And what are you reading, Miss—?" "Oh! it is only a novel!" replies the young lady
in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.
This passage comes from Volume I, Chapter V, when the narrator gives a long and fervent defense of novel-reading. In Austen's time, novels were looked down upon by many people, especially people of the upper classes. The young Jane Austen, writing her first novel, likely felt she had to launch a preemptive strike against critics who would disparage her work. This passage is one of the few places where the narrator makes a long address to the reader. By the second half of the novel, the narrator will have given over to Austen's famous free indirect discourse style of narration.