Juliet’s Romance Day – Happy 200th Birthday, P&P!

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, P&P 1995

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, P&P 1995

Next Monday, 28th January 2013, it’ll be exactly 200 years since Pride & Prejudice was first published. Today this book is more popular than ever – an amazing achievement for its author, an English spinster who lived quietly in the Hampshire countryside.

Jane Austen’s shelf life has been far longer than her own (she died in 1817 at the age of 41), and her golden rules for publishing longevity still apply:

1. A catchy title – even if you’re borrowing it from someone else. Austen originally called her novel First Impressions, but two other works had been published with that title by the time hers was accepted for publication. Pride & Prejudice was probably inspired by the final chapter of Fanny Burney’s Evelina, where the phrase appears 3 times in block capitals. Alliteration is not compulsory, but it helps …

2. The power of editing we know that, following the success of Sense & Sensibility in 1811, Austen ‘lop’t and crop’t’ the novel that she’d written between 1796 and 1797, when she was the same age as its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. And we’re always being advised to put our writing to one side before editing – although 15 years is taking this a bit far!

3. A heroine you’d like to be – Lizzy Bennet’s self-belief and zest for life, tempered with witty cynicism, sparkle on the page even now. And, from what we know of surviving letters, she seems to have more of the 20-year-old Jane Austen in her than any of the author’s other heroines.

4. A hero you’d like to … [please insert word of your choice] Oh, Mr Darcy! Even BC (Before Colin), he set my pulses racing. Difficult to know why at the start, when he insults our beloved heroine. But then that’s become a bit of a winning formula, hasn’t it?

Any more rules for being a bestseller after 200 years?

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley, P&P 2005

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley, P&P 2005

26 thoughts on “Juliet’s Romance Day – Happy 200th Birthday, P&P!

  1. The ability to create memorable suppporting characters, whose idiosyncrasies/propensities for self-inflation frequently give rise to unintentional humour.

    Liz X

  2. Would love a time machine so I could nip to the future and see which of today’s authors will be thought of in the way we think of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens etc.

    Create strong characters and a plot that grips the reader? Or does it go deeper than that, and somehow include the psyche of the author too?

  3. I’d say the ability to conjure pictures in the reader’s mind, whether of people or places or both. And of course memorable phrases of the kind that find their way into the Dictionary of quotations also help.

  4. A plot which takes you back and forth, and keeps not only the readers in suspense of the outcome, but the characters in the crucible…?

  5. I was going to fill in the word of choice – ‘A hero you’d like to XXX’. But then thought best not to. Thank you for the lovely piccies of Colin Firth, Juliet. Where P&P is concerned, I do think the lust factor plays a big role:)X

  6. So, February has proved to be a good month for publication for Ms Austen….:)
    Feel guilty now that it is soooooooo long ago that I read P&P…..it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s getting dark…..I think I’ll dig out my copy and re-read. Thanks for the motivation, Juliet…:)

  7. Did I say February? Obviously it’s very wet, very cold and very dark here….I mean, of course, January. So ….Ms Austen led the way for January being a good month, Sarah Tranter…..:)

  8. Wonder what literature from the present day might still be around in 200 years? Possibly something that is not obvious now?

  9. Austen is the queen of secondary characters! But as to hazarding a guess as to who is the equivalent today … not a question I’m prepared to take on generally though in the historical romance line, I do think Georgette Heyer is in a class of her own. Of course, Jane was writing about her contemporaries.

  10. Many happy returns to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – my favourite of Austen’s novels. I wish I had Elizabeth’s wit.

    I’d love Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ to be a bestseller 200 years from now. I read it when I was in my early teens and it made such a strong impression on me. Of course, she’s criticised for not being an intellectual heavyweight, but what a storyteller. She knows how to use suspense to keep the reader turning the pages. And of course the sense of place is so vivid. Probably because of her love for Menabilly, which she changed to Manderley in the book – a menacing, magical place. I think I’ve just persuaded myself to read it again – for the umpteenth time!

  11. A catchy first line. Did somebody already say that? But look, it works: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again, where I met a man of good fortune in need of a wife. It was a dark and stormy night, so it was the best of times and it was the worst of times, and it was also the day my sister drove off a bridge. But luckily all chocolate is medicinal. It’s a well known fact. When taken in sufficient quantities, it mends a broken heart.

  12. I think a writer needs to transport the readers to ‘enter another world’ and to persuade them to care so much for the characters that they are desperate to turn the pages. Lovely post Juliet.

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