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Home » , » Virginia Woolf remarks: " Jane Austen is mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface. " Discuss with reference to Pride and Prejudice?
Jane Austen is a novelist of very limited range. But her limitations are self imposed and within the parameters she sets herself, Jane Austen's art is perfect. 

Jane Austen's Limited Range and Theme:

David Cecil tells us that Jane Austen's limitations stemmed from her choice of themes. She could only be successful with themes that turned on personal relationships and were capable of being treated satirically or ironically. He further says in this connection. "This nature of her talent, imposed a third limitation on her, it made her unable to express impulsive emotion directly. She surveyed her creatures with too detached an irony for her to identify herself with them sufficiently to voice their unthinking gushes of feeling."

Emotion Not Directly Expressed:

To a great extent, it is true that Jane Austen cannot or rather does not express emotion directly. The world of Pride and Prejudice is a limited world of Longbourn, Netherfield, Hunsford and Pemberley and it is entirely placid with no instance of violence or agitation. There is no frightful or pathetic scenes of death and even the Lydia-Wickham elopement is settled before it can create any rift. Therefore we may agree with Charlotte Bronte that there is an absence of vehemence and disturbing scenes.

However, if the implication is stretched further to include the suggestion that there is a deplorable want of emotion, a general disdain of passion as Charlotte Bronte says, that would be an injustice to Jane Austen. It is true that family gossips, drawing room chats, tete-a-tete, balls, marriage proposal and country walks are the materials with which Jane Austen works. These materials are apparently trivial, but the ultimate impression she creates is profound because there is much psychological interest in her novels as Virginia Woolf suggests.

Emotions Controlled and Within a Social Framework:

Jane Austen's theme in all her novels, is love, courtship and marriage. It is impossible that the feelings or emotion can be kept out of such a story. Jane's involvement with Bingley is an affair of the heart ------ of emotion. Elizabeth and Darcy for all their intellectual capability and reliance on sense also undergro the turbulent, conflict of emotions in discovering their love for each other.

Thus, the passions do appear in her novels. But the emotion in Jane Austen's world must be controlled and concealed-----that is, violent emotion. It is a test of character that though one feels deeply, one does not distress other people by a display of feeling. As Norman Sherry says she deals with emotions which are experienced in a social framework. Jane Austen believed in the organic unity of the society and therefore the individual must not display his passions but subordinate it to the larger purpose of society. The violent passions of Jane Eyre and Lord Rochester, which Charlotte Bronte depicts would have been disruptive to the organic unity of Jane Austen's society. Also the passions had to be controlled for, the ironic detachment was a necessary part of her technique, style and vision of life. The characters in her novels thus, experience emotion and strong feelings but they are brought under the control of reason. Periods of solitude and contemplation are the habitual reactions of her heroines to moments of stress. The alternative is exercise or occupation. Elizabeth, after reading Darcy's letter, wanders 'along the lane for two hours, giving way to every variety of thought until fatigue, and a recollection of her long absence, made her at length return home, and when she recovers from the shock of hearing Lydia's elopement: 'Had Elizabeth been at leisure to be idle, she would have remained certain that all employment was impossible to one so wretched as herself, but she had her share of business.'

Psychological Delineation of Characters:

Jane Austen's novels are profound in the psychological delineation of characters. She is able to capture superbly the subtlety of thoughts, half-thoughts and reflexes of her characters in Pride and Prejudice. By mere hints and suggestions Jane Austen implies the deep emotions and impulse felt by her characters. Lydia's unabashed and wild behaviour at Longbourn after her marriage with Wickham is disliked by Elizabeth. But she does not rebuke or adomonish Lydia. When Lydia begins to narrate how she was trying to show her marriage ring to others, Elizabeth cannot stand it, she at once walks away from the place thus, hinting at her deep sensitiveness and feelings. Elizabeth's thoughts and impulses are analysed by Jane Austen with great success. Her refusal of Collins's proposal, her first impression of Darcy after Meryton Ball, her refusal of Darcy's proposal at Hunsford, her trip to Pemberley and her last letter to Mrs. Gardiner seeking clarification about Darcy's character clearly prove that the movement of Pride and Prejudice is on an inner place. It is with great success that the mental conflict of Elizabeth has been presented in the novel.

Other Emotions:

The wilder emotions and passions may be lacking, but with minimum of rhetorical flourish Jane Austen gives brilliant examples of other significant emotions like envy, jealousy, cunning, hypocrisy, pride, vanity, snobbery etc. and of these there are numerous examples in Jane Austen's novels. There is the jealousy, conceit and hypocrisy of Carolina Bingley, there is the cunning villainy of Wickham, there is the snobbery and vanity of Lady Catherine.
Jane Austen's Limited Range and Theme

Thus, though there are no violent outbursts of passion we can agree with Virginia Woolf that "Jane Austen is the mistress of a much deeper emotion than appears on the surface". Jane Austen does deal with emotion, but by implication and it is controlled within a social framework.


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