Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen began writing First Impressions in October 1796; she was then only twenty years old. The draft was finished in August 1797 and her father, the clergyman George Austen, tried to have it published, but the manuscript was rejected without being read. In late 1811, Austen begun revising First Impressions, after abandoning it for years, and it became the novel we all know today as Pride and Prejudice, which was first published in 28 January 1813.

The manuscript of the final version of Pride and Prejudice was sold to the publisher Thomas Egerton in November 1812 by £110 (about £ 6.418,74 today). The day after the book came out Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra in which she called Pride and Prejudice her “own darling child” and tells the story of how she had read some of the book to an acquaintance:

“Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the book’s coming, and in the eveng. we sat fairly at it and read half the 1st vol. to her – prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work wd. soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out – and I believe it passed with her unsuspected. She was amused, poor soul! That she cd. not help – you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire 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.”

It is clear from this passage that, although proud of her work, Jane Austen truly wished to remain anonymous. That plan was thwarted by the very book she was so proud of. Pride and Prejudice was Austen’s most popular novel and it meant that her name was soon well known as its author. She wrote to her brother Frank in September 25 1813:  “the truth is that the secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the shadow of a secret now and that I believe whenever the 3d appears, I shall not even attempt to tell lies about it”. She was clearly not happy with her fame, but seemed resigned enough to say she would not even try to hide the authorship of her next book although she did publish Mansfield Park in May 9 1814 without her name, the book was identified only as being by the same author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

auction-mansfield-park-122009-title-pageAusten’s choice to sell the manuscript of Pride and Prejudice to Egerton instead of publishing it on commission (read about the publishing methods here) as she had done with Sense and Sensibility was probably related to her uneasy in depending on her brother’s money to do it.  She wrote to Martha Lloyd, her friend, soon after the manuscript was sold: “Its’ being sold will I hope be a great saving of trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me. […] I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that she should not chuse to hazard so much.” This was a rather unfortunate decision since the book sold better than Sense and Sensibility had, to the point of increasing the demand for the first novel. Austen learned her lesson and when Egerton offered to by the manuscript of her next novel in 1814, Mansfield Park, she refused him publishing it on commission using the money she had made with the previous novels.

Tomorrow there will be more! Don’t miss it!

This post was based on:

Jan Fergus’ “The professional woman writer” from The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster; Published by the Cambridge University Press in Cambridge, 1997.

Rebecca Dickson’s “Pride and Prejudice” of Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasure; Published by Metro Books in New York, 2008.

The 29 January 1813 letter to Cassandra was taken from The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen, edited by Penelope Hughes-Hallett; Published by Clarkson Potter Publishers in New York, 1990.

The value of the pound today was calculated with the Bank of England Inflation Calculator.

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Filed under English Literature, Literature, Women Writers

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