Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, By Susannah Fullerton, published by Voyageur Press, USA 2013 (Published in the UK as Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) Available in January, 2013
200 Years of Pride and Prejudice: The Beginning
I was asked by Frances Lincoln, the UK publishing firm who published A Dance with Jane Austen (read review here), if I would write a book about 200 years of Pride and Prejudice. I had barely finished Dance and knew it would be difficult to meet the tight deadline, but how could I resist? What better way to celebrate 200 years of that wonderful novel than to write a book about what it has meant to me and to so many people and about the extraordinary afterlife it has enjoyed. And so I set to work and I can honestly say that no book has given me such joy to write. For months I was deeply immersed in the world of the Bennets, Mr Collins, Lady Catherine and Mr Darcy. I have always adored the novel, but as I wrote my own book about it, I came to appreciate it even more, to be more fully aware of its intricacies, skill and its amazing power to charm and enchant again and again and again.
My book looks at many aspects of the novel. We all know that it was originally turned down, but for how long did it languish before its author again tried to get it into print? It was not a best-selling book, but from the beginning it had its admirers – who were they, and what did they say about it? I loved writing a chapter about the first sentence. Would I find enough to say, I wondered, as I sat down to write – a whole chapter about a few lines?? Could it be done? In the end, the problem was having almost too much to say, and I hope that chapter will make my readers see clearly just why that first sentence has achieved such fame.
I then turned to the characters. Every reader loves Elizabeth Bennet (I think there must be something wrong with anyone who does not fall in love with Elizabeth!), but why do we love her so, and in what ways is she so radically different from every heroine who had come before? How does her creator skilfully introduce her to us, show her growing and learning as the novel progresses, and endear her to us so greatly? And what of Mr Darcy, that archetypal romantic hero, progenitor of so many tall, dark and handsome men in romantic novels? I loved writing chapters on heroine and hero. I also explore their families and relatives – the Bennets and Mr Collins on her side, Lady Catherine, Anne, Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam on his. How is each character revealed to us and what have 200 years done for them in the way of sequels and further careers?
Pride and Prejudice Translations
In the same year that Pride and Prejudice was published, the first translation appeared. It was published in a Swiss journal, written in French. Jane Austen never knew about it and received no money for it, which is probably a good thing – her own characters would have been almost unrecognisable to her in that Swiss ‘bastardisation’. Generally Pride and Prejudice fared badly for many decades in European translations, but things slowly improved and the non English-speaking world is now catching up on the delights of reading Jane Austen.
They say you should not judge a book by its cover, but many people still do, and Pride and Prejudice has had an extraordinary range of covers over 200 years. From the first edition, to the modern Chick-Lit covers, and much in between, it has been ‘packaged’ in a myriad of different ways. And as for illustrations, they range from the positively ugly (where Elizabeth isn’t handsome enough to tempt anyone at all!) to the gorgeously decorative. My book includes many of these illustrations from the familiar Hugh Thomson ones, to some that will be very new indeed to my readers.
Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice
We all know about the Greer Garson film version, the lovely Elizabeth Garvie TV series and the hugely popular Colin Firth BBC series, but did you also know about the Dutch TV version, the Italian one with a Mrs Bennet rather like Lucrezia Borgia, the Israeli version (modernised), and several old BBC adaptations? My chapter on the various films will tell you about those, plus modernisations such as Lost in Austen and Bride and Prejudice. And there’s a chapter on sequels. I knew there were lots of them out there, but until I began my research for this chapter I had no idea quite how many, or to what lengths some of them go. There are sequels, prequels, continuations which mix characters from all the Austen novels, modern re-tellings, zombie-infiltrated versions, and even pornographic sequels. You will be amazed at the afterlife of Darcy and Elizabeth in the minds of some sequel writers!!
Today Pride and Prejudice is big business. There is the tourism it has engendered – theme tours, sightseeing in houses where films were made, swimming in a certain lake, and travel to Jane Austen museums and centres. And there is marketing – you won’t believe what items Pride and Prejudice has inspired, from soaps to clothes pegs, skateboards to romper suits. Pride and Prejudice sells things, and manufacturers have given full vent to the fancy in creating literary merchandise from the novel.
And, finally, what of Pride and Prejudice in the future? In this age of kindles and Ipads, audio versions and information on the internet, what will the future of this adored novel be? I had to speculate of course, but see if you agree with me?
Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece is, if I say so myself, a very beautiful book. The illustrations are just gorgeous and were chosen with great care, and the book is a pleasure to hold. I hope you will also love its content! I am thrilled that it has also been published by Voyageur Press, an American publisher and that I have been invited to do a lecturing tour in the USA next year to talk about it. I wrote this book for every person who has fallen in love with Pride and Prejudice , who has read and re-read it, discussed all the film versions, and who feels that Elizabeth and Darcy are a part of their lives. I do hope you will want to read it and will join me in celebrating the fact that Pride and Prejudice has lived ‘happily ever after’ for 200 years!
President, Jane Austen Society of Australia
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Voyageur Press (January 1, 2013)