Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Analysis: Writing Style
Surprising Turns of Phrase, Sarcastic, Subtle, Pointed
Austen is the total master of the slow, subtle burn. Let's watch and learn how a pro does it in this paragraph that introduces Sir William Lucas, Charlotte's dad:
Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, he had removed with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James's had made him courteous. (5.1)
We start off well. Sir William is a well-off guy who even gets to make a speech in front of the king. But check out the long third sentence, as the narrator masterfully goes from Sir William's point of view (he now finds actually working for a living "disgusting" and moves to a house in the country) to an outside perspective on Sir William's growing egotism (all he does now is "think with pleasure of his own importance"), and then, finally, rounds it off with an amazing judgment on the way climbing the social ladder creates a useless man out of an industrious one (Sir William is free from the "shackles" of his work and now just spends his time being "civil").
Funny—but we're not done yet. The problem isn't really just that Sir William himself has become totally purposeless ever since getting his knighthood and becoming too high class for his business. The narrator next expands the issue further, pointing to the culture at large, which is more than happy to go along with Sir William and his new attitude. Check out how, because he's all fancy and titled, in the eyes of his neighbors he gets a fancier adjective to describe his behavior: instead of simply "friendly" he's become "courteous," which also carries the pun of "court" (as in royal court) inside it—the place where Sir William has picked up his new status).