Skip to main content

The debut of Pride and Prejudice

A watercolor portrait of Jane Austen,
done in 1804 by her sister Cassandra

January is a banner month for Jane Austen fans like me – and if you’re reading this blog, I suspect you’re one of us, too. Towards the end of January 1813, Pride and Prejudice was published to the everlasting delight of millions of future readers.

Of course, it was published anonymously, but that wasn't unusual for women writers then. There were a few published female authors (Maria Edgeworth, author of Castle Rackrent, Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, to name two) around this time, but literature, like most other intellectual pursuits, was a predominantly male domain.

And, I suspect it took critics a while to consider Jane Austen the literary heavyweight she is, and fully appreciate her work. In fact, when I was a college student some years ago, Austen didn’t make it into the 2-volume Norton Anthology of English Literature (3rd edition) I had to study as part of my English major curriculum. The books, which together contained over 4,000 pages, covered English literature from the Middle Ages to the mid-20th century, but apparently, there was no place in all those pages for Austen.

But back to Pride and Prejudice  - though published in 1813, Jane may have actually written it as far back as 1796. Initially, the book was titled First Impressions, and her family liked it so much that in the autumn of 1797 her father George sent his daughter’s manuscript (perhaps without her knowledge) to a London publisher, Thomas Cadell. Cadell rejected the book in the most dismissive way – he sent it back like a boomerang marked “Declined by return of post.”

And thus Cadell joined the ranks of publishers who rejected books that would go on to become best-sellers, a no-doubt rueful group that includes the publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Stephen King's Carrie, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick, among a legion of others.
Pride and Prejudice was not Jane’s first published work. Jane’s brother Henry Austen helped her get Sense and Sensibility published in 1811, anonymously, of course – the byline reads “By a Lady.”

And when Pride and Prejudice was published two years later (after Jane revised and retitled her First Impressions manuscript) its byline read “By the author of 'Sense and Sensibility'.”

The original title page of Pride and Prejudice

Before her death in July of 1817, Austen saw two other books published, though still anonymously. Mansfield Park was published in 1814, and Emma came out in 1815. Following Jane's death, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously as a set in 1817.

As part of the Northanger Abbey/Persuasion set, Henry included a tribute to his sister, identifying her as the author of the books. But it wasn’t until Persuasion was published in France, in French, in 1821 that Jane Austen’s name appeared on the title page of one of her books.

In addition to the published novels written entirely by Jane, there are other three other manuscripts published under her name, one that she wrote but never tried to publish herself Lady Susan (published in 1871), and two that were unfinished manuscripts completed by others, The Watsons (1871), and Sanditon (1925).

But Pride and Prejudice remains Jane’s most popular novel. Since its publication, it’s sold over 20 million copies and never been out of print. (Take that, Norton Anthology of English Literature!) Austen's work has been adapted almost more times than I can count, especially if you add all the books and films that have used its title and theme as a starting point before veering off into uncharted territory. (More on the adaptations this Friday.).

The most recent movie adaptation (that doesn’t feature zombies) is the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. The critical reviews were good and the scenery was gorgeous, but for me, the best casting of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy was not Knightley and Macfadyen but rather Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC TV mini-series.  

Here’s a popular scene from the mini-series, an unexpected and awkward meeting between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at Darcy’s Pemberley estate, in which both he and she have reason to be embarrassed:

Happy 205th publication anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


  1. I have read the book at least twice, and seen both the versions of the movie that you mentioned. I love the one with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen! But, I have to admit, that Colin Firth is very, very handsome and I have trouble resisting him in anything! So, I really liked that version too! That's it! I'm not going to choose!

    I think the reason why the book is so popular is not only because it is so well written, but because we can all relate to it. Relationships are difficult at best, and we all have little prejudices that we try, unsuccessfully, to hide!

  2. That's a great insight, Kay. Thanks for contributing to my blog!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The end of the Holy Roman Empire, or what happens when the Empire doesn't strike back

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang  but a whimper T.S. Eliot wasn't actually describing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire when he wrote those words in his poem, “The Hollow Men.” Nonetheless, his words are an extremely apt way to describe the end of the Holy Roman Empire, which ended quietly with a stroke of a pen exactly 212 years ago in August of 1806. That’s when the last emperor decided it was his duty to abdicate, letting the ancient dominion under his protection dissolve rather than allow Napoleon to usurp the role of Holy Roman Emperor and everything that came with it. Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor By that August the end of the empire had become inevitable. Napoleon’s victory over Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz in December of 1805 and his formation of the Confederation of the Rhine the following July (after he convinced 16 German princes to renounce their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire and join him)

Macaroni Men and Yankee Doodles

The Spirit of '76  (original title Yankee Doodle ) by Archibald Willard, painted in the late 1800s November is a month that here in the United States is defined by food, culminating in a huge Thanksgiving Day feast. It's also the month we honor our military veterans. So I'm going to focus on both food and patriotism - especially an Italian pasta product that became synonymous with a controversial English fashion and developed uniquely American associations. "The Macaroni"- 1773 During the 18th century, it was all the rage for young men of the English nobility to take a trip through Europe to soak up its art and culture. It was called the Grand Tour. In Italy, these privileged lads discovered a pasta dish far removed from their usual British fare. It was called maccaroni , and they raved about it when they got back home. The travelers became known as the Macaroni Club, though there is no evidence an actual club ever existed. But it

The Cato Street Conspiracy

The Cato Street conspirators getting arrested Conspiracy and treason go hand in hand. Throughout history, conspirators have huddled in back rooms and dark corners in secret, concocting schemes that are both dangerous and illegal. So it’s no surprise that their plans often spiral out of control and end in disaster.  A good example of a conspiracy plot gone wrong happened during the Regency. It’s been dubbed the Cato Street Conspiracy because of where the conspirators were caught. This is a tale that, according to historian J.B. Priestley (author of The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency) “begins in absurdity and ends in horror.” The year was 1820. Though the Napoleonic Wars were over, Britain had paid a heavy price for its victory against the French. The costs of the war had strained the country’s economy. The working classes were hit hard by periods of famine, rising food prices due to the Corn Laws, and high unemployment, the latter driven by soldiers returning from th