Jane Austen’s Words

Greer Garson (as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice 1940)

There is a…dialectic at work in Jane Austen’s words, their meaning being dependent on the level at which they are being used.  One cannot simply say, for example, that “propriety” is one of Jane Austen’s values, but “sensibility” is not because as they stand those statements have no useful truth or falsity.  There is a sense in which either word may be used to claim an unreal value; in this false sense it may well mean, not hypocritically but ironically, the very reverse of the unlimited strength it assumes and represents itself to be.  There is another sense in which either word has a real value; and in this sense it may well be a possession of someone who does not seem to have it, or may seen to be a weak limitation of its possessor rather than the strength it proves to be.  –Stuart M Tave, *Some Words of Jane Austen*

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