It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
This is the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, the most successful novel written by Jane Austen.
Jane started writing First Impressions in October 1796 and finished it around August of the following year. She was then twenty-one years old. The Austen family enjoyed it so much, that in November 1797, Jane’s father offered it to the publisher Cadell in London who declined it ‘sight unseen’.
Fourteen years later in 1811, Jane began revising it and it was ‘lop’t and crop’t’ and finally published by Egerton on 28 January 1813. Jane wrote of her excitement in a letter to Cassandra, ‘my own darling Child has arrived from London’. Jane was not publicly known as the author and it was simply titled By the Author of “Sense and Sensibility”.
The novel sold so well a second edition was printed in the Autumn of the same year, and a third in 1817. The reading public adored Elizabeth Bennet and it was a huge success.
To date, over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide.
Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters who must marry well in order to ensure their financial security. The news that wealthy bachelor Charles Bingley has rented Netherfield Park causes a great stir in the village of Longbourn. They all meet at the Netherfield Ball, and whilst Mr Bingley is charming and affable, his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy is cold and aloof, and Elizabeth immediately dislikes him. A romance forms between her sister Jane and Charles but is cut short, and when Elizabeth hears that Darcy intervened she dislikes him more than ever.
Surrounding our lead characters are the Reverend, Mr Collins, and his wealthy benefactor Lady Catherine De Bourgh. Charles sister Caroline Bingley sets her own sights on Darcy, and the Bennet sisters Aunt and Uncle, Mrs and Mr Gardiner takes Elizabeth to see Darcy’s own pile in Derbyshire.
All this misunderstanding is complicated by a proposal, a runaway bride and broken hearts, until finally true love triumphs.
Ten Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice
1. Pride and Prejudice had started life as a short story called First Impressions.
Jane had written this early draft when she was twenty-one, at around 1796 or 1797 after staying at Godmersham Park with her (now) wealthy brother and his wife.
2. Jane was never known as the author of Pride of Prejudice outside her close family.
Jane called Pride and Prejudice her ‘own darling child’ and spoke of Elizabeth Bennet, ‘as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print’. The novel was published on 28 January 1813. All of Jane’s novels were published anonymously, including this novel which was titled By the Author of “Sense and Sensibility”.
3. Jane was not entirely happy with the novel.
Immediately after publication, Jane wrote to Cassandra,
Upon the whole.. I am satisfied 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 , it it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story; an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott or the history of Buonaparte, or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and general epigrammatism of the general style.
4. Jane made little money from Pride and Prejudice although it was a great success.
Jane had published her first novel Sense and Sensibility on commission (the self-publishing of her day) and made a small profit. This was where the author had to give an advance and carry any losses. Jane may not have had the funds for an advance or wanted to take any risks, so sold the copyright of Pride and Prejudice to the publisher Egerton for £110.
She had asked for £150 as she states in a letter, although had to agree to his terms thinking it was better published than not. It actually made Egerton the tidy sum of £450. It is sad to think that Jane made the least money from this novel although it was her most successful.
5. Jane took the title from a passage in Fanny Burney’s Cecelia
Jane was a great fan of Fanny Burney and enjoyed her novel Cecelia the most, which was first published on 21 June 1782 when Jane was almost 7 years old! Cecelia is a young woman who will inherit a fortune if she finds a husband to take her surname. It is a romance, though contains the message that money does not bring happiness.
Jane took the title from a quote near the end of the novel that reads, ‘The whole of this unfortunate business,’ said Dr Lyster, ‘has been the result of pride and prejudice’.
6. Jane’s Mr Darcy is super rich
Similar to the central theme of Cecelia, money is one of the central themes to Jane’s novel. Mr Bingley has a fortune of £5,000 a year, which made him extremely wealthy at that time. Investments were made in Government bonds that paid 4-5%, so we can assume that Mr Bingley’s inheritance is around 100 thousand pounds.
If this is the case, then Mr Darcy’s fortune doubled that at £10,000 a year, which makes him a modern day multi-millionaire and then some. No wonder Mrs Bennet cries with joy, ‘I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year and very likely more! ’Tis as good as a Lord!’
To reaffirm this wealth and superiority, Jane cleverly chose the name ‘Fitzwilliam Darcy’ for her hero. Readers would have been familiar with the wealthy Fitzwilliam family whose property was twice the size of Buckingham Palace. The would have also known the ’Darcy’ name in the form of ‘D’Arcy’ meaning ‘of Arcy’ in French. It was brought over by the Normans when William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. This lineage was very wealthy and had what we would term old money.
7. There are no peacocks featured in the novel
The famous Peacock edition is linked to Jane’s novel Pride and Prejudice, although Peacocks are never mentioned in this, or any of her novels. As well as having a wonderful peacock cover designed by Hugh Thomson, the 1894 edition is famous for its introduction by George Saintsbury who first uses the term ‘Janite’.
8. Pride and Prejudice is one of the most adapted novels of all time
The first Film adaptation was made in 1940 by MGM Studios in America using a screenplay written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin. It starred Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson who was forced to wear Victorian dresses, even although Cedric Gibbons had spent two years in England buying authentic props.
For Television, the BBC has adapted Jane’s novel five times, although the 1995 version with Colin Firth has been the most popular. Written by Andrew Davies (of recent Sanditon fame) it sold 100,000 video box sets whilst on air, and 10 million people watched the final episode. People are amazed to discover that the lake scene where Darcy takes a dip before striding away in his clinging wet shirt and bumping into his future bride is not in the book.
There have also been many other TV and Film adaptations, using Jane’s central theme of class, money, marriage, and misunderstandings. These include Bridge Jones Diary; Unleashing Mr Darcy; Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe; The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; amongst many others.
9. Tourism was a major activity during this period
Elizabeth reconciles with Darcy whilst on a tour with her aunt and uncle. Previously, the wealthy would embark on a Grand Tour of Europe which became dangerous whilst England was at war with France. This meant more people visited attractions in England, as guide books were introduced and inns became places to stay for leisure. Elizabeth and her family visit stately homes, nature spots, castles, and surprisingly the factories of Birmingham which were seen as a novelty at the time.
10. Although Mr Collins is a clergyman, he does not carry out any church duties
Mr Collins is a comic character who is dancing at balls, eating, horse riding, gardening, and looking out the window for Miss De Bourgh’s phaeton. Essentially doing everything but his church duties. She portrays him as pompous, narrow-minded, and silly, and Jane often pokes fun at him. She does redeem him, however, by having him read aloud Fordyce’s Sermons, a book that Jane herself was fond of.
When Jane started writing down opinions of her novel, she noted that ‘Mrs Wroughton thought the authoress wrong, in such times as these, to draw such clergymen as Mr Collins and Mr Elton‘. After the war with France it was thought the church brought stability. Jane had also noted a comment from Reverend Sherer. He was the vicar of the parish of Godmersham, and Jane liked his sermons although he had told her he was “displeased” by her “pictures of clergymen”. This may have been why Jane’s next book, Mansfield Park, gave us the perfect clergyman in Edmund Bertram.
Find out more about Jane and her clergymen in Jane Austen’s Prayers
You can read Pride and Prejudice for free on any device by downloading (or reading online) through Project Gutenberg. You can also download the lovely Peacock copy illustrated by Hugh Thomson HERE
To read more about Fanny Burney, the author of Cecelia see Fickle & Fortunes in Jane Austen 200