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3rdOn January 28, 2013, Jane Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice will celebrate its bicentenary, i.e. the 200th birthday of its first publication. Containing what it perhaps the most well known opening line in English literature (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”) the novel also brought us some of the most beloved and reviled characters in the literary universe, including the arrogant and handsome Mr Darcy, the incisively charming Ms Elizabeth Bennett, the repulsive Mr Collins and the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Pride and Prejudice was initially titled First Impressions and offered for publication to a London bookseller in 1797; it was, however, turned down by the publisher. By 1812, Austen made several revisions to the original manuscript, renamed it Pride and Prejudice and sold the copyright to Thomas Egerton for £110; Egerton then published it in three hardcover volumes in January 1813. The novel was very well received and the first edition sold out in the first 10 months after publication.

In the course of the last 200 years, Pride and Prejudice has become even more popular with plenty of film and TV adaptations, the most successful of which is the BBC’s 1995 series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, where Firth famously emerges dripping wet from the lake on his estate of Pemberly. Janeites (as Austen’s fans are popularly known) refer to this as the ‘wet shirt scene’. In literature, Pride and Prejudice has inspired hundreds of spin-offs and sequels and has in effect become a genre on its own. Most popular among these is Mr Darcy Takes a Wife and Austenland.

So what is it that makes this novel about marriage, morality and manners so immensely popular even 200 years later? It is because, as Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and novelist, Anna Quindlen notes: “Pride and Prejudice is also about that thing that all great novels consider, the search for self.”

– Marylou Andrew