Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a country gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London.
Though the story is set at the turn of the 19th century, it retains a fascination for modern readers continuing near the top of lists of “most loved books” such as The Big Read. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature and receives considerable attention from literary scholars. Modern interest in the book has resulted in a number of dramatic adaptations and an abundance of novels and stories imitating Austen’s memorable characters or themes. To date, the book has sold some 20 million copies worldwide.
As Anna Quindlen wrote,
Pride and Prejudice is also about that thing that all great novels consider—the search for self. And it is the first great novel that teaches us this search is as surely undertaken in the drawing room making small talk as in the pursuit of a great white whale or the public punishment of adultery.
Pride and Prejudice, like most of Jane Austen’s works, employs the narrative technique of free indirect speech. This has been defined as “the free representation of a character’s speech, by which one means, not words actually spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character’s thoughts, or the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke”. By using narrative that adopts the tone and vocabulary of a particular character (in this case, that of Elizabeth), Austen invites the reader to follow events from Elizabeth’s viewpoint, sharing her prejudices and misapprehensions. “The learning curve, while undergone by both protagonists, is disclosed to us solely through Elizabeth’s point of view and her free indirect speech is essential … for it is through it that we remain caught, if not stuck, within Elizabeth’s misprisions.”
The poet W. H. Auden wrote of Austen in 1937:
You could not shock her more than she shocks me,
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society
In 2003 the BBC conducted the largest ever poll for the “UK’s Best-Loved Book” in which Pride and Prejudice came second, behind The Lord of the Rings.
In a 2008 survey of more than 15,000 Australian readers, Pride and Prejudice came first in a list of the 101 best books ever written
Pride and Prejudice has engendered numerous adaptations. Some of the notable film versions include that of 1940 starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier (based in part on Helen Jerome’s 1936 stage adaptation) and that of 2005 starring Keira Knightley (in an Oscar-nominated performance) and Matthew Macfadyen. Notable television versions include two by the BBC: the popular 1995 version starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and a 1980 version starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. A 1936 stage version was created by Helen Jerome played at the St. James’s Theatre in London, starring Celia Johnson and Hugh Williams. First Impressions was a 1959 Broadway musical version starring Polly Bergen, Farley Granger, and Hermione Gingold. In 1995, a musical concept album was written by Bernard J. Taylor, with Peter Karrie in the role of Mr Darcy and Claire Moore in the role of Elizabeth Bennet. A new stage production, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The New Musical, was presented in concert on 21 October 2008 in Rochester, New York, with Colin Donnell as Darcy. A web series created by Hank Green and Pemberly Digital, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, also ran from April 2012 until March 2013. The LBD won an Emmy in the 2013 awards ceremony for Original Interactive Program.
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