Although Jane Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1796, and first offered it for publication the following year, her masterpiece would not finally be published until January 1813. Now, the two hundredth anniversary of this literature-changing event brings much deserved new attention to the novel and its author. And if you are one of the countless hard-core fans of Pride and Prejudice, you will not want to miss Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice. Fullerton, president of Australia’s Jane Austen Society, has written an entertaining and informative history of the novel - from its conception to the worldwide love and admiration it justly claims today.
Celebrating Pride and Prejudice begins with chapters on the writing of the book, its publication (simultaneously in three volumes with an initial first printing of less than 1500 copies), and initial reaction to it. Thankfully, as the author notes, Austen was able to enjoy the novel’s early success even though she would not be generally acknowledged as its author until her death in 1817.
Fullerton, in chapters such as the one on the book’s famous first sentence and another on its style, details and explains the groundbreaking impact of Pride and Prejudice. She also includes individual chapters about heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her ultimate hero Fitzwilliam Darcy along with separate chapters on “Her Relations,” “His Relations,” and “Other Characters.” One of the book’s most interesting chapters discusses illustrations and cover art associated with Pride and Prejudice over the past two centuries.
But, the modern era, particularly as it relates to film and theatrical adaptations of the novel and its overall marketing, is not ignored. Fans of the BBC Pride and Prejudice television adaptations may be surprised to learn that the 1980 version (if they have even seen it) is more true to the novel than the much more popular 1995 version starring the shirtless Colin Firth. (And to my way of thinking, it includes the best Elizabeth Bennet ever in Elizabeth Garvie.)
The only misstep in Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is the over detailed chapter devoted to “Sequels and Adaptations,” a chapter paying way too much attention to what is commonly referred to as “fan fiction.” Pride and Prejudice has certainly been subjected to more than its fair share of these “continuations,” “retellings,” “pornographic versions,” and the like, but being subjected to so many of their ludicrous plotlines at once makes for painful reading.
I found Celebrating Pride and Prejudice so intriguing that I followed it by re-reading Pride and Prejudice itself for the first time in at least twenty years. And, perhaps because I had just finished Fullerton’s study, I enjoyed it more than ever. Pride and Prejudice (and I mean this as a sincere compliment despite what I said in the previous paragraph) is romantic comedy before there was such a thing. It is universal, a novel that can be as readily enjoyed today as it was when first published two hundred years ago.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)