Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Writing Styles: Why I Like Jane

For next week's writing group meeting, the subject is writing styles and what styles attract us. I have been going through my favorite books, trying to find passages which exhibit the best examples of a particular author's style. When trying to pin down Jane Austen, I started to go through some different scenes and dialogues which I thought expressed who she was as a writer. One particular scene that came to mind was Mr. Collin's proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. I love the interplay and dialogue that occurs both between these two characters and between Elizabeth and her parents, as well as the difference between how these different characters choose to express themselves. Her language reminds me of a person talking themselves into a kind of circle. There is a circular rhythm to this very formal, polite language that she is both expected to write at the time, and the way she chooses to use this language to express what she is trying to say. The language and words, when read, create a kind of symmetry. The sentences are very neat, but not concise. They definitely can go on for a long time, but not without goal or intent. This is what I enjoy. I love her rhythm and ability to say things in a way, not to shortchange her ability with language, but to create a structure of depth and changing intensity. Also, let's not forget her witty asides, and her ability to interject her own voice within the story. Austen never offends and always remains proper, but at the same time, she has the ability to really get to the heart of the implications of the situations she writes about.

I wanted to include a quote from Anthony Trollope from a lecture in gave in 1870, giving his opinion of Austen's writing:

"Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly. Her work, as far as it goes, is faultless. She wrote of the times in which she lived, of the class of people in which she associated, and in the language which was usual to her as an educated lady. Of romance,-what we generally mean when we speak of romance-she had no tinge. Heroes and heroines with wonderful adventures there are none in her novels. Of great criminals and hidden crimes she tells us nothing. But she places us in a circle of gentleman and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men. It is not that her people are all good;-and certainly they are not all wise. The faults of some are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel. In the comedy of folly I know no novelist who has beaten her. The letters of Mr. Collins, a clergyman in P&P;, would move laughter in a low-church archbishop."

I second that Mr. Trollope!

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