It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

January 28, 1813: Pride and Prejudice is published.

Jane Austen’s most famous work, a satire of society and manners, was published 200 years ago today. Like all of her works, Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously - Austen was identified on the title page only as “the author of Sense and Sensibility”. Austen completed the original version in 1797. at which point it was entitled First Impressions, but this version was rejected for publication. By 1812 she had apparently revised the manuscript significantly, and it was this version that was eventually published, though under the (equally appropriate) title Pride and Prejudice, so named as to avoid confusion with other novels. 

For historical context - Pride and Prejudice was written during the late Georgian era and is typically associated (along with Austen herself) with the Regency era, during which the future king George IV ruled as Prince Regent in his father’s stead. Although this was a time of great political and social change, both at home and abroad, Pride and Prejudice touches sparingly on these issues and instead focuses on the lives of the landed gentry and the not-quite-aristocrats. In addition, the novel cannot be neatly classified into one or the other of the major literary movements of the time; although Austen wrote during the Romantic period, her writing had little in common with the movement. In fact, Charlotte Brontë was a notable critic of the book, citing a lack of passion and emotion as her main complaint:

I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice,” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.

Perhaps the main difference between the two was that Austen saw the world as a comedy rather than a tragedy (“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”). 

Full novel online.

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