Personality Types in Jane Austen: Introverts and Extroverts

By Brenda S. Cox

“The quiet, the retirement of such a life would have answered all my ideas of happiness!”—Wickham (lying) in Pride and Prejudice.

There are two kinds of people: those who split people into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. 🙂 Some love personality typing, some hate it.

Personally, I think personality types can be helpful as we seek to understand ourselves and others. But I’m also aware it can be harmful. We don’t want to use it to put people in boxes, or judge them based on what we think their type is. Each person is a unique and special creation. But, we also have many things in common with each other, and many things that are different.

Sometimes classifying our differences can help us accept them. My husband is an extrovert and I am an introvert. We know that about each other. So, a day of rest to him might involve having people over for a meal and hanging out all day. For me a day of rest might involve reading a book by myself. If we’re going to be together on rest days, we might want to have half a day of one type of activity and half a day of the other. Or one weekend we might have people over and one weekend not. When we recognize and accept our differences we can work them out together, rather than criticizing or complaining about each other.

Of course, Jane Austen’s characters are so real to us that it’s fun to consider what their personality types are. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at some different ways to classify personality. Let’s start today with a popular one: introverts and extroverts. (Some people spell it extraverts; either way works.)

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Introverted Fanny Price sits alone. But even introverts eventually want company!

Like most personality types, this is really a continuum. Some are extremely introverted, some are extremely extroverted, but most of us are somewhere in between.

All of us can focus externally on people, things, and activities. And all of us can focus internally on thoughts, feelings, imagination, and ideas. But which we prefer, and which one refreshes us most often, makes us more of an introvert or more of an extrovert. (This idea is from the book Introverts in the Church.)

In Austen’s novels, I see introvert/extrovert pairs, either as romantic partners or as rivals. In Pride and Prejudice we find introverted Darcy and extroverted Elizabeth, and introverted Jane and extroverted Bingley. In Emma we have John Knightley and Mr. Weston. Let’s look at some characteristics of introverts and extroverts (taken from Susan Cain’s book Quiet) as we see them in Austen’s novels.

Introverts enjoy solitude, Extroverts prefer socializing

As an introvert myself, I love what John Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law, says when the family is invited to the Westons on a snowy evening:

“A man . . . must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow . . . The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home—and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! . . .” That’s the introvert talking. Preferring to stay home, feeling that a party is tiresome and exhausting.

Mr. Weston, on the other hand, has “an active, cheerful mind and social temper.” John Knightley says that Weston depends on “society for his comforts, that is, upon the power of eating and drinking, and playing whist with his neighbours five times a week” rather than on being at home quietly with his family.

Emma gives us another introvert/extrovert pair.  Jane Fairfax is an introvert: quiet and reserved. Frank Churchill is quite different: a very social, talkative extrovert. But as Jane Austen often shows us, opposites attract!

Sense_and_Sensibility_Illustration_Chap_12 Hugh Thomson He cut off a long lock of her hair
Extroverted Willoughby is not shy to ask Marianne for a lock of her hair, although they are not engaged.
Introverts tend to be quieter and more serious, Extroverts tend to be more talkative and excitable.

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne first falls in love with an extrovert, Willoughby. “Willoughby was a young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners.” In other words, he talked to people easily and freely—sometimes too much.

Colonel Brandon, on the other hand, is a quiet introvert. Marianne dismisses him as being without “genius, taste, [or] spirit. . . his understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardour, and his voice no expression.”

We find in the end, though, that Colonel Brandon is the one with true and steady feelings. Willoughby’s feelings, on the other hand, are easily overcome by his desire for money.

There’s another strong extrovert in Sense and Sensibility—Sir John Middleton. He can’t stand to be alone. He’s always filling his house with people, and can’t imagine anyone wanting to be alone.  His wife is more of an introvert, described as “reserved,” but she is also “cold”; not a very pleasant character.

Wentworth gives letter to Anne
Bold Captain Wentworth gives introverted Anne a letter expressing his feelings.
Introverts prefer to avoid risks, while extroverts tend to be more bold.

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot seems to be an introvert. She’s quiet and stays in the background of her family. She is the one who called off her engagement to Captain Wentworth, on Lady Russell’s advice. She says she yielded to “persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk.” (Following the advice of a wise woman who stood in place of her mother was a path of safety.) Extroverted Captain Wentworth, on the other hand, has been boldly out on the seas, fighting and capturing enemy ships, taking risks and profiting from them.

Introverts tend to be reflective, and extroverts tend to be more active.

In Pride and Prejudice, introverted Mr. Darcy stays on the sidelines, watching, thinking, observing. Extroverted Elizabeth is with people, dancing, talking, laughing, and joking.  She doesn’t really stop to reflect until she gets Darcy’s letter after his failed proposal. Of course, his failure causes Darcy to reflect even more, and to actively change his behavior.

Elizabeth does enjoy solitary walks, so she is not a very strong extrovert. But everyone has some of both tendencies. And even a person who loves social gatherings will eventually need some time alone.

Darcy is also contrasted with Wickham, a very social, charming, extrovert, though an unprincipled one.

Jane and Bingley are another pair of opposites. Bingley is gregarious, social and outgoing. Jane is much quieter, not talking about or even showing her feelings. This creates misunderstandings between them.

Edmund, Mary on harp
Extroverted Mary Crawford loves to perform for others on her harp.
Introverts tend to be more sensitive, while extroverts tend to be more thick-skinned.

