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The Use Of ‘Ardent’ In Three Classical Novels

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

A drawing of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra

I’ve been reading fiction from the 1700s for a few months now – first Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline and then Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote – and every time the adjective ‘ardent’ is used, my mind goes back to the famous scene from Pride And Prejudice. Or, more specifically, Colin Firth’s Darcy bursting into the room to say the adverb version of the word to Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie Bennet.

The word is used incredibly often in these two books, and having never to my knowledge encountered it outside of old works of fiction, I thought I’d look into it. And perhaps add it to my vocabulary for a short time; that sort of thing can be, to use a phrase going out of fashion, jolly good fun.

The origins are 1300s and Latin (ārdent, from ārdēns, ‘to burn’). It replaced the Middle English ‘ardant’. I don’t suppose the list below is particularly needed – ‘ardent’ is one of those words where the meaning is quite obvious – but in order to fully account for it, here is the list of meanings, from Dictionary.com:

  1. having, expressive of, or characterized by intense feeling; passionate; fervent: an ardent vow; ardent love.
  2. intensely devoted, eager, or enthusiastic; zealous: An ardent theatergoer. An ardent student of French history.
  3. vehement; fierce: They were frightened by his ardent, burning eyes.
  4. burning, fiery, or hot: The ardent core of a star.

I think it’s fair to say Austen, and Firth, were looking to use them all.

To my knowledge we don’t really use ‘ardent’ any more; as I said, I’ve never heard it outside of older fiction (or, adaptations of those books), but that’s a very subjective statement, so I looked it up. Using the information I had – that it seemed to be very much in favour in the 1700s – 1750s-80s, if we look at the publishing dates of Emmeline and The Female Quixote – as well as Pride And Prejudice‘s 1813, I found a Google application that produces charts for words. Here we have ‘ardent’ used far more than ‘ardently’ (to be expected) peaking twice, in 1801 and again in 1835 before decreasing first slowly to 1850 and then drops steadily over time. The pretty fast increase from the early 1700s until that first peak aligns with the mid-1700s.

Dates to be considered: 1752 (Charlotte Lennox), 1788 (Charlotte Smith), 1813 (Jane Austen).

(Usage in the two centuries before this was very hit and miss. The graph suggested the early Tudors weren’t too keen for what appears to be a new word, and the late Tudors and Stuarts couldn’t make up their minds whether to use it or not.)

Looking at ‘ardent’ led to only a short bout of research, as I thought it would – I was looking at something particular, after all – but it’s nevertheless been fascinating. The word itself, and the other possibilities for study I’ve picked up from these two 1700s novels are interesting, which is quite at odds with the reading experience itself – poignant but poorly executed in Smith’s case, and highly frivolous and seemingly simple in Lennox’s case.

What are your favourite rarely-now-used words?

 
 

Jeanne

April 18, 2018, 9:05 pm

When I think of the word “ardent” I think of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” with its devastating use of the word in its almost-penultimate line: “children ardent for some desperate glory.”

Lisbeth @ The Content Reader

April 19, 2018, 8:02 am

Very interesting article. Yes, we will never forget this scene and Colin Firths interpretation. It is a lovely word, quite sincere and respectful I think.
I have a word I ran into in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I cannot remember it now, typical, but I think it is used also today, but there are more modern words. I will check it up and get back to you.

Tracy Terry

April 20, 2018, 2:33 pm

Fascinating post., thank you. I do love learning the origins of words and especially words that are no longer in common usage

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