Jane Austen’s 19th century romantic novel Pride and Prejudice and Fay Weldon’s 20th century non-fiction text Letters to Alice, when studied in conjunction with each other, prove to hold similar ideas and values, despite the differing contexts and form. Both texts similarly explore the value of being an individual in society, the significance of reading, and the importance of character growth and development. Similarly both explore these ideas through the use of form, didacticism and irony, expressed either implicitly or explicitly within the contrasting text types, novel versus non-fiction text. It is then through the comparative study that these connections become clearer, as the added perspective of Weldon in Letters to Alice offers a deeper and alternative insight into Austen’s context and what is being expressed in Pride and Prejudice, which could be confined to a superficial engagement through narrative and characterisation.
Both texts promote the development of individual thought within society, although in differing techniques. Austen in Pride and Prejudice uses her characterisation of the heroin Elizabeth Bennet, a young single woman, to shape a model example of having individual thought. Her characteristics being that she is intelligent, spirited, and independent. These are shown particularly in the scene in volume 1, chapter 19 when she refuses Mr Collins, a foolish clergyman’s proposal for marriage. ‘you could not make me happy’ she insists him through the monosyllabic direct address to Mr Collins. through recognition of Austen’s patriarchal context in which marriage was more often than not regarded for its providing of financial security for women, ‘males whims take priority’ Weldon critically observes Austen’s treatment of men which is reflective of her context, therefore enabling us to further appreciating the individuality of Elizabeth.
PARAGRAPH 2: weldons emphasis on indi thought through the didactic form she is instructing alice repeatedly to ‘do it yourself’ ‘stand alone’ yet as the majority of the text is in the form of advice and instruction for her neice, there is an obvious contradictory.
For fay wants alice to rebel against the predominant codes of her university and society but she wants alice to rebel within her control – to be ‘different’ but just like fay
Weldon, thus, deliberately provokes the reader to challenge her and deconstruct didacticism therefore developing individual thought against what the supposedly authoritative author thinks.
Highlighting the significance and value of Elizabeth’s original individual thought
In addition the use of letters within each text allows for the connections on the importance of reading.
Weldon highlights the importance of letters for the reader through the epistolary form mimics that of the common communication method in the 19th cent as well as the conduct books that were often addressed to women.
Drawing this connection to Austen’s context then creates a further need to explore the letters used within pride and prej and consider the values the characters received, specifically Lizzy, through reading, a common past time.
Weldon insists that through reading one develops essential qualities such as that of empathy ‘‘It is this daily practice we need’ Weldon says of developing empathy through reading letter 7 ‘need’ being a strong verb expressing obligation and high importance
Therefore through closer analysis of the letters used within pride and prejudice their significance in the valued act of reading and what one receives through this is emphatic.
The letters prove to not only advance plot and define characters, but also demonstrate that through reading one is able to further develop empathy and understanding.