Pride and Prejudice – 200th Anniversary

Jane Austen
Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

This must be one of the most familiar opening lines in English literature.  28 January 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of  Jane’ Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice title page
Pride and Prejudice title page

Regularly voted in the top ten of the nations’ favourite books and topping the poll on World Book Day 2007, it is probably the most read novel in English. Our special anniversary blog posts this week celebrate the book and the Regency world in which it is set as well as highlighting all the amazing resources we have.

Jane Austen (1775- 1817) began writing the novel in August 1796 and finished the first three volume version within a year. It was called First Impressions and she was just 21 years of age.

In 1797 her father, George Austen offered the manuscript for publication but it was  rejected without even being seen. Over the next few years  family and friends read the novel and during this time Jane began to  rewrite it or as she put it she ‘ lopt and cropt’  the text making it much tauter.  The most significant changes occurred  in 1811-12. Jane herself  commented that she intended the book to be ‘ light , bright and sparkling’. She was forced to change the name of the novel  following the publication of another work with the same title in 1801. Jane chose a new title Pride and Prejudice a phrase she took from a work by Fanny Burney.

Unlike her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility,  which was published on a  commission basis and for which she received profits for each copy sold, for this, her second novel she sold the copyright outright to Thomas Egerton for £110. Priced at 18 shillings the first edition published in three hardback volumes quickly sold out and a second edition was published in November 1813. This meant that Jane did not receive any profits and it is estimated that she lost about £450 as a result of selling the copyright. It was re-published again in 1817.

Her work was much admired by contemporaries including Sir Walter Scott and the Prince Regent but she remained relatively unknown in her lifetime. Her literary  reputation has  grown over the years and to date it has been estimated that over 20 million copies of the book have been printed.

That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.

Walter Scott, Journal, 14 March 1826

As you will see from a future blog post, versions of the story have been done in the theatre, television and film. There are also and contemporary authors that have  used the work  as the basis for their own novels, most recently  P.D. James has used Pemberley as a setting for one her mysteries and there is also a zombie version, called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  by Seth Grahame- Smith.

Jane Austen: 'Offended two or three young ladies', illustration from Pride and Prejudice, 1894 edition
Jane Austen: ‘Offended two or three young ladies’, illustration from Pride and Prejudice, 1894 edition

If you have never read this book  I strongly recommend it,  or why not re-read it  to celebrate  the 200th anniversary of this wonderful book.

Karen Ullesperger, Triborough Reference Manager
Karen Ullesperger

Karen Ullersperger

Triborough Reference Manager

Source materials:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library)
  • Cambridge  introduction to Jane Austen by Janet Todd (Cambridge University Press) 2009
  • Chambers Biographical Dictionary available via Credo Reference (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library)
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