A Review by Ellen Moody
Gentle readers, here we are again, with diptych reviews of what turns out to be a reissue by Oxford in 2008 of its 2004 edition of Pride and Prejudice. I have complemented Laurel Ann’s review (from Austenprose). Laurel Ann’s review will give an overview of the novel, while I will focus on this particular edition and Pride and Prejudice’s overall popularity.
As before, I must agree with Laurel: the latest Oxford Pride and Prejudice is not quite as good a buy as the latest Oxford Sense and Sensibility. The two have exactly the same supplemental materials: brief biographical note, bibliography, chronology, and (by Vivien Jones) appendices on rank and social status and on dancing. The difference is the introduction and explanatory notes are by Fiona Stafford. So this Oxford half-way house series (half-way between those series which have an overload and those which have too bare an apparatus) does not tailor each edition to the specific novel. The publisher may assume their readers will not buy all six books, but the reader minded to do so will buy the same supplementary materials six times . Fiona Stafford’s explanatory notes are full and very helpful; but her introduction is disappointing because much of it (to be fair, not all), and its central perspective rehashes the many times previously-discussed theme of misleading first impressions, preconceived judgements, and slow self-recognition, for which (to take just one previous example), Tony Tanner’s essay provides a brilliant and lucid exposition. 
To move to context, then and now: in the case of Pride and Prejudice, there cannot be any clear battles drawn over which texts to print and (if appropriate) emend. As with Sense and Sensibility we do not have in whole or part any manuscript version by Austen of Pride and Prejudice. This is lamentable since it’s thought that, like Sense and Sensibility, our present Pride and Prejudice is a much revised originally epistolary novel; it was probably the “manuscript novel, comprising 3 volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina,” which Austen’s father sent out to a publisher in November 1797, only to see it immediately rejected. To have self-published a second book this length would have been a second costly venture, so perhaps to get Pride and Prejudice accepted by a publisher, Austen “lop’t and cropt” (Jane Austen’s letters, to Cassandra, 29 January 1813), i.e., cut and abridged her book somewhat ruthlessly. With the respectful attention Sense and Sensibility had garnered, she was then gratified to sell the copyright outright to Egerton for 110 pounds.
Thus Austen had no control over the printed texts of Pride and Prejudice at all. She was displeased by the divisions of the volumes in the first 1813 edition, blunders in paragraphing and a lack of clarity in the way the novels’ dialogues were printed, but the quick second edition (in the same year) and a third (1817) show no sign of her participation and the usual errors have begun to creep in. So there is no printed book which reflects her final decisions. The default custom is to reprint the first edition with emendation (doing basically what Chapman did), but sometimes collating the second and third. The latter option is what was done for Oxford by James Kinsley in 1973. Only with hindsight, did Austen know she could have made much more money. There is no sign she had the slightest inkling that this book above and beyond all her others would at first gradually and then suddenly by the later 20th century become a astonishingly wide best-seller.
In her review Laurel has pointed to P&P’s status. It was at first an immediately popular book among its contemporary Regency reading public. The satiric playwright, Richard Sheridan, is reputed to have said it was “one of the cleverest things he ever read” and told others to read it. Nonetheless, in the first half of the 19th century Austen’s novels were regarded as appealing to an elite taste. It was in 1870, when Austen’s nephew, James Austen-Leigh published his memoir of his aunt’s life which framed her books as sentimental romance, that the idea Austen’s books could have a general popular and wide appeal spread, and (as Henry James remarked), publishers began to work the material up.
In Jane Austen’s novels we witness a complex event of the type that the sales of the Harry Potter books represent: an initial attraction, and several intervening steps come together. After Austen-Leigh somewhat misleadingly reframed the books as nostalgic comic romances, from the late Victorian to the Edwardian era, the novels were framed as Janeism, a mixture of kitsch and arch comedy, quaint, unreal somehow, and for everyone to escape to. It is during this time we find elegant sets of books with illustrations reinforcing the comedy and sentiment of Pride and Prejudice.
