Writing that Scene: Pride and Prejudice

In the format of a non-traditional critique, Writing that Scene examines the fundamentals of what it takes to capably convey a scene to one’s readers. The opinion expressed is my own, and other readers’ opinions may and will differ.

If you are interested in sharing a scene of your own for a future post, click on the Writing that Scene Submission link. Or, you can suggest a scene from another writer’s work for us to analyze. Last week’s scene is available here.

Author: Jane Austen

Scene location: Middle of the book

Genre: Romance

Pride and Prejudice: (Original Scene Text)

As they walked across the lawn towards the river, Elizabeth turned back to look again; her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables.

They were within twenty years of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself, advanced towards the party, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not in terms of perfect composure, at least perfect civility.

She had instinctively turned away; but, stopping on his approach, received his compliments with an embarrassment impossible to be overcome. Had his first appearance, or his resemblance to the picture they had just been examining, been insufficient to assure the other two that they now saw Mr. Darcy, the gardener’s expression of surprise, on beholding his master, must immediately have told it. They stood a little aloof while he was talking to their niece, who, astonished and confused, scarcely dared lift her eyes to his face, and knew not what answer she returned to his civil enquires after her family. Amazed at the alteration in his manner since they last parted, every sentence that he uttered was increasing her embarrassment; and every idea of the impropriety of her being found there, recurring to her mind, the few minutes in which they continued together, were some of the most uncomfortable of her life. Nor did he seem much more at ease; when he spoke, his accent had none of its usual sedateness; and he repeated his enquiries as to the time of her having left Longbourn, and of her stay in Derbyshire, so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spoke the distraction of his thoughts.

At length, every idea seemed to fail him; and, after standing a few moments without saying a word, he suddenly recollected himself, and took leave.

Author’s Point of View: The last time Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy met, he asked her to read a letter he’d written to explain his conduct, defending his character from the assault she’d made upon it when he’d proposed.

Pride and Prejudice (my comments in blue)

[As they walked across the lawn towards the river, Elizabeth turned back to look again; her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables. You could have ended the sentence with his forward “from the road” without any great loss, since road does already suggest travel and arriving. Though, by hinting at the stables, the inquisitive reader can feel more certain that he just arrived.]

[They were within twenty years of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Again, unless you want very specific details, you could just say “So abrupt was his appearance…” without giving the approximate distance, especially since the next few lines indicate that he must advance to speak to Elizabeth.] [Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. I like the fact that he blushes, too.] [He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself, advanced towards the party, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not in terms of perfect composure, at least perfect civility. Nice! Reiterating Mr. Darcy’s reaction emphasizes how stunned he is, and the following paragraph does the same for Elizabeth.]

[She had instinctively turned away; Interesting choice of words. We are left to assume that the instinct of shame makes her turn away, for the disgust she felt for him has presumably been overcome.] [but, stopping on his approach, received his compliments with an embarrassment impossible to be overcome. Again, nice choice of words. “Compliments,” with its dual meaning of both pleasant and polite statements, is a much stronger word choice than “comments,” “speech,” or “statements” would have been.]

[Had his first appearance, or his resemblance to the picture they had just been examining, been insufficient to assure the other two that they now saw Mr. Darcy, the gardener’s expression of surprise, on beholding his master, must immediately have told it. You technically don’t need the commas bracketing “on beholding his master,” but I think they underscore the choppy, abrupt, confused mind of Elizabeth, since we are mostly seeing this through her perspective, as the sentence answers the question in her mind, “Does her uncle and aunt know who this is?”]

[They stood a little aloof while he was talking to their niece, Good historical detail. Nowadays, the heroine would probably forget all about the presence of others during such a moment, but their presence is part of Elizabeth’s confusion. [who, astonished and confused, scarcely dared lift her eyes to his face, and knew not what answer she returned to his civil enquires after her family. Nice variety. You have mentioned “surprise” and “embarrassment,” and now we get “astonished” and “confused.” And we are still dealing with the civil enquires after her family, showing that, in Elizabeth’s agony, the moment is stretching out far longer than reality, and far longer than it would take if the dialogue had been written out.]

[Amazed at the alteration in his manner since they last parted, every sentence that he uttered was increasing her embarrassment; and every idea of the impropriety of her being found there, recurring to her mind, the few minutes in which they continued together, were some of the most uncomfortable of her life. Some would say you should have shown more of this scene, giving us the actual dialogue rather than telling us, but what better way to show a person’s confusion of mind than by the fact that she cannot recall a single word he spoke, even though “every sentence” made matters worse?]

[Nor did he seem much more at ease; when he spoke, his accent had none of its usual sedateness; and he repeated his enquiries as to the time of her having left Longbourn, and of her stay in Derbyshire, so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spoke the distraction of his thoughts. Again, this could have been shown, but I don’t know that it would have been an improvement. Accent, and speed of speech, is something that cannot be shown on a page, and the telling indicates much about Elizabeth’s state of mind: she recalls the way he repeated himself, the tone of voice, the manner, and the subject in general, but not the words.]

[At length, every idea seemed to fail him; Again, fantastic use of words. “Every idea seemed to fail him” instead of “words failed him.” You can sense his floundering about for a subject, and it mirrors her state. She has too many ideas—reminders of how improper it is for her to show up at the house of the man she rejected, even for a tour in his absence—and he has too few ideas to keep the conversation going.] [and, after standing a few moments without saying a word, he suddenly recollected himself, and took leave. I like how he “suddenly recollected himself.” It does make it a bit more wordy, but he has been fragmented during this scene, his mind distracted, and he must collect the pieces of himself before he leaves.]

You’re welcome (and encouraged) to share your own comments, keeping a tone of constructive criticism in mind so we can all learn from this project together. And feel free to disagree with any and all of the advice and comments I gave. Thanks!

Comments Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

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