by: Jane Austen

Chapters 34–36

Our experience of the dinner party is also enlivened by Austen’s depiction of the absurdity that often characterizes forced social dialogue. The conversation between Mrs. Elton and Mr. Weston is full of ridiculous, discontinuous shifts of topic. Mrs. Elton continually turns the conversation to the topic of herself and her relations, and Mr. Weston is every bit as determined to turn the conversation back to his son, at one point jumping in when Mrs. Elton is interrupted by a coughing fit. Mrs. Elton’s affected airs are completely lost on Mr. Weston—when she protests that her sister is “no fine lady,” she means that her sister is not overly fussy, but Mr. Weston takes her quite literally. Mrs. Elton’s affected speech and her tactic of fishing for compliments reinforces our sense of her superficiality, while Mr. Weston’s remarks suggest that there is something a little automatic and absentminded in his perpetual sociability.