Jan 28 2013 11:30am

Pride & Prejudice 200 Years Later

Pemberley Shades by Dorothea Bonavia-Hunt

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).

Cozy Classics Pride & Prejudice

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.

Marvel Comics Pride & Prejudice

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.

Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle

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.

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, and on Twitter @Myretta.

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Kaye Dacus
1. kndacus
I did my senior undergrad thesis on P&P, so to say it's one of my top five favorite books would be an understatement.

I watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries this weekend---all 6+ hours of it that has been uploaded so far---and I cannot wait until the next episode! Tonight, I plan to find and watch The Lydia Bennet and delve into the other additional materials. They have done a stellar job with this web series!

I have to say, though, that my favorite and abiding film adaptation of it is the first one I ever saw---the 1981 BBC/Masterpiece miniseries with David Rintoul as Darcy. Rintoul will always be my #1 Darcy. None of the others can compare.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
It's hard to imagine a world without Pride and Prejudice--so many stories have riffed on the essential initial disconnect between Darcy and Lizzie, even ones that didn't ever realize what they were doing. Happy Birthday, P&P!
3. Janga
Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel, but I love Pride and Prejudice. And it is the Austen novel I've read most often, mostly because I reread it every time I taught it--and I taught it many, many times to high school students, college students, and high school teachers. I read it first the summer I turned ten and I read it most recently in 2010. Half a century of reading it has not dulled its charms. Martin Amis said in an article he wrote for the Atlantic many years ago that Austen "renewed herself for each generation of readers." I think she renews herself with each reading as well.
Naz Keynejad
4. nazkey
I'm actually enrolled in a Jane Austen seminar at school this semester and it's so much fun to spend a few hours a week discussing JA with like-minded people.

I'm of different minds about the various adaptations of P&P. I'm not happy about the massive changes made to the story (and characters) in the Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen version, but I do like the fact that everyone's the right age, and as much as I absolutely ADORE Colin Firth, I have to say that MM did a better job with Darcy. In my mind, Darcy's really just ridiculously shy, which makes him socially awkward, and incapable of " conversing easily with those I have never seen before." I feel MM really acted this out beautifully, and the intensity of his love for Elizabeth was more pronounced.

Having said that, no one can deny the deliciousness of Colin Firth in the role! The only problem I have with that particular series is that they completely ignored all the good parts: you know, the parts after Lizzie's accepted his proposal and the rest of the family doesn't know yet, etc. I wish they had included them in there.

Bottom line, the book is one of my all-time favorites, and I've read it at least 50 times, if not more. It is not my favorite Jane Austen book (that would be Persuasion), but it is most certainly on my top 25 list :-)
5. SJR
Those of us who love JA's novels are always frustrated that she died young, and thus only wrote six books. I am convinced that's why there are so many spin-offs, re-workings, etc. We can't have more of what we really want -- more books actually written by JA -- so we console ourselves with the next best thing, the knock-offs.

The Colin Firth adaptation is my favorite. MM's messy, long hair always out of place just didn't work for me. I felt Darcy would always be fastidious about his appearance.
6. Alie
To me, Pride & Prejudice is the best novel ever written. I am an avid Janeite and I think the 1995 mini-series with Colin Firth is the best adaptation, but I have a strong love for the 2005 version with Keira Knightley. The cinematography was just stunning.
7. SassyT
I love Pride and Prejudice but I have to say my favorite book is Sense and Sensibility (I love Elinor). Although, I could read either one and be happy. As to the movies, yes the A&E Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version is awesome however I do have a soft spot for the Kiera Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen version. It's just the right length to give me a dose of Jane when I need it without me having to spend 4 hours or more in front of the tv. So, here's to another 200 years of Jane Austen.
Monique Neaves
8. Kadiya
I adore P&P and flat out refuse to see the Knightley/MacFayden movie. There are elements in there that I simply cannot imagine Darcy doing/being. That said, as much as Colin Firth is incredible eye candy, I actually prefer the 1980 BBC version with David Rintoul.

I can't stand Emma; but I very much enjoyed Northanger Abbey. Sense and Sensibility has sorty of gotten lost in the shuffle and I really do need to get on the ball with that one. My poor hubby! He has already been through 4 versions of Jane Eyre and two versions of P&P and he still has at least 2 versions of S&S to go.

@nazkey: Yes, that is very true of the Colin Firth version. There are elements of it that got lost in the end.
Jennifer Proffitt
9. JenniferProffitt
Okay, I'm going to be in the minority here, but I've never had a problem with the Keira Knightley version of P&P. Mostly because I did love Matthew MacFadyen's portrayal of Darcy. As most people have pointed out, Darcy's arrogance and aloofness, while still very much a part of his personality, was more born out of shyness and social awkwardness rather than any real assholery. Also the Darcy of the MM P&P is a much softer Darcy than Colin Firth's, I think, so is much more relatable.

That being said, it wasn't the greatest adaptation but it is palatable, if not accurate.
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