On January 28th 2013 Pride and Prejudice will be celebrating its 200th birthday. It has sold more than 20 million copies and spurned numerous book spin-offs for the ardent Austen fan. The book has been adapted for film and television delighting audiences worldwide and launching acting careers for gallant Mr Darcy impersonators.
Despite Pride and Prejudice being one of the most loved novels today, Austen’s journey to publishing was not an easy one. The great Jane Austen like many other authors suffered the indignity of rejection.
In 1797 her father Reverend George Austen sent a letter to Thomas Cadell, a London publisher, asking him to look over a manuscript in three volumes. The letter was returned in frightening speed with the words ‘Declined by Return of Post’.
First Impressions, as it was first known, would eventually be published, 16 years later on 28 January 1813, with the title Pride and Prejudice.
Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first novel, in October 1811. It was perhaps after the success of this novel that Egerton accepted Pride and Prejudice. In 1811-1812 Austen revised the work she had written in 1796-1797, giving it the new title Pride and Prejudice.
She was 37 when Pride and Prejudice was finally published, but had only been 20 when she invented the beloved Mr Darcy.
Those rare students, who did not study Pride and Prejudice at school, have not been able to escape it entirely. The 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice stopped a nation and catapulted Colin Firth (Mr Darcy) into stardom.
Author Helen Fielding was one of the many struck by the fascination with this adaptation. She based her more contemporary book, Bridget Jones’s Diary on Austen’s faultless plot, bringing Austen’s Mr Darcy to the masses. The film even featured the debonair Colin Firth as Mark Darcy.
While Mr Darcy continues to enamour, it is perhaps Elizabeth Bennet who is the most striking character in this novel. Ahead of her time, a time when women were silent and married for convenience, mostly money and situation, Lizzy defied the decorum of society, rejecting two eligible men because she simply did not want to marry them.
“The idea of Mr Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him farther …”
“You are too hasty, Sir,” she cried. “You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without farther loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me, I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them.'”
Mr Collins would have secured her family their estate at Longbourne, which he was due to inherit, and Mr Darcy would have made her a wealthy woman. She did finally acquiesce on Mr Darcy’s proposal, but he had to prove himself first.
Without Thomas Egerton we may never have been witness to the merits of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, nor the frivolous behavior of the younger sister, headstrong Lydia Bennet.
It is Elizabeth Bennet who is the true heroine of this book, a feisty individual who was prepared against all odds to marry for love, not convenience.
No doubt the upcoming celebrations of the 200th year of Pride and Prejudice will see more copies of this fabulous book in the hands of young women around the world. It you have not read it make some time this year to do so. It will be time well spent.
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