Dialogue in Jane Austen’s novels typically delivers a sense of entitlement by focusing on the materialistic aspects of society. This exchange of information often times inform characters, and the reader, about money, dramatic feelings, and most importantly relationship status/love. This idea is largely present in one of Austen’s most famous novels, Pride and Prejudice, a novel that grapples with the idea of love and relationships throughout its entirety.
At the very commencement of Pride and Prejudice, we are privy to a set of dialogue surrounding this surface-level tangibility when it is revealed that the village gossip, Mrs. Long, has told Mrs. Bennet about a man, Bingley, who has moved into the Netherfield. As Mrs. Bennet reveals this information to her husband, a splurge of information follows.
Mrs. Bennet describes Bingley as a “young man of large fortune from the north of England” (Austen 1). This normal detail is then followed up by a question by Mr. Bennet that reveals a lot about the nature of Austen’s characters. He asks “is he married or single?” (Austen 1). Why is this one of the first questions asked? In a sense, it reveals the sheer commitment and obsession with marriage, as exemplified by Austen’s characters throughout the novel. It also dictates the rule of gossip, one in which information flows through people like blood as if it’s a necessity to live.
As with all gossip, it is important to take into account the natural subjectivity of the matter. Regardless of the concept, Austen’s characters are defined by subjectivity as a result of town gossip. Throughout the novel, as information moves through characters, it shifts falling victim to truth-stretching. Therefore, this exchange between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet sets up a common theme throughout the novel, gossip. Why does gossip run the world in Jane Austen’s novels? And how should we as the reader navigate it?
Austen, Jane, et al. Pride and Prejudice. W.W. Norton and Company, 2016.