Variety and Abundance of Character
One of the triumphs of Jane Austen‟s art is the immense vitality and variety of her characters. Macaulay considers her the equal of Shakespeare. However there is no denying the fact that her novels are well stored portrait gallery.
Narrow Canvas but Great Variety
Jane Austen‟s characters are all drawn from the upper middle class or landed gentry in a provincial village. There is, no doubt that she paints on a narrow canvas, but this does not mean that her range of characters is also narrow one. As a matter of fact her range is veryvast, “In her six books she never repeats a single character”. Fine shades of characters are skilfully brought out. No two flirts, no two snobs, no two fools are alike. The folly of the foolish and the villainy of the wicked are sharply distinguished. Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins and Lady De Burgh are three figures of fun in the same novel, but how different from each other.
Characters Drawn in their Private Capacity
Jane Austen draws characters from her personal experiences and knowledge. She had been familiar since childhood with landed country gentry. It is a leisured class with nothing serious to do. The time is passed in smoking, gossiping, playing cards, or in singing, dancing and visiting. The tenor of this life is smooth, the passion are unknown to her respectable ladies and gentlemen. There is no doubt that she draws men in their private capacity in their relation with their wives, children and neighbours and friends not in relation to government or to god or even in relation to their higher passions. If you want to know man‟s temper you must study him at home and Jane Austen does so and thus succeeds in bringing out the fundamental nature of her man and women. As David Celil puts it “Jane Austen‟s realistic English drawing rooms are theatres in which elemental human folly and inconsistency play out their eternal comedy”
Vitality of her Characters: Their Complexity
There are other reasons also for vitality of her characters. She can visualise the externals of personality as vividly as Dickens himself. With a few brief sentences she can bring out the habit, the dress, the appearance, the tricks of speech, in short any oddity and idiosyncrasy of his creatures. However, she does not stop at that. Her discriminating vision can penetrate to the organising principals of a personality that lie beneath the surface. She can discern the motives and causes of conduct, the essential of actions. Her characters are living breathing relations and not mere puppets of absurdities.
Their Many Sidedness
Her characters are many sided: they are mixture of good evil, virtue and wickedness in
varying proportions like real human beings. Jane Austen is impartial she l does not idealise. She has sympathy with all, identify only rarely as with Elizabeth. Her most virtuous characters have their faults and what is more striking; she shows how these faults integral to their natures. They have certain virtues and these very virtues result in certain faults in their respective characters. Thus, Elizabeth is intelligent, witty and discerning but these very virtues make her own judgment. The intensity of Jane‟s vision fuses vices and virtues into a single integrated personality. This g “gives her characters volume; they are not merely brilliantly drawn silhouettes, but solid, three dimensional figures, who can be looked at from several sides” (Celil). However, Maria and Kitty in Pride and Prejudice are exceptions in this respect. They fail to come to life…
The Foolish and Vulgar Transformed By Sense of Humour
Jane Austen had a keen sense of humour. Her eyes take on a merry twinkle when they fall on any specimen of the Ludicrous. Conceit, vanity, silliness and pomposity of men tickle her to laughter that is why a large majority of characters are regular figure of fun. But her magic wand transforms even fools and bores of real life into the most amusing and entertaining men and women. Mrs. Bennet is foolish, vulgar and peevish. The best example of folly is her happiness at the elopement of Lydia. In life, nobody can tolerate such a woman but the imagination of Jane Austen transforms her into an inexhaustible source of fun.
Round and Straight Characters
Jane Austen‟s grasp of human psychology enables her to conceive her characters in the
round. Her characters are not flat; they change and grow under the stress of circumstances and become different from what they were in the beginning. Thus Darcy undergoes a sea change; and Elizabeth too is much altered. Even Mr. Bennet is shaken out of his complacency. However, this applies only to the principal figures. The minor once are not modified by circumstances. Mr. Collins is a straight character; he remains the same from the beginning to the end. In a like manner, Lydia, Kitty, and Mary too do not change and grow.
Her Female Characters:
Jane Austen excels in painting women characters. Her women are more complex and more memorable than her men. Some of the men are excellently drawn but they are invariably drawn from the women‟s point of view. Certain aspects of their personality which, a woman is not accepted to know are left out. However, with women it is an entirely different matter. As Baker Points out in each one of her six novels a young woman, witty sensible discerning and charming is the centre of interest and entire action is presented from her point of view. These young ladies of her novels are in love, without being great lovers. The peaks and heights of love are not known to them. They are the mouthpieces of the novelist; indeed some like Elizabeth may be attributed to Jane Herself.
□ “Intricate characters are the most interesting”
□ “I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good”
□ “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me”