It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is not only my favourite Jane Austen novel, but my favourite book of all time. It was first published on this day in 1813, around sixteen and a half years since Austen first started writing it.
Pride and Prejudice began its life as First Impressions, which Austen began drafting in the October of 1796. By the August of the following year, she had completed it.
It was probably this manuscript that her father, the Reverend George Austen, offered to the publisher Cadell and Davies in a letter to them in London in November 1797. Unbelievably, it was rejected by return of post.
Austen didn’t properly return to the manuscript until 1811. Buoyed by the fact Sense and Sensibility had been published that year, she began editing First Impressions, which she did into 1812.
Of course, one of the biggest changes was the title: in the intervening years between her first drafting her manuscript and the editing process, another book had been published with the title First Impressions.
She swapped it for Pride and Prejudice, a title she had taken from Frances Burney’s 1782 novel Cecilia, where the phrase is used numerous times in the final chapter. Austen was a huge fan of Burney: her name, “Miss. J. Austen of Steventon”, can be found in the subscriber list to Burney’s novel Camilla, alongside Ann Radcliffe and Maria Edgeworth, which was published in 1796.
Thomas Egerton, who had published Sense and Sensibility, offered her £110 for the copyright of Pride and Prejudice (which meant they got to keep the profits!), and Austen accepted.
On Wednesday 27th January 1813, Austen received her advance author’s copy, which she excitedly announced to her sister Cassandra in a letter with:
“I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London”Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, January 1813
I love that phrase, “my own darling child”, so much. That evening, the night before the novel’s official publication, Austen and her mother read aloud half of the first volume in the comfort of their house at Chawton.
It was announced for sale in the Morning Chronicle on Thursday 28th January 1813, first published in three volumes that would have set you back eighteen shillings. Like her first novel, it was published anonymously, with the author line reading “By the Author of Sense and Sensibility“. It was popular, necessitating a second edition by the autumn of 1813 and a third edition not too long afterwards.
One of my favourite references in Austen’s letters about Pride and Prejudice (besides her own “darling child”), is that of May 1813 when she wrote to Cassandra of her trip to London with her brother Henry. In it, she describes visiting art exhibitions, where she hoped to see portraits that might reflect how she imagined her beloved characters.
“Henry and I went to the exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased, particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her.
I went in hopes of seeing one of her sister, but there was no Mrs Darcy; perhaps however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time; I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall, and which we are also to visit.
Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow…
Monday Eveng. We have been both to the exhibition and Sir J. Reynolds’, and I am disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs. D. at either. I can only imagine that Mr. D. prizes any picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye. I can imagine he wd. Have that sort of feeling – that mixture of love, pride and delicacy.”Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, letter from Sloane St, May 24th 1813.
So, happy Pride and Prejudice day – 209 years old, and I still ardently admire and love it as ever.
Want to explore Pride and Prejudice a little more today? Yale University’s Online Exhibition “Publication & Prejudice” explores different versions of the novel in Yale’s collection. Similarly, the University of Michigan Library has a lovely bicentennial exhibition of Austen’s life that features some fab images of different publications of Pride and Prejudice.
And, if you’re not already bored of reading things I’ve written, make sure to check out my recommendations of my favourite books about Jane Austen, and also books I think you’ll love if you enjoy Jane Austen’s novels.