I think we are all quite aware that Austen’s writing is of a rather formal sort. Based on her writing style and on how people of the upper classes spoke, that means that sometimes, the conversation seems quite stilted to our modern eyes. In Pride and Prejudice, the following conversation between Jane and Elizabeth particularly struck me as being a bit rigid:
“Not yet,” replied Jane. “But now that my dear uncle is come, I hope everything will be well.”
“Is my father in town?”
“Yes, he went on Tuesday, as I wrote you word.”
“And have you heard from him often?”
“We have heard only twice. He wrote me a few lines on Wednesday to say that he had arrived in safety, and to give me his directions, which I particularly begged him to do. He merely added that he should not write again till he had something of importance to mention.”
“And my mother—how is she? How are you all?”
Note the distant “my dear uncle,” “my father,” and “my mother” – all of this despite the fact that these people bear the same relation to Elizabeth and Jane. Furthermore, they do not use Papa/Mamma here with each other. In keeping with formality, these terms are only used when speaking directly to the person at issue (Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Bennet).
The exception, interestingly enough, is Lydia, as you can see with the below pieces of dialogue:
- “They are going to be encamped near Brighton; and I do so want papa to take us all there for the summer! It would be such a delicious scheme; and I dare say would hardly cost anything at all. Mamma would like to go too of all things! Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!”
- “Oh, yes!—if one could but go to Brighton! But papa is so disagreeable.”
- “Oh, lord! yes;—there is nothing in that. I shall like it of all things. You and papa, and my sisters, must come down and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter, and I dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all.”
- “Lizzy, I never gave you an account of my wedding, I believe. You were not by, when I told mamma and the others all about it. Are not you curious to hear how it was managed?”
We see Lydia’s immaturity quite frequently in the way she speaks, such as with her use of the exclamations “la!” (also used by Kitty and Maria) and “lord” or “Good Lord” (expressions that Mrs. Bennet also uses), but the above-noted references to her parents seems to be a more subtle way of crafting her character’s speech patterns. This immaturity is also seen in how Austen frequently uses exclamation marks with Lydia’s speech to show how excitable she is. Of note is the fact that Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bingley, and Miss Bingley also frequently have exclamation marks in their speech.
I was quite surprised to realize Miss Bingley makes frequent exclamations in her attempts to gather Mr. Darcy’s attention. Other characters certainly have their fair share of sentences with an exclamation mark, but those feel more appropriate to the situation and less character-specific. Examining Miss Bingley’s exclamations reveals that they are indeed appropriate for her character (to express how much she despises Hertfordshire society in particular). The below is a prime example:
“You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner—in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise—the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!”
It’s easy enough to focus on what is said, but I think focusing on how things are said can be interesting as well! Are there any formal/informal occurrences in Austen’s writing that strike you as interesting or character-affirming?