Today is the anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s most beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice. This book is considered to be one the “most-loved books” of all time and immensely enjoyed by most readers, myself included. It has sold millions and millions of copies worldwide and has been adapted over a 100 times in film, television, literature and the stage.
But behind every great book is a great history behind it. Discover the story behind the story that has touched the hearts of many generations:
The original title of Pride and Prejudice was “First Impressions”
After years of editing and revision, she changed the title to Pride and Prejudice
Thomas Lefroy May Have Been Mr. Darcy
Through a female relative, Thomas Lefroy met Jane Austen in 1796 and had a brief flirtation with one another. It has been suggested that Austen used the characteristics and qualities of Lefroy and implemented them in the creation of Mr. Darcy’s character as the courtship of Lefroy and Austen took place over a year or so Pride and Prejudice was written.
The Title Most Likely Came From A Frances Burney Novel
Frances Burney (1752-1840) published a novel in 1782 titled, Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress. The words “pride and prejudice” were repeated various times, in capital letters:
‘The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr. Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE…Yet this, however, remember, if to pride and prejudice you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to pride and prejudice you will also owe their termination: for all that I could say to Mr. Delvile, either of reasoning or entreaty”
So there is a chance that Austen may got the idea from Burney to change the title of her story to Pride and Prejudice.
Austen finished Pride and Prejudice (at the time First Impressions) when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent the manuscript to a publisher, Thomas Cadell. Cadell wrote back, asking how much it would cost “at the expense of publishing at the Author’s risk; and what you will advance for the Property of it”, which means if the book did not sell, the author would be responsible for the losses. With the Austens’ lack of social and financial influence, the manuscript was rejected and sent back. But that did not deterred Austen. She would continue editing it for the next 14 years. It was finally published in 1813, due to the success of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility. She was 37 years old.
Letters, Letters, Letters
Like the early beginnings of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice was originally supposed to in epistolary format, a story told in letters. It was common to write a novel in letter format at the time, for example Evelina by Frances Burney. However, Austen did try this format with her novella, Lady Susan, but for some reason abandoned this genre.
Like Elizabeth and Jane, Austen Was Very Close to Her Sister
Elizabeth’s and Jane’s relationship is the focal point of the novel. Austen may have based their relationship on her own sisterly bond. Cassandra, her sister, and Jane were very close. They wrote to each other every day when they were apart from one another and be at each others side, even until Jane’s death. Their mother, Cassandra Leigh, made a comment on their close relationship when they reluctantly let Jane go to school with Cassandra,
“if Cassandra’s head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too”
Austen’s name was not published on Pride and Prejudice. The novel was published anonymously, just like her other novels. The title page would only say “By a Lady”. It would also say “by the author of Sense and Sensibility”. It wasn’t until her death that her brother revealed to the public her true status.
Austen Worried It Wasn’t Serious Enough
The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling…It wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had.”
Austen was worried that Pride and Prejudice would not be taken as a serious work. We now see it as a great satire of 18th century society. However, Austen was nervous that it would be perceived as frivolous. Eventually, Austen came to look at the novel with great pride, even referring to it as her “darling child”. Her praises extended to the character of Elizabeth:
“I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.”
Austen Sold Her Copyright for £110…but she asked for £150
Austen took a risk. She sold the copyright of Pride and Prejudice to her publisher, Thomas Egerton for £110, even though she asked for £150. Selling the copyright meant that she forfeited any risk involved with the book in the future. But it also meant that any profits going along with the book would Egerton’s, not Austen’s. The book became a bestseller instantaneously.
Not Everyone Loved Pride and Prejudice
Although Pride and Prejudice is considered to be a well-loved book, it did not receive a warm reception from everyone. Here are what some famous authors wrote about the novel:
Charlotte Brontë – “Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point…And what did I find? An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, high-cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson – “I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seems to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and so narrow … Suicide is more respectable.”
Virginia Woolf – “Whatever ‘Bloomsbury’ may think of Jane Austen, she is not by any means one of my favourites. I’d give all she ever wrote for half what the Brontës wrote—if my reason did not compel me to see that she is a magnificent artist.”
Mark Twain – “I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone!”