Gentle readers, Please join us for the second in a series of six diptych reviews of the revised editions of Jane Austen’s six major novels and three minor works that were released this summer by Oxford World’s Classics. Austenprose editor Laurel Ann is honored to be joined by Austen scholar Prof. Ellen Moody, who will be adding her professional insights to complement my everyman’s view.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Oxford World’s Classics Revised edition, (2008)
Laurel Ann’s Review
Any reader of the novel Pride and Prejudice, be it novice or veteran, has certain expectations and apprehensions based on its incredible popularity and renown. The same can be said for the media, whose recent over-use of its famous opening line, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged…’ can be found repeated in the opening of many a news, magazine or blog article announcing some creditable or dubious connection to Jane Austen’s characters or plot. Interestingly, it has become the meme of the day passed along and re-used by those who want to appear in the know, but are sadly missing the point. It is debatable if Pride and Prejudice’s profound truths can be reduced to just universally acknowledged one-liners. If the novel was that easy to figure out we would not care two figs about it, and after nearly two hundred years, it would have been lost to obscurity! What one can expect though is so much more; an engaging plot that keeps you thinking and re-evaluating characters every step along the way, witty, sharp and humorous dialogue that others wish to emulate but never quite achieve, and a love story which just might reign supreme for all eternity. With all of these expectations before us, who could not be a little intimidated?
The Oxford World’s Classics new edition of Pride and Prejudice might just meet your need to read and explore Jane Austen’s classic novel. This edition presents the reader with a wide variety of supplementary material to help you along in your discovery of the universal truths in Pride ad Prejudice. Like many editions, it supplies us with an unabridged text that has been carefully edited by prominent scholars since it was first published in 1813. ‘Carefully’ is the operative word here, since the debate is on about what has been changed or removed from the text. I will again defer to my learned co-reviewer Prof. Moody to delve into that arena. In addition to the brief biography of Jane Austen, select bibliography, chronology of her life, and two appendixes on dancing and social status that are repeated in each of the six editions in this series, (and previously mentioned in our first review), this volume includes a twenty-six page introduction by Fiona Stafford, notes on the text including a publishing history, textural notes and explanatory notes unique to this edition filled with insights and facts neatly organized and easy to find.
Writing an introduction to one of the most beloved and highly scrutinized novels in English literature is a daunting task indeed. My sympathies went out to Fiona Stafford even before I had read one word. Pride and Prejudice is so many things to different people, and not everyone’s pet project could be addressed within the limit of space. I just hoped that she might enlighten me in some small way about a truth or insight that I had previously missed. She did not. But like one of the main themes in Pride and Prejudice, accounts by different people of the same events can have different truths. We all judge by our own unique agenda, so what I saw as lacking, another reader might find diverting. She did however, hit upon some interesting points; how the strength of our convictions can cloud our belief and disbeliefs, the divergence and attraction of different personalities, and how truth or the misconception of it can alter our judgment and future happiness.
The truth may be uncertain in Pride and Prejudice, but on this fact I am convinced. I had difficultly writing about this introduction even after taking copious notes. This can be a telling sign to its clarity and content. I did however find one point of amusement when the author mentioned that characters can be distinguished by their speech patterns and gave examples; “Lydia’s use of ‘Oh Lord’, Miss Bingley’s ‘Abominable’, Mr. Collins’ ‘Lady Catherine de Bourgh’, and Mary Bennet’s lengthy, but largely content-free sentences distinguish her from her vivacious sisters.” This is definitely true of Austen’s unique characterizations, but this introductions ‘content-free sentences’ certainly distinguished it from any other vivacious introduction that this writer has the pleasure to read.
Besides my disappointment in the introduction, the remainder of the supplemental material including the very helpful explanatory notes and the extensive chronology were a delight. For the new student the additional material is a must to understand the full context of the novel; – and for those Janeites who are ready to start your annual re-reading of Pride and Prejudice, pick up this edition. It is a perfect size to stash in your handbag or brief case, and whip out when the next debate ensues about whether Mr. Darcy was too proud, or just shy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Please join us again for the next review of Mansfield Park in August.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Oxford World’s Classics
Oxford University Press, Rev. Ed. (2008)
Trade paperback, 333 pages, ISBN-13: 9780199535569
James Kinsley, editor
Fiona Stafford: Introduction, Explanatory notes, Textural notes,
Vivien Jones: Select bibliography, Chronology and Appendixes
Prof. Ellen Moody’s Review
Reputedly a romance, a novel many novel-readers
feel called upon to have read: _Pride and Prejudice_
Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Here we are again, with diptych reviews of what turns out to be a reissue by Oxford in 2008 of its 2004 edition of _Pride and Prejudice_. As I did for the 2008 reissue by Oxford of its 2004 Sense and Sensibility, I will complement Laurel’s review, and provide contextualization in the form of a brief survey of recent editions of the novel, film adapations available, and a discussion of how and why _Pride and Prejudice_ has come to be such a well-known title and widely-distributed book.
I again agree with Laurel: the latest Oxford _Pride and Prejudice_ is not quite as good a buy as the latest Oxford _Sense and Sensibility_. The two have exactly the same supplemental materials: brief biographical note, bibliography, chronology, and (by Vivien Jones) appendices on rank and social status and on dancing. The difference is the introduction and explanatory notes are by Fiona Stafford. So this Oxford half-way house series (half-way between those series which have an overload and those which have too bare an apparatus) does not tailor each edition to the specific novel. The publisher may assume their readers will not buy all six books, but the reader minded to do so will buy the same supplementary materials six times. Fiona Stafford’s explanatory notes are full and very helpful; but her introduction is disappointing because much of it (to be fair, not all), and its central perspective rehashes the many times previously-discussed theme of misleading first impressions, preconceived judgements, and slow self-recognition, for which (to take just one previous example), Tony Tanner’s essay provides a brilliant and lucid exposition.
Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice (1979)
To move to context, then and now: in the case of _Pride and Prejudice_, there cannot be any clear battles drawn over which texts to print and (if appropriate) emend. As with _Sense and Sensibility_ we do not have in whole or part any manuscript version by Austen of _Pride and Prejudice_. This is lamentable since it’s thought that, like _Sense and Sensibility_, our present _Pride and Prejudice_ is a much revised originally epistolary novel; it was probably the “manuscript novel, comprising 3 volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s _Evelina_,” which Austen’s father sent out to a publisher in November 1979, only to see it immediately rejected. To have self-published a second book this length would have been a second costly venture, so perhaps to get _Pride and Prejudice_ accepted by a publisher, Austen “lop’t and cropt” (Jane Austen’s letters, to Cassandra, 29 January 1813), i.e., cut and abridged her book somewhat ruthlessly. With the respectful attention _Sense and Sensibility_ had garnered, she was then gratified to sell the copyright outright to Egerton for 110 pounds.
Thus Austen had no control over the printed texts of _Pride and Prejudice_ at all. She was displeased by the divisions of the volumes in the first 1813 edition, blunders in paragraphing and a lack of clarity in the way the novels’ dialogues were printed, but the quick second edition (in the same year) and a third (1817) show no sign of her participation and the usual errors have begun to creep in. So there is no printed book which reflects her final decisions. The default custom is to reprint the first edition with emendation (doing basically what Chapman did), but sometimes collating the second and third. The latter option is what was done for Oxford by James Kinsley in 1970. Only with hindsight, did Austen know she could have made much more money. There is no sign she had the slightest inkling that this book above and beyond all her others would at first gradually and then suddenly by the later 20th century become a best-seller.
In her review Laurel has pointed to P&P’s status. It was at first an immediately popular book among its contemporary Regency reading public. continue reading