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In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, after the regiment leaves Meryton, Lydia heads off to Brighton, where she promises to keep in touch with her family:

When Lydia went away, she promised to write very often and very minutely to her mother and Kitty; but her letters were always long expected, and always very short. Those to her mother contained little else, than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and where she had seen such beautiful ornaments as made her quite wild; that she had a new gown, or a new parasol, which she would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mrs. Forster called her, and they were going to the camp;—and from her correspondence with her sister, there was still less to be learnt—for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 42

I'm not quite sure what to make of the last line in that paragraph - about being "much too full of lines under the words" for public consumption. I'm assuming that underlines indicate emphasis, but I'm not sure what's being emphasized or why it would be specifically the emphasis that means it can't be "made public".

What is this line implying? What sort of meaning is hidden in these lines under the words that the letters can't be shown to anyone else?

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  • Presumably she told Kitty more about her personal feelings than she could tell her mother - underlined for emphasis. Feb 12 at 15:43

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It means the letters are full of phrases like "do not tell anybody this!" underlined for emphasis.

That Lydia has been sharing secrets with Kitty becomes clear later. We find out that Lydia has told Kitty about the plan to elope, or at least about her growing entanglement with Wickham. Jane's first letter telling Elizabeth about Lydia's elopement says:

An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his officers; to own the truth, with Wickham! Imagine our surprise. To Kitty, however, it does not seem so wholly unexpected.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. Preface George Saintsbury. Illustrations Hugh Thompson. London: George Allen, 1894. Accessed at Project Gutenberg, 12 February 2024. Chapter 46, p. 335.

And in her second letter, Jane writes:

Poor Kitty has anger for having concealed their attachment; but as it was a matter of confidence, one cannot wonder.

ibid., p. 337.

A matter of confidence refers to confidentiality, not self-assurance: Lydia has been telling Kitty things in confidence. So the implication of lines under the words is that Lydia is communicating private matters to Kitty, and emphasizing the need for secrecy.

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    Did Jane Austen expect most of her readers to pick up on this point? I certainly missed it, despite having read Pride and Prejudice several times.
    – Peter Shor
    Feb 12 at 23:33
  • @PeterShor Well it’s an easily overlooked detail, I guess. Given that the news of Lydia’s elopement is not only exciting in itself, but also interrupts the moment when Elizabeth’s romance with Darcy is beginning to look promising, who cares what Kitty, the least interesting of the five sisters, has been up to? But yeah, the hint is certainly there to be picked up. No?
    – verbose
    Feb 13 at 4:55

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