When Pride and Prejudice went on sale in January 1813, it sold well and quickly became one of the most fashionable novels of the season.
According to Jane’s brother Henry, the playwright Richard Sheridan called it ‘one of the cleverest things he ever read’, whilst another literary acquaintance assured Henry that it was ‘much too clever to have been written by a woman’.
Whilst Jane’s anonymous novels did not receive much attention from the press, P&P did receive some notice. The British Critic and The Critical Review both carried positive reviews, praising the novel’s characterisation and moral compass.
The British Critic declared that it was ‘very far superior to almost all the publications of the kind which have lately come before us’ and that they had ‘perused these volumes with much satisfaction and amusement’.
The Critical Review praised the novel’s moral message, declaring:
‘The sentiments, which are dispersed over the work, do great credit to the sense and sensibility of the authoress. The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers—’
It also praised the realistic nature of the characters, observing:
‘Many such silly women as Mrs. Bennet may be found; and numerous parsons like Mr. Collins, who are every thing to every body; and servile in the extreme to their superiors. Mr. Collins is indeed a notable object.’
Meanwhile, at home in Chawton, Jane was her own chief critic, writing to Cassandra:
‘The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling;─it wants shade;─it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter─of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense─about something unconnected with the story; an essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte─or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and Epigrammatism of the general stile…’