AP Literature and Composition
“Single women have a
dreadful propensity for
being poor – which is one
very strong argument in
favour of matrimony.” –
Jane Austen, 1816
Novel = an extended fictional prose narrative, derived
from the Italian novella, meaning “tale, piece of news”
= a rather long story, filled with many characters
and subplots, interlaced with motifs, symbols, and
themes, with time and space to develop
interrelationships and to present descriptive passages
 Over
600 years, the novel has been classified
into different subjects: the detective novel,
psychological novel, etc. as well as into
modes like realism, romanticism,
expressionalism, naturalism, or neoclassicism
Subplots often parallel or serve as counterpoints to
the main plot line, serving to enhance the central
story. Minor characters have essentially the same
conflicts and goals as the major characters, but the
consequences or outcomes may seem less important.
Nevertheless, seeing the parallels makes
understanding the major plot line less difficult.
Readers should take their cue from chapter divisions:
the author must have had some reason for them. We
need to ask what that reason might be. When authors
alternate from the “real” story and peripheral or
parallel stories, look for the pattern of such
organization; try to see the interrelationships of these
alternating chapters.
The protagonist struggles toward or for someone or
something; the ant(i)agonist struggles against someone or
something. There are several possible conflicts (man vs.
man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. himself) and
more than one may occur at once, but one is usually
Stock characters exist because the plot demands them.
A character may be a stereotype (a librarian chuckling over
her prized books, a football player who is all brawn).
Characters often serve as foils for other characters,
enabling us to see one or more of them better (Tom
Sawyer’s Romanticism vs. Huck Finn’s Realism).
Sometimes characters are allegorical, standing for qualities
or concepts rather than for actual personages.
A topic is a phrase (man’s inhumanity to man,
the fickle nature of fate). A theme turns a phrase
into a statement (man’s inhumanity to man is
barely concealed by ‘civilization’). A small change
in the plot can change the theme.
 A motif is a detail or element of the story which
is repeated throughout, and which may even
become symbolic. A medical show, with many
scenes alternately set in the hospital waiting
room and operating room, uses elements such as
the pacing, anxious parent or loved one, etc. This
is a motif, a detail that helps to convince the
reader that this story occurs in a hospital and
that the mood is tense.
The four elements of plot, character, theme, and
setting are intertwined and largely
interdependent. A work must really be read as a
whole, rather than dissected and analyzed in
discrete segments.
 Style involves language (word choice), syntax
(word order, sentence type and length), the
balance between narration and dialogue, the
choice of narrative voice (first person participant,
third person with limited omniscience), use of
descriptive passages, and other aspects of the
actual words on the page.
The AP exam never asks for specific information
about a novel, such as “What was Emma Bovary’s
husband’s first name?” The essay questions on novels
are generally of two types:
Those which give the student a brief excerpt from a specific
work (which may or may not be identified) and ask for a
stylistic analysis of some sort  your understanding of the
stylistic elements is more important than your familiarity
with the novel
 Those which pose a general question or problem and ask
the student to focus on one or more novels in order to
discuss the question  your familiarity with many novels
will give you more options with which to work
Example: “Many works use major images as emblems or
symbols of a character’s virtue, vice, or the transformation from
one to the other. In a well organized essay, discuss how the
author employs this technique of characterization, and show
how the images relate to the central theme of the work.”
Books often on the AP exam have in common
their significance and relevance to the human
condition, as well as their merit as literary
few middle-class women could choose not to marry or
to marry simply for love.
women could not enter occupations and earn their
own living; one might become a governess, but this
job paid little and was similar to a servant in status.
A few middle class women did write, like Jane
Austen, but they seldom made enough money to live
on, and few women inherited wealth. (Property and
money were passed down through men.)  Marriage
was the only path to financial security.
women devoted themselves to attracting a husband. A
well-rounded education was not essential, since
women would spend their time in the home.
After a short Easter holiday, when Parliament adjourned and
families returned to the country, the party season began.
