Today is our second installment of the 3-part Wonderful Words of Austen series. Immersing myself in the words she used and how she used them has given me a different perspective on Austen’s writing, and how much she communicated through word choice. I hope you enjoy pondering on the selection below as much as I did choosing them.
Independence – Jane Austen used this word forty-six times. Considering the many different ways it is used, its interesting that the definition is simply the the fact or state of being independent. Knowing that this post was scheduled for the fourth of July, this word seemed like an obvious selection considering that today is Independence Day in the United States, even though it the word itself isn’t new or unfamiliar. I studied quite a few passages where Austen used this word, and gained the insight that Austen valued independence, perhaps even craved it for herself. She used it often as a virtue of character, and liked to have her less enlightened characters sneer at it as a character flaw. She also clearly considered it a blessing for those who could claim a state of independence in life. I selected this passage for the twist it gives us—who among us thinks of Mr. Collins as possessing fire and independence? Well, Jane gave him just enough of it to spare Elizabeth further drama at his hands.
Such was Miss Lucas’s scheme; and appearances were so favourable, that when they parted at night she would have felt almost sure of success if he had not been to leave Hertfordshire so very soon. But here she did injustice to the fire and independence of his character, for it led him to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her feet. ~Pride and Prejudice
Jointure – Jane Austen used this word three times. It is a legal term describing an estate settled on a wife for the period during which she survives her husband, in lieu of a dower. Considering the frequency of financial themes for women in Austen’s works, it strikes me that her readers in that era all understood the implications of a jointure, which means that when she described Mrs. Jennings as a widow with a jointure, her financial stability would have been efficiently communicated to her readers merely by the use of the word. And consider how ridiculous the argument from Elinor’s brother is as it relates to Mrs. Jennings inheritance.
Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but marry all the rest of the world.
“She seems a most valuable woman indeed. Her house, her style of living, all bespeak an exceeding good income, and it is an acquaintance that has not only been of great use to you hitherto, but in the end may prove materially advantageous. Her inviting you to town is certainly a vast thing in your favour; and indeed, it speaks altogether so great a regard for you, that in all probability when she dies you will not be forgotten. She must have a great deal to leave.”
“Nothing at all, I should rather suppose; for she has only her jointure, which will descend to her children.”
“But it is not to be imagined that she lives up to her income. Few people of common prudence will do that; and whatever she saves, she will be able to dispose of.”
“And do you not think it more likely that she should leave it to her daughters, than to us?” ~Sense and Sensibility
Kindle – Austen only used the verb kindle once. This word, which means to light or set on fire; or to arouse or inspire an emotion
or feeling, would have been a common word in an era where lighting fires was a daily occurrence. Of course, Austen’s usage was metaphorical, and nothing to do with lighting fires. I picked this word because of the delightful irony that when Jane Austen used this word, she would never have imagined that people would be reading her works hundreds of years later on a device called a Kindle.
He wanted to animate her curiosity again as to how and where he could have heard her formerly praised; wanted very much to be gratified by more solicitation; but the charm was broken: he found that the heat and animation of a public room were necessary to kindle his modest cousin’s vanity; he found, at least, that it was not to be done now by any of those attempts which he could hazard among the too-commanding claims of the others. He little surmised that it was a subject acting now exactly against his interest, bringing immediately into her thoughts all those parts of his conduct which were least excusable. ~Persuasion
Lassitude – Jane Austen used the noun lassitude only once. It is a state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy. When I read this passage, I can perfectly envision the perfectly healthy Catherine’s attitude. Catherine Morland, at the age of seventeen, is a bit of a drama queen. This lassitude with which she walked perfectly illustrates her teenage response to an activity she did not enjoy.
She had just settled this point when the end of the path brought them directly upon the general; and in spite of all her virtuous indignation, she found herself again obliged to walk with him, listen to him, and even to smile when he smiled. Being no longer able, however, to receive pleasure from the surrounding objects, she soon began to walk with lassitude; the general perceived it, and with a concern for her health, which seemed to reproach her for her opinion of him, was most urgent for returning with his daughter to the house. ~Northanger Abbey
Machinations – Used just once by Austen, this word means a crafty and involved plot to achieve a sinister end. Once again, this word illustrates Austen’s craft when it comes to choosing just the right word. Even though this passage is whimsical and light-hearted, her word choice gives us a peek into Catherine Morland’s highly dramatic state, darkened by the Gothic novels she indulged in.
Mrs. Morland knew so little of lords and baronets, that she entertained no notion of their general mischievousness, and was wholly unsuspicious of danger to her daughter from their machinations. Her cautions were confined to the following points. “I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself up very warm about the throat, when you come from the rooms at night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money you spend; I will give you this little book on purpose.” ~ Northanger Abbey
Nabobs: Jane Austen used this word one time. It is the name for Governors under the Mogul empire, and also refers to Europeans who came home from India having made a fortune there. I picked this word because I had never heard of it before. This snippet is from a much longer passage where Willoughby is sharing his thoughts on Colonel Brandon with Marianne. He never actually disparages the Colonel, but rather, reinforces Marianne’s notions that Brandon lacks genius, taste and spirit.
“Perhaps,” said Willoughby, “his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins.” ~Sense and Sensibility
Obviate – Austen used this word four times. It means to remove a need or difficulty, also to avoid or prevent. This is another word I don’t recall encountering much, possibly because of it’s Latin roots. I thought it seemed likely that J.K. Rowling would have used it in one of her spells, but, no, “Obliviate”, a charm that erases memories is the closest she came. I think it’s similarity to that word – obliviate – is the reason this word feels a bit sinister to me, and Austen’s usage in this passage seconds the motion, for she she uses it to describe Mary Crawford’s attempt to corrupt Fanny’s principles.
She was answered by having a small trinket–box placed before her, and being requested to chuse from among several gold chains and necklaces. Such had been the parcel with which Miss Crawford was provided, and such the object of her intended visit: and in the kindest manner she now urged Fanny’s taking one for the cross and to keep for her sake, saying everything she could think of to obviate the scruples which were making Fanny start back at first with a look of horror at the proposal. ~Mansfield Park
Prognostications – Meaning the action of foretelling or prophesying future events. Although Austen only used this word once, the perfection of her usage is stunning. Not only did Austen use it as a device to foretell Fanny’s future character, but she told us that she was doing so. I have decided that from now on, “officious prognostications” is going to be my hashtag for anything political.
In vain were the well–meant condescensions of Sir Thomas, and all the officious prognostications of Mrs. Norris that she would be a good girl; in vain did Lady Bertram smile and make her sit on the sofa with herself and pug, and vain was even the sight of a gooseberry tart towards giving her comfort; she could scarcely swallow two mouthfuls before tears interrupted her, and sleep seeming to be her likeliest friend, she was taken to finish her sorrows in bed. ~Mansfield Park
Did you have a favorite word out of these, or thoughts on any of them? Is there a different Austen word choice you would have selected instead? I’d love to hear your thoughts.