Literacy and Letters in Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen loved to read. She read epistolary1 novels, which accounts for the 21 letters present in Pride and Prejudice. The narrator in Pride and Prejudice is omniscient, anonymous, and reliable.

Several of the characters in Pride and Prejudice read and write.

Mr. Bennet—reads on page 85, Austen does not present letters to reader. His family knows him as "a most negligent and dilatory correspondent."—page 223. They hoped that he would write from London while he was off searching for Lydia and Wickham, but the only letters that arrived came from Mr. Gardiner. Quote- "I dislike it very much, but it must be done."

Elizabeth—reads on page 28, 40-41, although she is a frequent writer, Austen does not present letters to reader. Elizabeth is a reliable correspondent, and writes routinely to several people. Quote- "I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."—page 27.

Caroline Bingley—reads on page 40-41, letters on pages 22, 90. Caroline writes to be polite. Her letters reveal her as superficial, and expose how ‘polite' is not always honest. Quote-"Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page."—page 41

Darcy—reads on page 40-41, letters on pages 150-156, . Darcy is a fairly frequent writer. He writes to his sister, Georgiana, and business letters (many of which we do not hear of), but only once to Elizabeth—a particularly long letter of explanation. Quote- "They are generally long, but whether always charming, it is not for me to determine." –page 35

Jane—letters on pages 22, 114-115, 206-208, does not read. Jane is a faithful correspondent who writes frequently. Her letters are typically quite long and detailed.

Mr. Gardiner—letters on pages 229, does not read. Mr. Gardiner only writes from London in his search for Lydia...
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