These parties revolved around the deadly serious business of
marrying off the young girls of the family to eligible and
wealthy young men in what some referred to as the “marriage
A girl’s first season marked a dramatic turning point in her
life. Until she was 17 or 18 she was not considered socially
alive. At dinners when guests were present she did not speak
unless spoken to and then it was only to answer questions yes
or no.
When a girl “came out,” it meant she was formally presented
and was ready to embark on an extraordinary round of balls
and dances and other festive affairs. When Lady Dorothy
Neville came out in 1849, she attended “50 balls, 60 parties,
30 dinners, and 25 breakfasts.” All this was with a serious
goal in mind. If the girl did not get married within two to
three seasons she was considered a failure. At thirty, a
hopeless, permanent spinster.
a gentleman was always introduced to a lady,
never the other way around.
 an unmarried, under-thirty lady must never be in
the company of a man without a chaperone.
Except for a walk to church or to a park in the
early morning, she may not walk alone but
should always be accompanied by another lady, a
man, or a servant.
 a lady never dances more than three dances with
the same partner.
 a lady should never fail to acknowledge someone
after encountering them socially unless it is
absolutely necessary.
If you meet a lady who is a good friend and who
signifies that she wishes to talk to you, you turn
and walk with her if you wish to converse. You do
not make a lady stand talking in a street.
 A social inferior is always introduced to a
superior and only if the latter allows the
Dresses were high-waisted and buttoned down
the back. Frocks and other dresses were made of
muslin or other light material. White was a
popular color. Apparel was much looser and more
natural than the bell-shaped fashions that
developed later in the century. Men wore linen
shirts with stiff neckbands and vests. They also
wore high-cut, long-tailed riding coats.
P&P takes place in England in the early 1800s,
during a time known as the Regency period (this
refers to George IV, the ruler during this time – he
was a regent, or substitute monarch).
During this time, the American colonies revolted and
gained independence, the French Revolution raged,
and England faced problems with Ireland. Austen
was aware of these events and they are mentioned in
her novels, but they never play a major role.
Austen’s depictions were especially realistic because
she limited herself to the society she knew best and to
a woman’s view of the world.
P&P is Austen’s finest work; an early draft was titled
First Impressions.
Most of the novel’s action occurs in the homes of middle
and upper class families living in the countryside not far
from London.
Beginning in 1780, the Industrial Revolution had sparked
industrial growth and, therefore, social change. The result
was a new social class. As entrepreneurs began to make
money from the mechanized manufacture of commercial
goods, a class, rich but untitled, rose. While titles, land,
and old money still commanded respect, new money
allowed this newly powerful class to move upward in the
sharply delineated class structure. In P&P, the Bingley
fortune has been made from industry, a fact that Miss
Bingley would like to forget.
Mr. Bingley’s sisters in P&P want him to buy an estate.
Desirable land was often difficult to buy because such
estates were often passed down within families.
• Peerage (nobles – dukes, earls, barons). Such titles
were usually hereditary, passing from the father to
the eldest son, and if there were no son, to another
male heir. A woman who married a peer gained his
Baronets, knights: these titles were more numerous. While
baronets were hereditary, knights were not.
• Squires, other landowners who had others work their
• Farmers
Servants, agricultural laborers, industrial workers
(Most of Austen’s characters are drawn from the gentry – the
fourth level down.)
P&P opens with one of the most famous first lines in
English literature: “It is a truth universally
acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a
good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This
sentence tells us much about the author’s purpose
and attitude. It states on the novel’s main themes: the
relationship of money and marriage. It also sets an
ironic tone. The truth about the “marriage market”
was just the opposite. It was single young women who
did not possess a fortune who were most in want of a
husband. There is also humor in the fact that she
uses dignified language to describe a crude fact of life.
However, as Austen unfolds her plot and develops her
characters, it becomes clear that she views one’s
choice in marriage as a serious matter.

Novel & Pride and Prejudice Introduction