“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
“You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s novels are widely regarded as timeless today, yet they actually first entered the scene during a phase of publishing which had no place for them. Pride and Prejudice, initially called First Impressions, was sent by a then 22-year old Austen to the publisher Thomas Cadell and promptly rejected without ever being read.
Epic poetry and gothic novels were the mainstay of popular literature at the time and a story about a strong-willed heroine surrounded by a society concerned with property, marriage, manners and the like didn’t pack the punch that stories with the striking imagery of the gothic genre provoked.
The book was eventually published in 1813 and 200 years later is considered definitive of its era and a mainstay of literature and book clubs around the world.
Pride and Prejudice offers readers a glimpse into the lifestyle of a certain class in the late 18th century England. Through the experiences of the Bennet family and their acquaintances we learn about the expectations and limitations placed on individuals in Austen’s society.
The Bennet family, burdened by the inconvenience of a set of exclusively female offspring, must face the certainty that the family’s property will be inherited by a cousin they care little for upon the patriarch’s death. None of the women have the legal right to inherit property, and must therefore make the search for a wealthy husband a high priority.
While to some the emphasis on courting and marriage rituals might seem frivolous on the surface, Austen treats the plot as a framework on which to hang complex characters whose thoughts and discussions delve into ideals and issues beyond the romance at the center of the story.
In a similar fashion, Austen’s other novels also offer a wealth of subject matters for both the scholar and the casual reader to analyze, discuss, and learn from.
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