Letters and Letter Writing as Seen in Pride and Prejudice
Quite frequently in her novels, Jane Austen uses letter writing between characters to explain past events and the exact nature of people's roles in them. It is these letters that always offer great insight into a character's true nature; which, often times, is not what it appears to be. It is this tactic that is consistently prevalent in her 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice.
Throughout the course of the novel, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Gardiner, and even Mr. Collins all write letters, and each reveal their personalities and sincere thoughts through them. It is in fact the letter writing that initially contributes, and ultimately results, in the union of hero and heroine at the end of the story. For each enlightens the reader to the truth about confused circumstances as well as hidden feelings toward other characters that would otherwise be left unsaid.
The first significant example of letter writing that allows for some conclusions to be made about a specific character's persona occurs when Mr. Bennet receives a foolish letter from the Reverend Mr. Collins, who will inherit Longbourn after Mr. Bennet's death because he is the nearest male relative. In his letter, Mr. Collins proposes a visit to Longbourn and hints at a further proposal of marriage to one of the Bennet daughters. The reader quickly learns of this man's nature because of the contents of his letter as well as Mr. Bennet's reasoning behind his acceptance of the proposal. Mr. Bennet makes fun of his unusual writing style and pomposity, and also makes snide remarks to his family about him. Ultimately, Mr. Bennet agrees to the visit because he wants to laugh at Mr. Bennet's expectations.
Austen's strategy of presenting the qualities of a person by way of indirection is clearly seen here. The odious letter from Mr. Collins prepares the reader to dislike him even before he arrives. Without even meeting this man, his personality is learned by the excessive verbiage, pompous flattery, and self-pride evident in his letter. It is Elizabeth who is extremely perceptive about Mr. Collins' letter because (after hearing it ) she immediately wonders if he can be a sensible man. And as the story unfolds, it is Mr. Collins' every action that will prove her belief to be true.
Although the letter written by Mr. Collins allows for the reader to form an impression even before seeing him, it is not this letter that provides the reader with the most insight into the nature of its author. It is in fact the letter from Fitzwilliam Darcy, the proud and rich man who falls in love with Elizabeth, and after a time, makes her fall in love with him, that is the most important of the novel. The severity of the letter lies specifically in the reactions that it evokes from Elizabeth. It is only after her completion of Mr. Darcy's letter, that Elizabeth endures a great recognition of her own nature and a self-realization of her own...