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Pride and Prejudice - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on language in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Language in Pride and Prejudice often hints at meanings which are left unstated. The narrative does not expend much time on description, whether of physical appearances, or of landscape and other surroundings. Instead, narration is devoted to passing or inviting judgement on characters and situations. Dialogue is often comical, often unintentionally so on the part of the speaker, or playful. On many occasions language conceals more than it reveals. This makes reading the novel a challenge, but also very rewarding. Pay close attention to the narrator, who presents episodes in a highly-biased manner, inviting readers conspiratorially to form the same opinions she holds.

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Analysing language in a text

A reader understands a text through its language. This language is chosen with great care and used with precision by the author. Always pay close attention to individual words and phrases, considering the possible symbolic meanings and associations that lie beyond the obvious literal meanings. Authors create imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects, through the careful use of language. An author’s ability to use language skilfully determines the effective creation of setting, characterisation and dialogue.

Paying very close attention to the details conveyed through language will greatly increase your understanding of the text. Find time to linger over words and imagery, exploring language choice and possibilities rather than being content with the surface meaning. What possible meanings does the choice of specific words suggest? Does anything else come to mind as you read? Giving time and care to your analysis will be repaid through a more nuanced understanding.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect the reader’s interpretation of Pride and Prejudice.

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  1. "In such an exigence my uncle's advice and assistance would be every thing in the world; he will immediately comprehend what I must feel, and I rely upon his goodness." Jane finishes her letter to Elizabeth in a tone of...
    Jane's usual placidity is disrupted by Lydia's elopement, and by being left alone with the unhelpful Mrs Bennet and the younger sisters. She expresses an immediate need for rational, practical help from her uncle and from the presence of her sister
  2. After complaining of her woes at length to her sister, Mrs Bennet ends with the following sentence: "However, your coming just at this time is the greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us, of long sleeves." What effect is produced by this conclusion to her tale of woe?
    The sentence produces a comic effect, but at the expense of Mrs Bennet, who can be cheered by the new fashion for long sleeves in the face of her many disappointments and concern over her daughters' futures
  3. "In describing to her all the grandeur of Lady Catherine and her mansion, with occasional digressions in praise of his own humble abode, and the improvements it was receiving, he was happily employed until the gentlemen joined them." What does the use of the word "humble" tell the reader?
    Mr Collins can simultaneously praise his home and acknowledge its defaults (which require improvement) while boasting excessively of Lady Catherine's estate and his own connections to it. Although the quoted sentence is in the voice of the narrator, the reader understands that Mr Collins himself has used the clichéd phrase "humble abode"
  4. "His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips, till he believed himself to have attained it. The pause was to Elizabeth's feelings dreadful. At length, in a voice of forced calmness, he said..." Which of the following phrases does NOT increase suspense?
    Time is stretched out in this passage, so that we await with Elizabeth what Mr Darcy will say after she has so unexpectedly refused him
  5. "The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow." Which of the following words satirises Lady Catherine?
    Lady Catherine believes herself to be a reliable weather forecaster, in the same way that she can pronounce on any subject. The use of the word "determine" additionally implies an element of control and of certainty impossible when predicting the weather
  6. "On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married." Elizabeth objects strongly to Mr Collins's speech, interrupting him after this sentence. Which of the following phrases is the immediate cause of her objection?
    Mr Collins assumes that Elizabeth will marry him, referring to "when", rather than "if". Her response is scathing: "You are too hasty, sir. You forget that I have made no answer"
  7. "Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister has a cold? Her hair so untidy, so blowsy!" What does the use of the word "scampering" imply in Miss Bingley's complaint about Elizabeth?
    "Scampering" is a word associated with animals, especially small, unimpressive animals. However, the word also implies a playfulness which is true of Elizabeth's nature
  8. "Mr Wickham was so perfectly satisfied with this conversation, that he never again distressed himself, or provoked his dear sister Elizabeth, by introducing the subject of it; and she was pleased to find that she had said enough to keep him quiet." Which of the following phrases offers a moral judgement of Mr Wickham?
    Mr Wickham appears to have no shame either about his treatment of Lydia or about the lies which he told Elizabeth in order to blacken Mr Darcy's reputation
  9. "As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security." This sentence conveys Elizabeth's impression of Mr Darcy's proposal. Why is the word "spoke" italicised?
    Much of the novel is based on the difficulties hampering direct communication. People do not always express very well what they mean, or might misunderstand what they hear from others. Elizabeth is, however, perceptive here and can see that Mr Darcy, like Mr Collins, has no expectation of being refused
  10. "Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book." How could Mary's dialogue best be described?
    Mary is very young and has a tendency to pronounce authoritatively and moralistically on every subject. Her speech is peppered with grand words such as "depreciate", "congenial" and "generality"; she also looks down upon others

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