Realism Used in Jane Austen Novels

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      Psychological Realism. The parenthood of not only the English fiction but also the psychological novel goes to Richardson; and his contemporary Fielding is the first to write a comedy in English fiction with the deliberate intention of ridiculing the sentimental morality of Richardson. The Pamela of Richardson becomes Shamela in Fielding. Jane Austen, it seems, has combined the task of her two predecessors by writing a kind of fiction which is psychologically realistic. She selected, as it were, the good points of both these writers and eschewed all that they did and she could not do. The Richardsonian atmosphere of a sick-room heated by stoves is as conspicuously absent in her novels as the epic width and vaster panorama of life of Fielding. In effect, she achieves perfection in her craft by exploring the psychological possibilities of the comedy of Manners.

      Her Sense of Stage-craft and Comedy. The realism in Jane Austen is born of the consciousness of stage craft and her fine sense of comedy. She is so detached from and fair to her creatures that never for a moment the temptation to blur their outlines overtakes her. While depicting her characters she rarely introduces herself as Fielding had done and Meredith was to do. The dialogues and actions are not the result of her subjective interpretation; they have been recorded directly from life. Although here and there her point of view may find vent through some single character yet her impersonality is well accentuated throughout. She is a minute observer of men and manners and the odd and potentially the comic can scarcely escape her sharp and scrutinizing glance. The lack of manners or the oddities of manners are often the result of a wrong training or want of training in behaviour. It is the function of comedy to discover these latent and unobserved eccentricities and inconsistencies and expose them to the irony and comic smile of all those who read and understand them. In order to achieve this she uses sometimes a comic type of character known as farce already popular in the Restoration drama; but this farce never produces the horse-laughter. She only casts an arch glance at them and passes on. Her fairness and detachment, not precluding her sympathies also where they are due, help her in achieving a realism which is commonly seen in the comedies of Sheridan and other contemporary dramatists but which was feebly if ever attempted in English fiction by her predecessors.

      Realism due to Her Limited Compass. Jane Austen limited compass and the perfection she achieves within it impart verisimilitude to her fiction. Three or four families it has been suggested indirectly by her, are her only concern and these are, as it were, x-rayed before us. Each member of these families is personally known to us with all his frailties as well as merits. She presents her characters not from without but from within and often achieves a marvelous effect by calling up the aid of intuitive understanding which alone can make a character convincing and real. She examines the psychology of her characters less for the grotesque than for satirical purposes. Gross humours and melodramatic situations are usually discarded by her for they often stand on the brink of tragedy. Tragedy is foreign to Jane Austen; one may suppose, because it is usually far from realism. Tragedy is more common in fiction than in real life. The psychological realism which was employed by Richardson and by many other writers of fiction till Jane Austen has been employed by her in an unrivalled and commendable manner.

      Her Sense of Comedy. She invariably discovers the comic probabilities in a slight change of behaviour or even in the flickering shades and nuances of conduct of people. Clergymen are often a pious subject for comedy and it is not easy to make them victims of it. But the priggishness and worldliness of the contemporary clergymen and the foibles and weakness of the contemporary society have been exposed. These weaknesses and frailties have a contemporary interest and reveal the writer’s fondness for realistic presentation.

      Her Anti-romantic Attitude. No less is her fondness for realism intensified by her tastes and temperament which were grounded exclusively on the Eighteenth Century—the age of Reason and also of Realism. Her sympathies are infallibly with the neo-classical age of Dr. Johnson and Cowper and not with the contemporary one of Napoleonic wars and French Revolution and of Wordsworth and Coleridge. She naturally prefers precision, exactness and ‘nature methodised’ Her impersonal attitude has nothing in common with that of Sir Walter Scott or of Mrs. Radcliff or of other writers of sentimental and romantic fiction. Her attitude to all these literary fads is rather negative and even hostile. She could not bend herself to write historical novel inspite of a royal offer for her to do so. The Gothic fiction is fit for parody only. Her imagination and sensibilities are tied down to the presentation of exact and minute details as she herself sees them or anyone else with balanced judgement and finer perceptibilities can see them. The ball dance, the life at Bath, the marriage proposal, the tug of war of the emotions of two persons, when they are in love—each and every action and mode of behaviour has been treated here psychologically and realistically.

      Seeing Life in Perspective. Her realism, unlike the realism of the naturalist fiction-writers of a later date, is not necessarily and exclusively concerned with the stubborn presentation of the banal and clandestine; nevertheless, she sees life in a wider perspective and not in parts—that is, the significance of her individuals extends beyond the immediate sphere of the book and thus beyond the book itself. Bingley is more than a pleasant suitor for a nice girl; but because of his amiability which is qualified by a negativeness and suggestibility, he is differentiated from the mere type of the sought - after eligible youth. The same significance extends to all other characters in her novels. This is what seeing life itself is. The modern fiction, in the name of stream of consciousness, is trying to achieve something like it but then there is so much else in this new method that the points of resemblance are few and far between.

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