Sunday, August 18, 2013

Austen/Montaigne Essay

This is my essay comparing (but not "contrasting" because that's redundant! Whoever knows which teacher I'm referencing gets a cookie) Austen and Montaigne.

As David Foster Wallace wrote, "What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant." Michel de Montaigne's writing style in his Essays is a good example of this idea; however, Jane Austen's style in Pride and Prejudice is the exact opposite.

In his Essays, Montaigne writes as he thinks, sometimes even changing his viewpoint on the issue at hand to one opposite of the one he started with, so the reader can see his difficulty in writing as fast as he is thinking. In his fourth essay, "How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects," he leads with an example and develops a thesis, and then rapidly recounts eight more examples in succession. Many of the examples seem to be rushed, showing that Montaigne's mind is racing as he writes them. In his first essay, "We reach the same end by discrepant means," he begins with one viewpoint but ends with another. It's possible that the audience never gets to see his full ideas on his first thesis because he changes his opinion partway through.

However, in Pride and Prejudice, Austen has a completely different style; her writing is premeditated and concise. Each scene is complete in its description, and there are always transitions between scenes so it is clear that Austen has written everything she intended to.

The difference between Montaigne's and Austen's styles probably arises from their different genres. Montaigne is writing about his thoughts, and no matter how much he writes there will always be something more because he is always thinking. In contrast, Austen is writing a story, and a sequence of events is more easily expressed than a sequence of thoughts. Technically, she could write more to add more detail, but it is easy for a novelist to see when more detail would become superfluous.

David Foster Wallace's quote is well-supported by Montaigne's writing style in his Essays, but not in Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Because of their different genres, Montaigne's and Austen's writing styles are different: Montaigne's style is sometimes haphazard because no amount of writing can do justice to his thoughts, while Austen's style is clear and concise, following the sequence of her story's events.

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