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Mr Darcy favourite for top spot in book poll

Bookmakers installed Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as the front-runner in the hunt for Britain's favourite novel, after the shortlist of 21 books was unveiled yesterday.

But according to the book-buying public, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird appears to be the preferred choice from the BBC's Big Read shortlist of the country's favourite novels.

Over the next seven weeks, all 21 shortlisted novels ­ taken from an original list of 100 books nominated by the public in April ­ will be championed on BBC2 by a celebrity advocate, who will compete for viewers' votes to win the competition.

Of those on the list, Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice is 4/1 favourite with Ladbrokes to win the contest, ahead of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, J R R Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and George Orwell's 1984.

A Ladbrokes spokesman said: "The Mr Darcy factor is likely to play a big part in this contest and we laid bets weeks ago on a Jane Austen triumph. However, there is no way we are going to underestimate the power of Pottermania." The bookmaker is offering odds of 7/1 on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth instalment in J K Rowling's series.

The winner will be announced in December.