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Introduction to Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s first novel, initially called First Impressions, then Dignity and Perception and finally Pride and Prejudice, was sent to a publisher in 1797 by her father who also offered to pay for its publication.  It was sent back immediately with a note; “Declined by return Post”.  It was finally published 16 years later as Pride and Prejudice in 1813 by Thomas Egerton for £110.  Today generally described as a gem of a novel it reigns supremely as one of the world’s greatest novel and Austen’s best work.

Essentially a romance or as some people call it, a Mills and Boons from the 18th century, it continues to delight its readers with its subtle irony, outlandish mockery of folly or affectation and graphic distinctive characters who have enriched our lives.  Tegan Bennet Daylight defines a romance, at whose centre is a moral fantasy - an escape from the limits of reality.

Though narrow in scope, Pride and Prejudice gives us an intimate insight into the domestic lives of Regency England and especially changing codes and values in courting.  The novel's central motif concerns the business of how to marry your five daughters to successful young men.  The eldest two, Jane, older and stunningly beautiful is destined for Bingley, a newly arrived neighbor, while Elizabeth, younger with more intelligence, character and self-command must first reject the richer Mr Darcy, fall for the scoundrel Wickham, before finally rediscovering Darcy, after he has been brought to heel, become chastened earning his right to pursue her.  The middle daughter, Mary, is beyond redemption while the two youngest, Lydia and Kitty are vain, idle, and uncontrollably obsessed with the red uniforms of the militia camped nearby.

Jane Austen is an accomplished writer who polarises her audience; they either revere or revile -  passionately adore or absolutely abhor her. Regardless of your tastes, she is a writer of merit and maintains a tremendous influence on the development of the English Novel. 

Her Novels deal with the lower nobility – the country gentry, a leisured class lacking the ostentatious wealth and position of the landed Dukes and Earls of the higher nobility.

Perhaps most intriguing is that, though her novels are set in the turbulent times of the Napoleonic wars and a period of great social unrest in rural England, her characters appear entirely concerned only with their own pedestrian, parochial affairs; totally and blissfully oblivious of anything happening in the national or international fields.  Her critics decry this narrowness and insularity while her fans celebrate the intimate niche portraits she draws.

Many claim that she is the first modern novelist for focussing on character development through action, interactions and conflict.  It is through the development of her characters, her experimental narrative techniques, dramatic interplay, nuances of tone, revelatory dialogue of indirect speech and the compelling design of her novels that we can discover her main concerns.

Full text available at:  http://classicauthors.net/austen/pandp/pandp19.html


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