The first time I heard of Jane Austen, I was twelve years old. It was 1996, and the famous Pride and Prejudice miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth had just aired for the first time on American television. My older sister, who had cable, recorded all six episodes of the show for us with her VCR, and we watched them, one hour at a time. I had no familiarity with the story, and I desperately wanted to know what happened. From the very beginning, I loved Elizabeth, and therefore I hated Darcy (I couldn’t even find him attractive, in spite of the fact that he was played by Colin Firth). I felt everything that Lizzie felt, so over the course of those six episodes, my feelings changed a lot. Almost immediately after we finished the miniseries, I rushed to the local library and got the book, which promptly became one of my favorites. I’ve reread it many times in the years since, and to this day it remains a joy to read.
Pride and Prejudice was originally published in 1813. It wasn’t Jane Austen’s first book (that would be Sense and Sensibility), but it is the best known and most popular of her six finished novels. She initially wrote the book, which she titled First Impressions, from 1796-1797. Her father tried unsuccessfully to have it published in 1797. Fourteen years later, in 1811, Jane Austen revised First Impressions into Pride and Prejudice, the book we know and love today. It was so popular that a second edition was published less than a year after the first.
Now, 200 years after Pride and Prejudice was first published, it continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of people everywhere. Aside from the continued popularity of the original book, there are countless adaptations, continuations, re-imaginings, and homages, from Shannon Hale’s Austenland, about a woman obsessed with Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy, to Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood style adaptation, to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web series that has modern-day Lizzie Bennet narrating her own story in a series of vlogs.
Here at Pratt, we’ll be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice with a series of blog posts as well as several events, including a book discussion at the Govans Branch on January 31 and a lecture by Jane Austen scholar Dr. Juliette Wells of Goucher College on February 21 at the Light Street Branch. Whether you’re a first-time reader of Pride and Prejudice or a life-long fan, this anniversary is the perfect time to celebrate the extraordinary novel and the woman who wrote it.