Reading And Misreading Pride And Prejudice

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CONJECTURING POSSIBILITIES: READING AND MISREADING TEXTS IN JANE AUSTEN'S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE FELICIA BONAPARTE Precisely halfway through the novel (almost to the very letter by a computer count of words), Elizabeth Bennet, the central character of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, is the recipient of a letter. She is forced to read it twice. The letter is from Fitzwilliam Darcy, the man she will eventually marry, but still in the grip of those two flaws from which the novel takes its title, Elizabeth at first misreads it. Only when she reads it again in a different frame of mind is she able to arrive at a closer estimation of the meaning of its words and the intention of its author. In a novel initially written in the epistolary style, it is not, of course, remarkable that letters should be received and sent, and indeed there are quite a few coming and going on its pages. Yet this one, so centrally placed, functions not only as a turning point in the progress of events but as the focal point of a theme that is devoted only in part to the ways of courtship and marriage and-for it is important to note the incident Austen picks as her image-far more to the reading of texts. Kelly and Newey are right to argue that in this novel the reading of texts stands as both a fact and a metaphor, for Austen often speaks here of "reading" the world as well as the word (e.g., 90, 95). But Austen is actually more precise. What she wants to teach Elizabeth, and the reader along with her, is, in the strictest sense of the word, a philosophic understanding of the epistemological grounds that allow us to read at all. We have not typically thought of Austen as a novelist much disturbed by such philosophical questions, although a number of excellent studies have sought to dislocate this prejudice, l These, and the work of Martha Satz and Zelda Boyd, to whom I shall return in a moment,

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