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Abstract

In his "Biographical Notice" of Jane Austen, her brother Henry wrote, "She read aloud with very great taste and effect. Her own works, probably, were never heard to so much advantage as from her own mouth; for she partook largely in all the best gifts of the comic muse."l Henry was not the only witness to praise Austen's skill as a reader, and her pleasure in reading aloud is hinted at by the numerous descriptions of readings in her novels and letters. When the first copy of Pride and Prejudice arrived from the printer, though they had a guest, the Austens "set fairly at it, and read half the first vol. to her." Perhaps Jane was reading that night, for she was certainly happy with the performance. A week later, though, she wrote, "Our second evening's reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I believe something must be attributed to my mother's too rapid way of getting on: though she perfectly understands the characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought." A fine reader herself, a frequent one, and one with decided notions of what constitutes excellence, Austen almost certainly wrote her novels anticipating that they would be read aloud. This paper will examine the ways in which the performance practice of reading informs important aspects of Pride and Prejudice.

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