Jane Austen had created six heroines, each quite different, and that gave Charlotte courage. There wasn’t just one kind of woman to be.
For [Jane Austen and the readers of Pride and Prejudice], as for Mr. Darcy, [Elizabeth Bennett's] solitary walks express the independence that literally takes the heroine out of the social sphere of the houses and their inhabitants, into a larger, lonelier world where she is free to think: walking articulates both physical and mental freedom.
I suspect that Jane Austen's practice of denying herself the aid of figurative language which, as much as any of her other habits of expression, repelled Charlotte Brontë, and has alienated other readers, conscious with a dissatisfaction with her style that they have not cared to analyse.
Tonight, however, Dickens struck him in a different light. Beneath the author’s sentimental pity for the weak and helpless, he could discern a revolting pleasure in cruelty and suffering, while the grotesque figures of the people in Cruikshank’s illustrations revealed too clearly the hideous distortions of their souls. What had seemed humorous now appeared diabolic, and in disgust at these two favourites he turned to Walter Pater for the repose and dignity of a classic spirit.But presently he wondered if this spirit were not in itself of a marble quality, frigid and lifeless, contrary to the purpose of nature. ‘I have often thought’, he said to himself, ‘that there is something evil in the austere worship of beauty for its own sake.’ He had never thought so before, but he liked to think that this impulse of fancy was the result of mature consideration, and with this satisfaction he composed himself for sleep. He woke two or three times in the night, an unusual occurrence, but he was glad of it, for each time he had been dreaming horribly of these blameless Victorian works…It turned out to be the Boy’s Gulliver’s Travels that Granny had given him, and Dicky had at last to explain his rage with the devil who wrote it to show that men were worse than beasts and the human race a washout. A boy who never had good school reports had no right to be so morbidly sensitive as to penetrate to the underlying cynicism of Swift’s delightful fable, and that moreover in the bright and carefully expurgated edition they bring out nowadays. Mr Corbett could not say he had ever noticed the cynicism himself, though he knew from the critical books it must be there, and with some annoyance he advised his son to take out a nice bright modern boy’s adventure story that could not depress anybody. Mr Corbett soon found that he too was ‘off reading’. Every new book seemed to him weak, tasteless and insipid; while his old and familiar books were depressing or even, in some obscure way, disgusting. Authors must all be filthy-minded; they probably wrote what they dared not express in their lives. Stevenson had said that literature was a morbid secretion; he read Stevenson again to discover his peculiar morbidity, and detected in his essays a self-pity masquerading as courage, and in Treasure Island an invalid’s sickly attraction to brutality. This gave him a zest to find out what he disliked so much, and his taste for reading revived as he explored with relish the hidden infirmities of minds that had been valued by fools as great and noble. He saw Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë as two unpleasant examples of spinsterhood; the one as a prying, sub-acid busybody in everyone else’s flirtations, the other as a raving, craving maenad seeking self-immolation on the altar of her frustrated passions. He compared Wordsworth’s love of nature to the monstrous egoism of an ancient bellwether, isolated from the flock.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice should create in the discerning male reader a deeply rooted concupiscence for Elizabeth Bennet that springs not from her vivacity or from her wit but from her unerring instinct to follow the deeply moral directives of her own character even against the influences and arguments of society, of convention, of seeming necessity, and of her friends and family. Properly read, Austen should be a form of pornography for the morally and spiritually discriminating man.