Introverted Fanny Price of Mansfield Park is quite sensitive. Any hint of criticism can bring her to tears. Extroverted Mary Crawford, though, brazens her way through. When she wrongs Fanny by keeping Fanny’s horse too long, she claims, “Selfishness must be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

Introverts may be more gentle and modest, while Extroverts may be more confident and assertive.

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland might be an introvert, though not an extreme one. She loves to spend time in her books and in her imagination. Henry Tilney seems to be more outgoing and extroverted. Catherine is certainly gentle and modest, never rating herself very high. Henry, on the other hand, self-confidently teases, makes ironic remarks, and shows off his knowledge and understanding to his sister and Catherine. (Introverted Darcy is definitely an exception to this characteristic!)

Do you agree with how I have classified these characters? What other strong introverts or extraverts you see in Austen’s novels?

I’m an introvert. I can learn from Catherine Morland that it can be dangerous to spend too much time in your own head.  From Darcy I learn that people may more easily misunderstand you if you don’t speak up and tell them what you’re thinking. Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? In that respect, what Austen character do you most relate to? Can you learn any lessons from them?

Resources
  • Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, by Anne Bogel. I love this book. The author explores many kinds of personality typing, and tells us how she’s used them and how they’ve helped her in her own life. Very practical. Her chapters include: Introverts/Extraverts; HSPs (we’ll talk about this in a future post); love languages; Keirsey’s temperaments (next in this series); Myers-Briggs; Strengthsfinder; and the Enneagram (which we’ll also talk about later).
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. This is a very popular classic, with great insights. My favorite idea from this book is that introverts can act like extroverts for limited periods of time. This happens when they are doing something they are passionate about, like teaching others on a topic they care about. They may, however, periodically go and hide in the bathroom for awhile!
  • Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh does an excellent job defining introversion and extraversion. And, uniquely, I think, he explores the role of introverts in the modern American church, and why we often feel like we don’t fit in. I highly recommend it for church leaders as well as for “introverts in the church.”

5 thoughts on “Personality Types in Jane Austen: Introverts and Extroverts

  1. The way you present things, all of the introvert characters are positive – only extrovert characters show selfishness (e.g. Willoughby, Mary Crawford), or errors of judgement (Elizabeth Bennet, Emma, Frank). I think it is fairly true of the majority of Jane Austen’s characters – the introvert ones are the more esteemed and appreciated by her. But this is not 100% true. Mr. Bennet is definitely an introvert, and he is also at fault – not by doing wrong things, but by neglecting to do the right things, like care for his family’s economic future and restrain his younger daughters. Sir Bertram is another case in point – preferring the quietness of a family gathering, and even then rarely seen in the drawing room, but neglecting to care for the moral education of his children. It seems that the division of introvert-extravert is parallel to a division of passive-active, for good or ill.

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  2. That’s an interesting observation, Tali. Thanks for pointing it out.
    I tend to relate to the introverts more, so perhaps see the positives more easily. I don’t know if Austen herself was an introvert or an extrovert; perhaps she was somewhere in between. But many writers are introverts, since writing requires a lot of time alone.
    I did mention Lady Middleton above, who is an introvert but definitely a more selfish, cold character.
    I think all of Austen’s main characters are well-rounded–we see both their strengths and their flaws. Bingley, the quintessential extrovert, has many great qualities, though he is also easily led. Mr. Weston, another strong extrovert, we see very positively. The only possible flaw I can think of is that he doesn’t always see people clearly–he thinks the best of people, which is Jane Bennet’s strength as an introvert. Catherine Morland, Darcy, and Fanny Price, mentioned above, are all introverts who have some major flaws (gullibility, pride, timidity).
    I was trying to explain the differences between introverts and extroverts using Austen’s characters as illustrations, rather than to explain the strengths and weaknesses of each character. But thanks for providing a needed balance.
    Neither introversion nor extroversion is good or bad in itself. Both introverts and extroverts can have good and bad facets of their characters. And all the introverts mentioned can be active about things important to them–for example, when Fanny refuses to be in the play, and refuses to marry Henry, she is not just passively submitting to circumstances. But the introverts are perhaps not as “busy,” not as out-and-about, as the extroverts tend to be. What do you think?

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    1. Yes, your description is more balanced than I saw it. Darcy is certainly an introvert, and his faults are certainly in commission – he is unbearably rude, both at the dance and in his first proposal. But most introverts’ faults are in omission – lady Middleton in passivity, Mr. Bennet in withdrawal. However, introverts can definitely be good, kind people in an active way – both Fanny and Anne are introverts, and they are both very considerate and caring – Fanny to lady Bertram, Anne to Mary – as well as boundary setters – Fanny in refusing to take part in the play and refusing to marry Crawford, Anne in refusing to consider marrying Mr. Elliot. But the extroverts’ faults are more in commission – Willoughby in seducing Eliza and then courting Marianne without serious intentions, Crawford flirting with the Bertram girls and then courting Fanny, again without any serious intention, Wickham in attempting to elope with Georgianna and then eloping with Lydia. These are all active steps.
      Bottom line – no division is clear cut – as you said at the beginning of your presentation!

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  3. Great observations, again, Tali! I think we might generalize and say that Austen’s worst characters–Willoughby, Wickham, John and Isabella Thorpe, Frank Churchill (though he’s not all bad), Mr. Elliot, Henry Crawford–are all extroverts. But there are also good extroverted characters, and the introverts are a mixture, like all of us!

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