in a battle. Thus, at the Netherfield Ball is revealed Elizabeth's hurt vanity and consequent prejudice; the pride of Darcy, the vulgarity of Mrs. Bennet the conceit of Bingley's sisters and the sweet nature of Jane and Bingley.

Jane Austen has an acute insight into the processes of the heart and the psychology of the mind. Such penetration enables her to elucidate far more complex characters than most novelists. Elizabeth is an intricate character ----- complex in the varied qualities she exhibits. So also Darcy and Wickham are intricate and complex. Jane Austen is able to follow through its most hidden windings the course by which feeling expresses itself in the mind and she is able to portray the minute symptoms ----- half-said word, instinctive imperceptible movement by which people betray an emotion. We known in Pride and Prejudice that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth though he does not say a single word about his love. The mere act of his bringing back his coffee cup himself to the table where Elizabeth is pouring out the coffee is indicative of his feelings for her.

Three Dimensional Characters:

Her world of reality is never disturbed for all its romances, elopements and dejection because of the convincing reality of her characters. They continue to be normal even in the midst of grave consequences. Collins does not commit suicide in agony when his proposal is rejected by Elizabeth, rather he settles terms with Charlotte. Darcy controls himself admirably after his proposal is rejected by Elizabeth and none of the ladies swoon on hearing of the Lydia-Wickham elopement.

The psychological and realistic portrayal of her characters is what makes them according to David Ceil, "three dimensional". The characters come alive in flesh and blood as it were because of the realistic way they are portrayed. Jane Austen reveals her characters dramatically through their conversation, their actions, their letters or gradually through a variety of points of view and this adds to their three dimensional effect.

Characters Revealed through Dialogue:

She makes very careful use of conversation. Thus, the dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy not only reveals effectively the antagonism between the two of them but also the intelligence of both. Collins and Lydia are revealed through their letters. And we learn of Elizabeth Bennet ----- the most striking of Jane Austen's heroines through her speech and actions and remarks of such people as Mr. Darcy, her father and Miss Bingley. A direct comment is sometimes added but that is often in the form of an explicit statement of what has already been suggested dramatically. Thus, in the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice the vulgarity and stupidity of Mrs. Bennet and the sarcastic humour of Mr. Bennet have already been revealed in their dialogues before the novelist makes a direct comment about them. Another method of character delineation that Jane Austen uses is that of gossiping. The characters in her story frequently show interest in other characters and gossip about them, thus, again imparting the touch of realism. The beginning of Pride and Prejudice is all gossip; Bingley is introduced through Mrs. Long's report to Mrs. Bennet about his arrival; at the Netherfield ball, it is the gossip which reveals to us that Darcy has a fortune of ten thousand a year and in the end Lady Catherine is brought to Longbourn by a 'report of a most alarming nature' regarding Elizabeth and Darcy.

Characters Revealed through Comparison and Contrast:

Jane Austen's characters are also revealed through comparison and contrast. Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet balance each other in their vulgarity as well as in their match-making thus, portraying, realistically that vulgarity and narrowness of mind are not confined to the poor but are very human traits to be found in the rich too. Wickham serves a contrast to Darcy while Bingley is a foil to him. Elizabeth herself is thrown into relief as she is compared and contrasted with Jane and Carolina Bingley.

Jane Austen's characters are made plausible and convincing because of the sympathy she has for them. But she retains the essential objectivity necessary in their delineation. The sympathy does not intrude into the novel. Her sympathy does not redeem Mr. Bennet, nor lack of it condemn his wife. It is with perfect impartiality that she depicts Mr. Bennet's brilliant wit as well as his cynicism and irresponsibility; Mrs. Bennet's vulgarity as well as her concern for the well being of her daughters. It is this mixture of good and bad which makes her characters three dimensional and gives them a roundness----a reality.

Jane Austen's Partial Identification with the Central Character:

Though there is at least one female character placed at the centre, with whom Jane Austen identifies herself the identify is never complete. In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet echoes Jane Austen's own sense of humour and ironic wit and the ability to laugh at whims and inconsistencies but it would be preposterous to assume that Jane Austen herself suffered from all those prejudices suffered by Elizabeth. The sympathy and partial identification help Jane Austen in delineating the character faithfully and at the same time she maintains the distance necessary for a realistic and impartial rendering of character.

Jane Austen's major characters are intricate, ever changing and growing, dynamic and complex. However, there are some failings. Darcy is real and convincing but he exists only in scenes with Elizabeth, some scene with his aunt may have established him more firmly. The minor characters are usually flat. They are fully developed when we first meet them and do not reveal any new facets of personality. Thus, we know Mrs. Bennet to be stupid and vulgar right from the first scene and that is how she continues to be right to the end. While there is some want of skill in delineating the character of Mary, Jane Austen is undoubtedly able to transform even foolish and boring minor characters such as the pompous, fool Mr. Collins and the redoubtable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, into amusing figures. Thus, we may conclude that so skillful is Jane Austen's characterization that all characters whether major or minor are "solid three dimensional figures who can be looked at from several sides." Elizabeth is not just prejudice. Her prejudice stems from her hurt pride and though she prides herself on her discernment, she fails in understanding the intricate people around her. She is witty, humorous and charming but prone to errors due to her pride and prejudice. Similarly, Darcy is not just pride. His pride has led him to prejudice towards people of a lower rank than him but there are other aspects of him too. He is a good friend, a loving brother, a kind master, an intelligent, fastidious person. Mrs. Bennet is vulgar but also thoughtful of her daughters' future. Mr. Bennet is intelligent and witty but morally irresponsible towards his family Wickham is charming and pleasant but a rough. Jane is kind and gentle but lacks discerning intelligence. Bingley is affable and friendly but too pliable. Thus, each of these wide range of characters are multi-dimensional with a mix of the good and bad qualities, exhibiting strong individual idiosyncrasies and traits, at the same time typical of universal human nature.


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