Understanding and Misunderstanding

by | Aug 30, 2009 | Fiction Book Reviews | 1 comment

There are many things about Austen’s novels that make them memorable, but none is greater than character.

I could spend several posts on this topic – and probably will – but Austen has a lot of fun with creating misunderstandings and misconceptions within her character’s lives. Humor is a hallmark, of course, and through these misunderstandings we find ridiculous situations…and ridiculous people.

One of the best examples of this is the novel Emma. Four of the most ridiculous of characters emerge: Miss Bates, Mr. Elton, Mrs. Elton, and (to my mind) Harriet, but Emma herself also borders on the ridiculous. I mean no disrespect by my reference either. It’s ingenious. We like the story because of the way the characters misconstrue everything.

One way to add both humor and conflict into your novels is by creating misunderstandings. In real life those can cause all sorts of trouble – fiction is no different – except it has a tendency to be a bit inflated 🙂

In Pride and Prejudice, misconceptions about Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham lead to the letter women around the world sigh over. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine’s overactive imagination and misunderstandings about the dynamics of Henry’s family lead to the suspense and questionable ending of the novel. Sense and Sensibility is brilliant in showing the conflict of repressing knowledge, as Eleanor represses her feelings for Edward, which leads to Marianne’s misjudgement of Eleanor’s sincere feelings. Then there’s Mansfield Park and Persuasion, each having their own sets of misconceptions which push the story forward.

Especially in comedies, misunderstandings flourish. I enjoy writing romantic comedies, so the beautiful insanity of Emma suits me well. She has an uncanny ability to misunderstand almost every character in the entire story – except maybe Mrs. Elton and Miss Bates. The brilliance in Austen’s work is that the reader knows Emma is misinterpreting people, but Emma doesn’t…so there’s the conflict. At some point, we’re going to see her ‘Aha’ moment and what happens then… Will she grow as a person? Will the entire scene explode or implode on her? That’s why we keep reading 🙂

Really all stories must leave the reader wondering “What happens when….”

Hmm, now that my mind has sufficient drown in all things Emma and therefore dwelt on the wonderful Mr. Knightley, I believe I shall dedicate the next few posts to the various Mr. Knightley’s portrayed throughout ‘movie’ history. Of all of Austen’s heroes, I’m am particularly interested in Mr. Knightley, with Mr. Darcy a close second. I like Mr. Knightley’s humor…much the same reason why I enjoy reading Henry Tilney’s comments in Northanger Abbey.

So – next post – a little commercial break into the world of Mr. Knightley…and then back to Austen’s writing tips.

1 Comment

  1. Lit and Life

    I love all of the misunderstandings in Austen. It so mirrors real life!


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