Studying Omniscient POV: Pride and Prejudice, Part 1 Chapter 2

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Picking up where we left off last time, we journey onto chapter 2 and look for common patterns to further distill the essence of omniscient (third-person) POV.

Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. he had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in the following manner.

Well, this will be interesting, given that we know something of Mr. Bennet’s mischievous nature. This paragraph also makes Pride & Prejudice feel like a serial, picking up delicately the thread in the previous installment. According to Wikipedia, however, the story was published in one lump sum.

Observing his second daughter employed in trimming a hat, he suddenly addressed her with:

“I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy.”

“We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes,” said her mother resentfully, “since we are not to visit.”

“But you forget, mamma,” said Elizabeth, “that we shall meet him at the assemblies, and that Mrs. Long promised to introduce him.”

“I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her.”

“No more have I,” said Mr. Bennet; “and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.”

Thanks to the omniscient narrator’s set-up, we already know the irony inherent in the dialogue, which makes it all the more delicious.

Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.

“Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.”

“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father; “she times them ill.”

“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty fretfully. “When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”

“To-morrow fortnight.”

“Aye, so it is,” cried her mother, “and Mrs. Long does not come back till the day before; so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, for she will not know him herself.”

“Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr. Bingley to her.”

“Impossible, Mr. Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquainted with him myself; how can you be so teasing?”

“I honour your circumspection. A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight. But if we do not venture someody else will; and after all, Mrs. Long and her daughters must stand their chance; and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the offer, I will take it on myself.”

The girls stared at their father. Mrs. Bennet said only, “Nonsense, nonsense!”

“What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?” cried he. “Do you consider the forms of introduction, and the stress that is laid on them, as nonsense? I cannot quite agree with you there. What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts.”

There are times when Mr. Bennet sounds pretty much like John Scalzi at his most sardonic. This is one of those times.

I’ll note that, contrary to some opinions of what omniscient POV is like, it’s very possible—and likely a vital skill—to focus upon one character during a scene regardless (in this case, Mr. Bennet, because he’s stealing the scene anyways, so why not give it to him?). Omniscient isn’t about seeing everything from everyone’s point of view: it’s about seeing the story from the outside, even if the camera focus is on one character.

Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.

“While Mary is adjusting her ideas,” he continued, “let us return to Mr. Bingley.”

Note that even though we cover Mary’s reaction here when the focus is on Mr. Bennet, the omniscient narrator keeps their distance. This isn’t head-hopping as those who use straw-man omniscient “examples” like to harp upon as a detriment to reader cognizance of narrative going-ons.

We also don’t have stereotypical brow-furrowing or quizzical looks or other tired methods in which writers attempt to describe puzzlement; the omniscient narrator can tell us exactly what Mary is feeling without dancing around the third-person limited bush.

“I am sick of Mr. Bingley,” cried his wife.

“I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me that before? If I had known as much this mornin I certainly would not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.”

The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished; that of Mrs. Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest; though, when the first tumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was what she had expected all the while.

It’s probably worth it to rewrite that last paragraph as if we were in third-person limited, to demonstrate the difference between that and omniscient:

The astonished faces of the ladies, just what he wished; that of Mrs. Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest; though, once her expression subsided, she began to declare that it was what she had expected all the while.

In third-person limited, we don’t have the knowledge for sure that the ladies are astonished, and especially not of Mrs. Bennet’s “first tumult of joy”; but instead we must look to their expression. The meaning of the second fragment is also perturbed to be a physical rather than an emotional reaction. I don’t think this is committing the “sin” of telling when she “should” be showing—indeed, because Austen is going for a humorous effect, the distance of omniscient is needed to relate to a larger narrative tableu.

This isn’t to say that third-person limited can’t be humorous, but there is much to be said for actually being able to cut to the heart of the multiple parties involved to expose the irony for all to see clearly—a feat not easily accomplished by visual mediums such as the movies that written fiction is supposed to emulate these days.

“How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet! But I knew I should persuade you at last. I was sure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! and it is such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morning and never said a word about it till now.”

Well, at least she finally caught on. But we must not judge Mrs. Bennet too harshly, I think. Not every relationship is underlined by trolling, and she certainly did not expect her marriage to be so. Arranged marriages, peeps: does not always lead to deeper understandings of your spouse.

“Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose,” said Mr. Bennet; and, as he spoke, he left the room, fatigued with the raptures of his wife.

“What an excellent father you have, girls!” said she, when the door was shut. “I do not know how you will ever make him amends for his kindness; or me, either, for that matter. At our time of life it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day; but for your sakes, we would do anything. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr. Bingely will dance with you at the next ball.”

“Oh!” said Lydia stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.”

The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing how soon he would return Mr. Bennet’s, visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner.

And of course, no POV other than omniscient would have allowed the scene to continue after Mr. Bennet leaves without the jarring goooooong! of a scene break.

I’ll note that the beginning chapters are at least short, to move us into the meat of the story sooner, which we’ll get to next time.

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