How ‘First Impressions’ became ‘Pride and Prejudice’…

When Jane arrived in Chawton in 1809, she took out her early manuscripts and set to work rewriting them for publication. First came Sense and Sensibility, which with Henry’s help was published by Thomas Egerton in 1811.

Next Jane turned her attention to First Impressions, revising the manuscript extensively in 1811-1812. Her draft manuscripts do not survive, so we do not know exactly what changes she made, but if the first draft was written in letters, substantial changes were made to create the novel we know and love today. Traces of the original, however, remain. The novel still relies on letters for many of its plot points and dramatic moments; there are over 40 letters either reported or reproduced in the finished novel.

Jane also gave her novel a new title. Since drafting First Impressions, another novel with that name had appeared, by Margaret Holford, published in 1801. Jane’s new title, Pride and Prejudice, was drawn from a line in Cecilia, by Fanny Burney, an author Jane greatly admired.

With help from her brother Henry, Jane secured a publishing contract with Thomas Egerton and Pride and Prejudice was published on 28 January 1813.

OBJECT: Letter from Jane to Cassandra, 29 January 1813

Pride and Prejudice was published on 28 January 1813; the following day Jane wrote this letter to Cassandra, bursting with the news:

‘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; just the two Sets which I was least eager for the disposal of.’

That third copy is the Godmersham Park set, on display in the corner cupboard.

Jane’s letter goes on to describe how the Austens’ neighbour, Miss Benn, had dined with them on the very day that the first copy of the novel 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. She also comments on the material appearance of the book, on printer’s errors, and she makes a rare allusion to her own editing process, noting that she had ‘lopt & cropt so successfully’ that the manuscript was significantly shorter than Sense and Sensibility.

‘Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the eveng we set fairly at it & read half the 1st vol. to her–prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work wd soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out–& I believe it passed with her unsuspected.–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.–There are a few Typical errors–& a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear–but “I do not write for such dull Elves”

“As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.”–The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish–but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S&S. altogether.’