In the era leading into WW1 and since, they were reframed as comfort books—an idea brought to vivid comic life in Kipling’s famous story, Janeites. Then thanks to Chapman in the 1920s Austen becomes fit matter for scholarly editions and criticism (the equivalent of Latin classics); by the 1930s, she is one of three acceptable female authors available to male readers (George Eliot, Jane and narrowly Virginia Woolf).
I belong to a large software community called Library Thing, where as of the writing of this blog 459,380 people have catalogued 29,428,407 books. A software engine there informed me I am one among 20,752 people to have a copy of Pride and Prejudice. By contrast, around 10,021 members of this community own a copy of Emma; 9,456 have a copy of Sense and Sensibility; 7,143 have a copy of Persuasion; 5,883 have a Mansfield Park; 4,988 have a Northanger Abbey.
The meaningfulness of these numbers is limited since Library Thing is made up of people who own enough books to want to catalogue them, who can do the software, and who are probably more reading types than the average person. Further, one person may own more than one or many copies of a particular book. I own 11 different editions and reprints of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in English and one French and one Italian . Nonetheless, the sheer number of copies of Pride and Prejudice, and the discrepancy between this and the numbers of other of Austen’s novels owned at Library Thing are striking.
But why Pride and Prejudice above all? As Q.D. Leavis and others have shown, it’s not very different from Austen’s others . Recently Laurel posted on Austenprose some revealing, albeit, typical results from a survey: Pride and Prejudice is named in among the top five favorite books grouped with Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre. Such surveys have been shown to be of limited use: people cannot be gotten to tell truth when asked what are their favorite books for real or even necessarily to tell the whole truth on whether they read the books they cite or not. People are guided in how they think their choices will make them look, what kind of statement they want to make about their reading habits. The same kind of feeling guides how they respond to book covers (people don’t want to show a book cover that will make them in their own eyes look bad to someone else). And how they see or think others see the book. 
But they do show us something, and that is how readers perceive the books they cite. And they perceive Pride and Prejudice as a primal archetypal and respectable romance book—to be cited in the same breath as Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. In Stafford’s introduction to this new Oxford, she ignores this, the very reason for this latest re-issue of Pride and Prejudice. The reason is not far to seek; she does not want to get caught up in the real conflicts over the book; above all, the increasingly verboten use of the word feminism . By contrast, in Vivien Jones’s introduction to the new Penguin edition, Jones begins with a truth not universally acknowledged that “the experienced reader of romance” as she opens Pride and Prejudice knows just what to expect: after an ordeal (in this case the heroine learns to distrust herself), she’s given her heart’s dream of a handsome man, great wealth, prestige, and tender protective love in spades.
The question for women today is how falsifying is this vision? There seems to be but one legitimate goal for the Bennet sisters, one security (having a strong rich man), but are there no other options? There is cruelty in Austen’s depiction of a reading girl (Mary Bennet), which is reinforced by film-makers who deliberately choose flat-chested actresses and dress them up to look ugly. A rare departure is found in Fay Weldon’s depiction of Mary Bennet as lively, eager, and smarter than we realize in her 1979 mini-series Pride and Prejudice.
Yet, is it false to women’s experience of powerlessness today and the continued prestige and power of male and male heterosexual desires in the public marketplace? In pre-feminist and now this backlashed post-feminist era, women have seen that education has not given them power, and they turn to Austen’s version of romance as refuge, as places they can recuperate an identity they are not allowed to enjoy elsewhere. It is this perspective which leads to the aligning of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and all her novels with modern modern chick-lit. 
You can purchase Pride and Prejudice in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.
Paperback: 382 pages
Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)
Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.
