Expanded detail

Last fragment! This one's a little different to the others:

Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment, by having slighted one of her daughters.

Whose dislike of

Let's look at the way Austen uses a nominalisation—a verb that's been turned into a noun.

Nominalisations are common in academic writing, but not in contemporary speech. Compare these options:

  • She disliked, vs
  • Her dislike of

Turning dislike into a noun instead of a verb increases that sense of detachment that we keep seeing, and it drives the rest of the noun group into a prepositional phrase ('of' functioning as a preposition):

  • ...Mrs Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour 

The whole noun group then leads into an action and an expansion:

  • ...Mrs Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment, by having slighted one of her daughters.

Compare that to what we might say if we started with a more 'normal' verb construction:

  • ...Mrs Bennet, who disliked his general behaviour, and particularly resented the way he had slighted one of her daughters.

Can you find a way to turn an action into a noun, and see how it affects the rest of the sentence?

Notice how Mrs. Bennet is the subject of the sentence, but she appears at the end of a long qualifier (in this case, a prepositional phrase):

  • Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet...

Contemporary phrasing, unless we put some effort into it, would probably lead with the subject's name:

  • Mrs. Bennet was among the most violent against him...

What's the effect of front-loading the sentence with the prepositional phrase instead of the name?

It changes the order in which information is released to us. Instead of focusing on Mrs. Bennet and then hearing about how angry she was, we get a kind of zoom effect: first a group of people violently against Mr. Darcy, and then Mrs. Bennet is revealed like a tiny surprise.

Let's try our knitting example:

Carole-Ann really couldn’t stand her, saying she was a no-good recipe-stealing busybody who was better off with the old bats who played bridge on Tuesdays.

The member who could least stand her presence was Carole-Ann, whose disapproval of her politics hardened into a hatred of her mascara, which she whispered would be tacky even for a teenager.

Our assassin example already started with a qualifier (this time an adverbial phrase, since 'most' is an adverb not a preposition).

But what can we do about nominalising the central verb group?

Most opposed to his continued life was Elspeth, who was the first to put a strike against his name after he chose to infiltrate the Palazzo dressed as a noblewoman instead of going through the sewers like everyone else.

Most opposed to his continued living was Elspeth, whose initial irritation at his under-baked plans to stay alive became an obsession with her own overly-elaborate plans to bring him to an ugly end, his having insisted one too many times that she needed to be more ‘chill’.

If you look back at the original snippet, you'll notice that Austen uses symmetry again here: general behaviour vs particular resentment.

We've talked about symmetry at a paragraph level—the way this passage compares two characters—but we haven't talked about symmetry at a sentence level. It is another common pattern you see in Austen's writing.

We won't elaborate on it here; but if you feel like having a go at creating a similar symmetrical statement give it a go. You'll see we tried to do it in the assassin example above.

  • See if you can turn your central verb into a noun, and then play with the impact on the rest of the sentence.
  • If your sentence starts with the subject, see if you can move them further along and move some other content forwards to be a qualifier. (Think about that idea of using a zooming camera move: starting wide and zooming into the subject, or starting close and zooming out.)
Revise your original variation to capture a more Austen-like voice.