Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was published for the first time 200 years ago this month, in three hardcover volumes costing 18 shillings (90p). Austen sold the copyright to a Mr Thomas Egerton of Whitehall for £110, and he soon made more than four times that from the first two editions of the book, both published in 1813. In the same year, the novel also appeared in French.
Jane Austen was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children of the Rev George Austen and his wife Cassandra.
Among recent novels that attempt to cash in on the success of the novel are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the newer and even more worrying Fifty Shades of Mr Darcy: A Parody, by William Codpiece Thwackery. Doesn't anybody have their own ideas any more?
Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, by Susannah Fullerton, was published last week by Frances Lincoln, and makes a case for "why Elizabeth Bennet is the most charming heroine in literature", "why Mr Darcy has been voted the most romantic hero of all time", and why it is so frequently voted top in "favourite novels of all time" polls. Fullerton might be considered a bit of an Austen nut: among her other books are Jane Austen and Crime and A Dance With Jane Austen. She is the President of the Jane Austen Society Australia.
Likewise, Paula Byrne is the author of Jane Austen and the Theatre (2002) and in 2011 made a BBC2 documentary about her discovery of probably the only professional portrait of Austen painted from life. Her new book, The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (HarperPress, 21 January), explores the influences on Austen's life and work, including Bath, her brothers, and her beautifully handwritten, vellum notebooks.
Austen's writing desk, and one of her notebooks, are usually on display at the British Library in London.
Mr Darcy is often called "the most romantic hero of all time" but his proposal of marriage to Elizabeth Bennet is anything but. The actual proposal is so offensive that the novel leaves it off stage, but Austen does record that "his sense of her inferiority – of its being a degradation ... was very unlikely to recommend his suit". What we do know is that he begins by stammering: "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
There are Jane Austen Societies all over the world, from Boston to Buenos Aires.
Actresses who have played Elizabeth Bennet on screen include: Greer Garson (opposite Laurence Olivier) in 1940; Elizabeth Garvie in 1980; Jennifer Ehle in 1995; and Keira Knightley in 2005. Celia Johnson took the role on stage in 1936, and Aishwarya Rai in a Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice, in 2004. There is also a Japanese comic version, a modern-day New York version, and an Israeli six-part TV mini-series set in Galilee.
In the BBC's best-loved novel poll in 2003, Pride and Prejudice came second (behind The Lord of the Rings). However, it was Australia's favourite book in a 2008 survey of more than 15,000 readers.
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