Inquiring readers, It’s time to lay Downton Abbey reviews aside and return to Jane Austen, since that is where my passion lies. Tony Grant, London Calling, has been a contributor to this blog for many years. He has written a piece that is quite original – how would Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzie sound if the two characters spoke in the Hampshire accent that Jane Austen, who lived in Chawton, would have known well?
I think you will find this post as interesting as I did. Enjoy!
One of the things that you see time and time again, is that when she reaches a point where the characters are in conversation, her hand runs smoothly – often without a pause, often without a mistake, often without a slip or correction. In other passages where she’s setting up a scene or introducing a new character and having to describe him with some detail – before he actually becomes animated by conversation – those are the passages she struggles with. But she does come through in the manuscripts as essentially and most confidently a conversational novelist.” – Katheryn Sutherland, speaking about Austen’s original manuscripts at the British Library.
In the following interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, Sutherland discusses the manuscripts, now compiled in a digital archive.
Prof. SUTHERLAND: There are very few authors that we put in this extraordinary position where we feel that we should never say anything critical about them. She can stand up to it. She’s interesting. She’s experimental. She’s an extraordinary writer. The idea that we can never question what she wrote I think is absolute nonsense.
KELLY: Professor Sutherland, so how different do these handwritten pages look from the finished books that we know?
Prof. SUTHERLAND: Well, they look very different, obviously, in that they are filled with blots, crossings out into linear insertions. When you look deeper you perhaps find something you wouldn’t expect, which is a different punctuation style.
KELLY: A different punctuation style. How – what do you mean?
Prof. SUTHERLAND: Well, it seems to mean that what she is doing is punctuating for speech. The English that she is known for is this polished, printed Johnsonian prose. And it’s not there in the manuscript.
The controversy that Katheryn Sutherland stirred up when she published her ideas about Jane Austen’s writing style, is very telling. It highlighted, in the many shocked responses, the unthinking, emotionally charged fan worship that surrounds Austen. Sutherlands measured, researched views should have been a reality check, a cold shower cooling the heated, emotional, overwrought world of modern day Janites stoked to a white heat by the many branches of various Jane Austen Societies around the world. The now numerous films and TV adaptations and especially the wet shirt scene and also, in addition, the spin off genre epitomized recently in the film,” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” keep this unhealthy adoration at fever pitch.
Thinking about Sutherlands comments relating to Jane Austen’s use of the comma, her lack of paragraphing and her speech being her strong point, I thought it would be interesting to take it a stage further and write a piece from one of her novels using Hampshire phrases and colloquialisms and also being creative with punctuation and paragraphing as Sutherland says Austen’s original manuscripts demonstrate. Also her original manuscripts had, and you can see this in any publication of Sandition or The Watsons, a prolific use of abbreviations and ampersands.
I am Hampshire born and bred and up until the age of 23 lived in Southampton. I have often visited places like Winchester, Salisbury and villages such as Bishops Waltham and Botley and throughout my life, heard the Hampshire dialect spoken. My families neighbours in Southampton all spoke with pronounced Hampshire accents and used phrases and words that were peculiar to Hampshire.
It is a warm, gentle sort of accent with a soft burr to it. The letter S is often pronounced as Z. The letter H is often missed off when pronouncing a word and the G at the end of the suffix ing is missed. Words like, you, become, yer and, he, becomes ee, was is wuz, man, is , bloke, I ,is ,oy, and if you want to insult somebody you call them, mush. Vowels are flattened. The Hampshire way of speaking can easily be understood by outsiders, however. It is clearly spoken and the differences from accepted pronunciation are not great. You could not mistake somebody speaking with a Hampshire accent and using Hampshire colloquialisms, as coming from anywhere else but Hampshire.
In the following rewriting of the first proposal of his love to Elizabeth, I have tried to interpret what Darcy and Elizabeth say using Hampshire colloquialisms. I must admit I have not just kept to a Hampshire way of speaking. I have not enough expertise to do that. What follows is probably a mixture of various English dialetcs and mannerisms. But it was fun to do. I hope you can enjoy it. If you are challenged as far as an English accent, particularly a colloquial accent goes, make your sounds flat. Widen your mouth as you speak. You are not trying to create a ,”plummy,” upper class accent but the flat vowels of a regional accent. Good luck.
Here is Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, being surprised by an unexpected visitor and a very unexpected proposal:
….she was suddenly roused by the sound of the doorbell, and her spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of it being Colonel Fitzwilliam himself, who had once before called late in the evening, and might now come to enquire particularly after her.
“ Oo cud that be now?”
But this idea was soon banished, and her spirits were differently affected, when, to her utter amazement, she saw Mr Darcy walk into the room. In an unhurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health,
“Owz you be me dear?”
imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility.
“Oyz orright. Thank ee fer azzkin.”
He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began,
“Ize a bin struggling wi meslf Lizzie. It won’t do nay more. Me feelins will not be squarshed unner no dead rabbit nay mar. Yee mussle allowz me t’ tell yee ‘ow, wi some power’ul emotion me admires and loves ee.”
Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression.
“Ahhh eeee !!!”
She stared, coloured, doubted and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement, and the avowal of all that he felt and had long felt for her, immediately followed.
He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride.
“Me pride makes eet hard Liz to tell ee these ere things but I knows how low down ee must feel agin me and me family. It’ll tak summit for ‘em all to coom roun’ to this ere idea Liz. It is nay degradation Lizzie to yee and yer mum and yer dad and yer sisterz.”
In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection, and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience.
“Ize dun know what ter say? But yooz jus insulterd me family and all a uz!”
He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand.
“Ize a cannot help meself Lizzie. Ize a feelin anxious like. Ize a feeling appre’ennersive like. Marry me ! I got these ere feelins see girl.”
As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther, and when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and she said,
“In sich as this, it is ‘stablished thing t’express a sense a obligati’n fer the sen’imen’s avowed, ‘owever unequalz they be. It’s nat’ral that obligati’n should be felt, and if ay could feel grat’tude, I’d now thank ee. But ay can’t – I’ve ne’r wannered yer good thoughts like, and yee’ve cert’nly bin unwillin’ aven’t ee . I’ze sorry if ay cause ee some ‘art ache. I aint ment it like, ‘ Ize ope ee gets overit quick like. The feelin’s which, yee tell I, ‘ave long stopped ee, yee can ‘ave no difficulty overcoming em after what yee have sed like.”
Mr Darcy, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips, till he believed himself to have attained it. The pause was to Elizabeth’s feelings dreadful…
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics 1996) book 2 chapter 11
- The English Project http://www.englishproject.org/
- Katheryn Sutherland’s interview for NPR (National Public Radio): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=
I found more information about British dialects online (Vic):
The English Language in Hampshire: The English Project. http://www.englishproject.org/resources/english-language-hampshire
Jane Austen’s English: http://dialectblog.com/2013/03/23/jane-austens-english/. Unfortunately, there was no audio portion to the descriptions of the broad “a” in this article.
British Library: Survey of British Accents. This short audio sample was recorded in 1958. The speaker was born in 1898 and lived in Hatherden, Hampshire – http://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/Survey-of-English-dialects/021M-C0908X0031XX-0400V1
A Linguist Explains What Old-School British Accents Sounded Like: The Toast http://the-toast.net/2014/03/19/a-linguist-explains-british-accents-of-yore/. This article includes a 10-minute video on how Shakespearean English sounded as compared to the British dialect today. Fascinating.
A Linguist Explains What Old-School British Accents Sounded Like: All Things Linguistic
http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/80067476348/a-linguist-explains-what-old-school-british. A bit more on the topic by the same author.