Living in Pride and Prejudice

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Pride and Prejudice was published 210 years ago today, by Thomas Egerton, and Jane Austen earned £110 by selling the copyright. She had written to her friend Martha Lloyd in November of 1812 that “P. & P. is sold.—Egerton gives £110 for it.—I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard, so much.”

The day after the novel was published, Jane wrote, famously, to her sister Cassandra to say she had received her copy: “I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London.” While preparing her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, for publication in 1811, she had used a similar metaphor: “No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S,” she wrote to Cassandra. “I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child.”

I’m sure I’ve said more than once on this blog that Pride and Prejudice is not only my favourite Austen novel, but my favourite novel of all time. Even though my affection for Persuasion increases every time I reread itPride and Prejudice is still my favourite, with Persuasion a close second. My sister Bethie and I have been talking about why we love Pride and Prejudice so much. Among the many reasons is the fact that the language of Jane Austen’s characters has become part of our everyday life. It’s as if we’re living in the novel. I don’t mean we’re imagining that the pattern of our lives follows the same plot. It’s that we often think in and with Austen’s sentences and we quote her words, sometimes seriously, sometimes as a joke.

We do this with Persuasion and other Austen novels, and with fiction and poetry by other writers (and with film adaptations). I sometimes insist, with Mary Musgrove, that “my sore throats, you know, are always worse than anybody’s,” or, with Fanny Price, that “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be,” and I wrote recently about Bethie’s excellent imitation of Mr. Beebe from A Room with a View : “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays it will be very exciting, both for us and for her.”

But the words of Pride and Prejudice come up in conversation more often. I expect that’s partly because so many members of our extended family have seen the 1995 A&E mini-series several times, but I think it’s also because of “the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile”—to borrow the words Jane used in a letter to Cassandra, a few days after Pride and Prejudice was published.

This edition of Jane Austen’s letters was a present from my late friend Janet. She and I visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath more than twenty years ago, and since we both wanted to own the Letters, we bought copies for each other from the gift shop.

If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, as Bethie and I are, do you find yourself thinking and speaking in Jane Austen’s sentences? If you do, I’d love to hear about the lines that resonate for you.

Here are some of the sentences on my list:

“You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”

“We dine with four and twenty families.”

“Do you prefer reading to cards?”

“I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”

“Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit.”

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

“If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to.”

“I am excessively attentive to all those things.”

“If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

This lovely edition of Pride and Prejudice, curated by Barbara Heller, was a present from my friend Lisa in the first year of the pandemic. She and I have continued the tradition Janet and I started long ago, of giving each other identical copies of books we’d both like to add to our collections.

Bethie gave me this translation of Pride and Prejudice. I wish I could remember more of what I learned in my high school and university courses in German, so I could read it properly. But alas, though I did study German, I am not a great proficient.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in what I wrote for the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice in 2013. “Jane Austen’s ‘Darling Child’ Meets the World” continues to be one of the most popular posts on my blog.

In 2013, I also wrote a series of blog posts on Pride and Prejudice at 200.

P.S. Bethie suggested the title “Living in Pride and Prejudice.” Thanks, B!

P.P.S. A note on the fabric and paper backgrounds I chose for these photos, for my friend Marianne—hi Marianne!—and anyone else who’s curious: the “hesitation” scarf was a gift from my husband and daughter, who found it last summer in a vintage clothing shop in London; the scrap of floral wallpaper is from my childhood bedroom; and the blue background in the photo of Stolz und Vorurteil is from a set of Jane Austen-themed folders my friend Lisa gave me for Christmas.

P.P.P.S. John Mullan wrote a wonderful short essay in honour of the 210th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, for Jane Austen’s House Museum. He talks about the brilliance of Jane Austen’s dialogue, right from the first chapter in which we hear Mr. and Mrs. Bennet speaking. I like the way he points out that the “opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice is even daring in its omission. Elizabeth’s entrance is held back. Austen created the most irreverent and intellectually lively heroine the English novel had known, but kept her away from her opening scene.”