On January 28, 1813, publisher Thomas Egerton released Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. In the 200 years since, this single novel has become a sizable industry, spawning not only repeated reprints of the original and foreign language editions (the first French edition of Pride & Prejudice was published the same year as the book's debut) but thousands (yes, thousands) of novels based on the book and even more web-based fan fiction, not to mention children's books, comic books, annotated editions, picture books, movies, television mini-series, spoofs (both written and filmed), and YouTube videos.
Rather than reel off numbers, let's take a look at some examples of what Jane Austen hath wrought.
It's hard to draw the line between fan fiction and sequels or retellings, but I guess we'll use whether or not the work in question has been published and is for sale. I'm afraid that, otherwise, it's not always possible to make the distinction. When I first engaged with Janeites online, Pride & Prejudice fan fiction was rampant. We still have remnants of those halcyon days at The Republic of Pemberly Bits of Ivory Archive. And it's still going strong at other sites like The Derbyshire Writers' Guild. Some of these “inspired-by” stories have been quite good (and some not).
Much of what is published as Jane Austen-inspired these days had its roots in web-based fan fiction. But not all. Pemberley Shades by Dorothea Bonavia-Hunt, a tale of Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage, was first published in 1949. It was out of print for a long time and much sought-after by Pride & Prejudice enthusiasts. Today, Jane Austen-based fiction is being produced at an alarming rate and most of it is inspired by Pride & Prejudice. Even such an august personage as P.D. James (Baroness James of Holland Park) has been enticed to imagine a mystery set at Darcy's Pemberley. And there's a lot of stuff in between.
So, comic books, you say? Yes, indeed. Marvel Comics is issuing a series of Jane Austen Comic Books. Marvel's Pride & Prejudice was the first, released in 2009. More recently, we've seen some charming children's books, including a BabyLit Counting Primer (2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals) and Cozy Classics Pride and Prejudice Board Book.
We should probably not step away from the topic of books without mentioning Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.“) in which Seth Grahame-Smith expanded Jane Austen's story to include—well—zombies, and in which our dearest Elizabeth becomes a zombie slayer. I will say no more about this.
Most of us have seen (or at least heard of) the feature film versions of Pride & Prejudice, beginning with the 1940's Gone with the Wind version, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and ending in 2005 with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen. This does not include the various modernizations, including a 2003 retelling set in an LDS community and A Modern Pride and Prejudice which was apparently released in 2011 and which I had never heard of until I started poking around IMDB.
Not to be outdone, television has given us some of our best Pride & Prejudice adaptations. Of course, I mean the 1995 mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, although the 1980 mini-series does have some avid admirers. One doesn't quite know where to put Lost in Austen, released in the United Kingdom in 2008 and with a US version ostensibly in development. In it, a young woman from 21st century London changes places with Elizabeth Bennet and hilarity ensues. My favorite thing about it is Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennet.
Just recently, the Jane Austen community has been delighted by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice recounted through a YouTube serial with additional material on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. This is really well done and so 2013.
There's more. There is tons more. If you put “Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen” into your Google search engine, you get approximately 8,420,000 results, where you get only 4,240,000 for Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen's first published novel).
So why is this? Everyone has a theory or three. I think we can start out by acknowledging Jane Austen's wonderful way with words and her understanding of the human condition. We can also acknowledge the universality of the story and the charm of the characters. Who doesn't love Lizzy? Who doesn't pine for a Darcy? Apparently, this story does not get old.
Is this your favorite Jane Austen novel? Why do you think it's so enduring. And, what's your favorite adaptation?
Happy Birthday, Pride & Prejudice.
Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.