- Supplemental materials tailored to shed light and information on the specific novel at hand is one of the great strengths of the kind of edition which provides rich supplementary materials, and of the many for P&P, I recommend no less than three: 1) the third edition (2001) of the Norton Pride and Prejudice, edited by Donald Gray, for its array of well-chosen selections from Austen’s letters, early biographical writing, Austen’s Juvenilia, and especially pieces from 20th & 21st century critical essays, which form a remarkably diverse yet coherent conversation on the novel; 2) the 2003 Longmans cultural edition of Pride and Prejudice edited by Claudia Johnson and Susan J. Wolfson, for its thick section of contemporary documents on money, the marriage market, male and female character as seen as the time, the picturesque and great houses, selections from Jane Austen’s own letters and (as there was much) contemporary reactions to this novel; and 2) the stunning achievement of David Shapard, for he has produced an easy-to-use mini-encylopedia, which (since the information is placed on alternative pages) need not overwhelm a new reader: The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (New York: Anchor, 2004). Particularly felicitious are Shapard’s choices for drawings and illustrations, e.g.
- Tanner’s essay was first published in book form as Knowledge and Opinion: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1986):103-141; it is also found as the introductory essay to the first English Penguin Library (1972) edition of the novel, which edition was reprinted in 1986; in the most recent or new Penguin edition of Pride and Prejudice (2003), Tony Tanner’s essay is reprinted as an appendix.
- The 2003 new Penguin (referred to in Note 1) takes the step of adhering more closely to the 1813 text (there is no attempt to standardize or modernize the text), so as with the 2003 new Penguin Sense and Sensibility, which took the unusual step of reprinting the first 1811 text of that novel. The new Penguins offer readers a somewhat different text, one which may look strange, but at the same time be closer to Austen’s original manuscript and hold some new interest. The reader who buys the new Penguin can then compare it to the usual modernized 1813 texts.
- From Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, edd. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980):104.
- For Pride and Prejudice I own Jane Austen, Orgueil et prejuges, trans. V. Leconte and Ch. Pressoir, note biographique de Jacques Roubaud. Paris: Christian Bourgeois 1979, with preface by Virginia Woolf translated into Frenchy by Denise Getzler; and Orgoglio e pregiudizio, trans. Elena Grillo, introd. Pietro Meneghelli, in Jane Austen: Tutti e romanzi, ed. Ornella de Zordo (Rome: Grandi Tascabili Economici Newton 1997).
- Q. D. Leavis, A Critical Theory of Jane Austen’s Writings, Scrutiny, 10 (1941-42), pp. 114-142, 272-294; 12 (1944-45), pp. 104-119.
- It’s heartening to think women are at least not made ashamed of liking archetypal women’s books, and will cite Austen’s works, GWTW, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre—though they can be ridiculed and shamed out of going to a womens’ film or made to think it’s bad because they don’t think about who wrote the review or that it’s the product of masculinist values. Statistically white readers outnumber those polled, so we should note most of these lists don’t reflect at all what non-white readers say they favor or read.
- Other half-way house editions which begin at the right place frankly, the popularity of P&P and its status as an ultimate romance, include the recent 2008 reprint of the Signet edition of Pride and Prejudice with Margaret Drabble’s perceptive and candid introduction (first printed as part of this edition since 1950). Nowadays there’s an afterword by a popular romance writer (swashbucklers and bodice-rippers are part of her trade), Eloisa James whose reading of the novel makes visible just how such a lover of romance understands the book. Ms James waxes indignant over Elizabeth’s hypocrisy. It seems Austen’s heroine is a hypocrite because she doesn’t admit how much she longs to marry, see Afterword, pp. 377-79. My choice for my students in a general education literature course is this little Signet.
- The feminist critique of Pride and Prejudice is well-argued by Claudia Johnson in Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1988):73-75, 80-84, 87-89; also Susan Fraiman, The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (NY: Columbia UP, 1993):69-87. A really intelligent defense and explanation of women’s novels may be found in Chick-lit: The New Women’s Ficiton, edd. Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young (NY: Routledge, 2006).