Jane Austen scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks has written many books, but none so lush and lovely as Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Not only will this beautiful annotated edition of Jane Austen’s beloved novel look fabulous on your coffee table, but after reading it you will feel that you’ve come to understand Pride and Prejudice as you never have before.
Dr. Spacks’s definitions, descriptions, and clarifications of arcane words, Regency customs, and obscure passages add dimension to a novel that I have read over 22 times and thought I knew inside and out. But I was wrong. Take her annotation of this rather unassuming sentence in Chapter 4, for example:
With no greater events than these in the Longbourn family, and otherwise diversified by little beyond the walks to Meryton, sometimes dirty and sometimes cold, did January and February pass away.”
Dr. Spacks explains that in this instance, dirty meant muddy. Thinking of how uneventful life in a semi-rural setting must be, she adds, “Aside from the arrival of the militia and of Wickham, virtually everything of significance that has happened in the novel so far has been psychological…” She then goes on to describe the states of mind in Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy and Mr. Collins as they interact with each other.
In Chapter 2, Volume III, she introduces Michael Kramp’s idea that Mr. Darcy’s kindness to Mrs. Gardiner during Elizabeth’s and the Gardiners visit to Pemberly is evidence of the changing nature of England’s social arrangements and that “the gap between new and old money is shrinking.” (p. 307)
Dr. Spacks’s new annotated edition provides an erudite commentary on Pride and Prejudice, refers to many scholarly sources, and includes a large assortment of images. As she explained in a recent interview with me: “we looked for images that were beautiful in themselves and that illuminated some aspect of Austen’s period.”
Her 24-page introduction explores the continuing appeal of Pride and Prejudice: that it is considered safe for teaching in school and appeals to both feminists and sentimental individuals who are attracted to a romantic English past.
It has also emerged clearly as a repository for and stimulus of fantasy, and thus possibly less safe than it seems. In the film versions…Darcy, romanticized, tends to turn into a Heathcliff figure, passionate, beautiful, and overwhelmingly physical.”
A visitor to this blog recently asked how this annotation of Pride and Prejudice differed from David M. Shapard’s 2004 annotation. The Spacks volume comes in a lavishly color-illustrated, hardback edition, while Shapard’s book was published as a trade paperback. Scattered thinly throughout its pages are a few black and white illustrations. Aside from the difference in physical appearance, Spacks’s annotations are more scholarly.
Flipping through the first page of the novel, you can immediately spot the difference between the two approaches. Dr. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English, Emerita at the University of Virginia, discusses the famous first sentence as material for a critical debate on the ambiguity of “want”, whereas Dr. Shapard, an 18th century expert, emphasizes the introduction of two central themes of the novel – marriage and financial considerations. These two annotations are so different, that I believe there is room on the shelves for both of them.
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks is a perfect gift for oneself and for a beloved friend or family member. If the $35 purchase price is a bit steep in this economic downturn, place it on your Holiday gift wish list. You will not be disappointed when you unwrap your package.
- Purchase the book here. It is available in stores in early October, but you can order it online today.
- Take a sneak peek of the book in this 30 second video
- Read my interview with Dr. Patricia Meyer Spacks
- The Historical Context of Pride and Prejudice, NPR interview with David Shapard
- The DK Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice, my review of this annotation for young Jane Austen lovers