Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice there’s an odd phrase. Lydia has gone with the militia to Brighton, as a guest of the Colonel’s wife, and the Bennet family are waiting for her letters,
but her letters were always long expected, and always very short. Those to her mother, contained little else, than …the library …officers … a new gown… a new parasol …was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry.
Her letters to her sister Kitty are rather longer but ‘were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.’ (vol. 2, ch 19)
The phrase is usually taken to mean underlining as a form of emphasis – if Lydia was emailing today, I just know she would use Comic Sans and too many exclamation marks!!! – but it always puzzled me, and I think I discovered exactly what Jane Austen meant one day back in the 1990s when I was reading some family letters outside Braidwood. Continue reading