Jane Austen’s Double Negatives

I’ve been reading Mansfield Park and noticed all the double negatives. I did a cursory search online about it and some messaging boards and books online have passages about her use of the double negatives for characters that are “hollow.” Others also wrote that the double negatives can be used to emphasize and in some contexts, provide irony. I thought the use of double negatives was annoying and pointless.

Honestly, I wanted to stop reading. Halfway through, I realized a possible value to them: Fanny Price is a double negative and having us read in double negatives allows the reader to get into her psyche. As a character, Fanny is always doubting herself and her place in the world. As I read through those damn double negatives, I realized that I was halting and stopping to try to figure out what was going on. I think that for much of the book, that is what Fanny is doing: trying to figure out what is going on in her life, who she is, where she stands. The double negatives provide a discomfort that brings readers closer to Fanny’s level of insecurity.

Why I am reading this book: I had a fight with a friend and needed to find answers. If I find them and make sense of them, I might write about it some time. It wasn’t a serious fight–funny actually. Perhaps I’ll share if it ever becomes worth telling.

Right now, I’m curious to see if Austen’s use of double negatives change later in the book.


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