First reading of Pride & PrejudiceWe now come to a very special winter scene: Jane’s first reading from a published copy of Pride & Prejudice. We are in the Drawing Room at Chawton Cottage, and it is 27 January 1813
Jane’s first published novel, Sense & Sensibility, had appeared 18 months earlier, in the autumn of 1811. It had been well received, and on the back of this her publisher, Thomas Egerton, had agreed to publish another novel. This one was called Pride & Prejudice.
Jane had first written the story at Steventon, back in 1796 (the year she danced with Tom Lefroy). The original draft is thought to have been written as a novel in letters, and to have been called First Impressions.
Nearly 20 years later, in Chawton, Jane took out the manuscript again and brought it up to date, revising it extensively. It became the Pride & Prejudice we know and love today.
Pride & Prejudice was published on 28 January 1813, and the following day Jane wrote to Cassandra: ‘I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London;—on Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles & sent a 3d by the Coach to Godmersham’.
Above you can see that third copy, sent to Godmersham, now a treasured object in the Museum collection – and below, see the letter that Jane wrote to Cassandra.
Read a transcript of the letter 📖 or listen to an extract 🎧
In her letter, Jane described how their neighbour, Miss Benn, had dined with them on the very day that the first copy of Pride & Prejudice had arrived. After dinner Jane and her mother ‘set fairly at it’ and read half of the first volume to her, without telling her that Jane was the author. Jane commented that Miss Benn seemed to enjoy it:
‘She was amused, poor soul! that she cd not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.’
It is an extraordinary scene, and certainly one that is worth travelling back in time 209 years to revisit.
Read the first chapter of Pride & Prejudice 📖 or listen to an extract 🎧