Pride and Prejudice celebrates 200th anniversary

Two hundred years ago this week (28 January 1813), Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice was advertised as ‘published this day’ in The Morning Chronicle.

It became a runaway success, and the book’s continued impact on readers today is clear – recent homages like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Gurinder Chadha’s film Bride and Prejudice are just two by-products of the book’s status as one of Britain’s favourite novels.

Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University’s English Faculty is an expert on Jane Austen and directs the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition. She says Austen’s novel had a large impact not only on readers but on the way novels are written.

‘In retrospect, we can see that Pride and Prejudice marks a beginning for the modern novel, with its domestic focus, its slight plot, and in its flawed heroine, the funny and loyal, opinionated and brave Elizabeth Bennet, a distinct personality,’ Professor Sutherland says.

‘In modern style, Austen used the intelligence and foibles of her heroine to make the novel a medium for exploring romantic longings in something like a naturalistic mode.’

She adds: ‘In the verbal sparring of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy is forged an emotionally literate love story that is both humorous and sexy, while under cover of their articulate romance, the novel offers a far wider examination of the deceits and failures, and occasional successes, of the marriage game.’

Part of Pride and Prejudice’s appeal stems from the Elizabeth Bennet, the honest, intelligent, sharp-tongued protagonist of the novel.

Professor Sutherland says: ‘Austen recognized that our pleasure in literature is bound up with how we feel about characters, and that we look for and find friendship and solace inside a novel. Austen’s own verdict on Elizabeth Bennet was: ‘I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print’.’

Great Writers Inspire, an Oxford University Academic IT services project, has a large amount of material on Austen which can be freely accessed – from lectures by Oxford academics on Austen to drawings of Pride and Prejudice leading lady Elizabeth Bennet’s family at home.

Kate O’Connor, an English literature student who worked on Great Writers Inspire, says: ‘Our fascination isn’t just with Austen’s works: it’s with the woman herself. There are countless biographies, a museum, websites, and films.

‘But the irony of our obsession with Jane Austen the woman is that during her lifetime, her works were all published anonymously.

‘Her first novel to be published, Sense and Sensibility, was simply ‘By a Lady’. Her next published novel, Pride and Prejudice, was ‘By the Author of Sense and Sensibility.’

See also The Atlantic’s 1863 Case for Why Jane Austen Is Great

Source: University of Oxford

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