Skip to Content

Phrases from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice


December 14, 2002

  1. "Astonishment bordering on alarm"

This is a description of Georgiana's assessment of Elizabeth's dealing with Darcy who is a demigod to her. To trifle with greatness raises astonishment. The phrase is based on a truth of life that danger that is alarming has a perceptive fringe of astonishment. Wonder similarly reveals the splendours of greatness.

  1. "Immovable from surprise - absolutely startled."

Characters in the novels of this period use 'absolutely' in its most appropriate sense where it expresses what no other synonym of the word is capable of expressing. Surprise made Darcy immovable at the sight of Miss Bennet on the grounds of Pemberley. The author's observation is more comprehensive and notices his moveless state in the context of his surprise. Writers can see surprise and resort to their own imagination to describe it. Austen's description is from her natural observation which is wider than ordinary.


  1. "You will not triumph in your superior judgment."

Bringing back to mind the various ways this idea can be expressed will help us appreciate the quality of this writing, especially when we know that at the end of that graded list we find, "you are clever. Don't laugh at me."

  1. "Impertinent freedom"

Collins takes the liberty to introduce himself to Darcy violating the rules of etiquette. She calls his folly impertinent, the initiative of ignorant freedom. Their combination makes the phrase stand out, incidentally spotlighting Collin's character.

  1. "It is a universal truth that a single man with a large fortune is in need of a wife. "

The helpless woman of these days, economically dependent on man, turns her misfortune into adorable social aspiration of acceptable romance. Hence Austen's euphemism. To elevate the miserable to idealistic approval is one way of creating impressive phrases.

  1. "This truth is invariably fixed in the minds of people."

Superstition borne out of the mercenary motive of poverty becomes a readable eloquence by the turn Jane Austen gives to her writing.

  1. "Warm excitement of gratitude by his affectionate attention."

The natural warmth of gratitude is transferred to excitement. Attention is the physical expression of affection.

  1. "Their passions were stronger than their virtue."

Vicious unruly passions that destroy are put in the context of relative strengths.

  1. "Distress of the moment."

Transfer of human emotion to a point of time.

  1. "Most heartily sorry."

Sorrow is taken to its human seat so as to be feeling in its effect.

  1. " A union that must have been to the advantage of both."

In life, one's advantage is another's disadvantage. Idealists as well as scoundrels join forces in a common cause. Hence this euphemism.

  1. "With less of splendour and more real elegance."

A usage of word become expressive when it is explained from its origin or becomes expansive when contrasted against what it is not.

  1. "Unaffectedly modest."

As people affect to be modest, to distinguish them from those who are naturally modest, she speaks of unaffected modesty. The phrases is enlivened by the attention to the extra dimension the people give to traits by their resourcefulness.

  1. "It is no mere civility but attention."

The form and content are shown in clear relief.

Reading the masters of the art, seeing the way they adorn it is an education. One can learn the very approach to language which is an art. As a few colours in combination produce endless variations, so each approach to phrasing opens limitless ways of phrasing, not necessarily issuing from language, but from the linguistic resourcefulness of the writer. When one goes behind to one's mental resourcefulness, personal phrases acquire impersonal dignity.

  1. Expressive phrases of Austen by expanding the concept behind:


creative of eye of fancy


smile of delight

did not speak

no humour for conversation

not a wild guess

not an improbable conjecture

disturbed inwardly

striving to be composed

delicate points

sources of uneasiness

dishonest gain

our comfort springs from a breach of promise


those who assiduously courted you

not our relative

wholly unallied to the family

I won't tell you

this will never induce me to be explicit

Don't talk to me like that

I am not to be trifled with

totally surprised

looked with unaffected astonishment

It is not true

a scandalous falsehood

angry and abusive

insolent and disagreeable

was confused

went away in all perplexity

avoided Darcy's name

never voluntarily mentioned his name

borrowed right and left

his debts of honour were still more formidable

permanent damage

a cause which no time can remove

meddled in other's affairs

this interference is officious

disastrous marriage

inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage

permanent arrangement

lasting convenience

repeated the invitation

welcomed with ostentatious formality


gives fresh life and vigour

hurt pride

savours strongly of disappointment


reconciled to the idea


overcome the bounds of decorum


sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage.

This is fiction abounding in human circumstances and the varied emotions of disparate characters. The faculty of dwelling on the concept behind the expression, expanding it in enjoyable amplitude is a linguistic faculty of mental imagination. For writing non-fiction, one needs this faculty, not these particular expressions. The essence matters, not the expression. Thought does not easily lend itself to expand as emotions do; still it does, it does so beautifully.

story | by Dr. Radut