Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks – A Review

Just when I thought I had more editions of Pride and Prejudice than I should ever own up to, I will freely admit to just one more. After all, what Janeite could resist this tempting package? An unabridged first edition text; Annotations by an Austen scholar; Color illustrations; Over-sized coffee table format; Extensive introduction; And, supplemental material – all pulled together in a beautifully designed interior and stunning cover. *swoon* Where are my aromatic vinegars?

This new annotated edition appeals to modern readers on many levels beyond being a pretty package of a beloved classic. Austen is renowned for her witty dialogue and finely drawn characters, but not for her elaborate physical descriptions or historical context. When Pride and Prejudice was originally published in 1813, this brevity was accessible to her contemporary readers who assumed the inferences, but after close to two hundred years words have changed their meaning, insinuations and subtle asides have become fuzzy, and cultural differences from Regency to twenty-first century are worlds apart. Anyone can read Pride and Prejudice and follow the narrative, but it is so much more enjoyable if you can read it on an expanded level understanding it in social, cultural and historical context. Editor Patricia Meyer Spacks has not only added extensive notes on plot, characters, events, history, culture and critical analysis from a vast array of Austen and literary scholars, but added her own personal insights and observations from years of reading Austen and her experience as a college professor. From shoe roses to Fordyces Sermons to military floggings to the 19th-century meaning of condescension, readers will be informed and enlightened on every aspect related to the novel, the author and her times. In a nut shell, she has vetted great resources, gathered nuggets of knowledge and placed them at our feet.

As with all of Austen’s characters, this new annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice has its own charms, “frailties, foibles and follies.” Weighing in at over three pounds, and encompassing 464 pages of unabridged text and fine print margin notes, this book easily reigns as the most all-inclusive and well-researched editions of Jane Austen’s masterpiece that I have ever encountered. Considering that the elaborate annotation classifies it as a reference work in addition to a full text, it is quite puzzling that it lacks an index. In addition, the illustrations are expertly selected but sadly lost some of their refinement in the printing process, coming across dark and murky in places. However, I was pleased to see a list of further reading and illustration credits listed in the back of the book to encourage readers to “add something more substantial, in the improvement of [their] minds by extensive reading.

Beautiful, sumptuous and satisfying, Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition is a monumental achievement that should be on the top of your holiday wish list and considered one of few editions available to be esteemed truly accomplished.

5 of of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2010)
Hardcover (464) pages
ISBN: 978-0674049161

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

26 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks – A Review

  1. Deb – you already wow Mr. Darcy with your talents, but it would not hurt to expand them with this lovely book! It is quite amazing and a wonderful resource. Just up your alley. You will love it!

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  2. Oh my goodness, this sounds outstanding! Thanks for the review, Laurel Ann, as I’m out of touch and had not heard of it. Yes, Christmas sounds like a good time for it… :-)

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    • The David Shapard edition’s notes are more historical. This edition pulls together great quotes from scholars and the editor adds her own analysis. Sometimes it gets a bit too pedantic, but some of the scholarly insights will make fellow scholars appreciate the notes.

      It’s really hard to compare the two editions Joanna. The Shapard annotated edition is very accessible and easy to read. This edition has historical and analytical info and is beautiful too boot. My answer – is of course – buy both! But I am am a bookseller after all and say that all day long! ;-)

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  3. Thank you, Laurel Ann, for a great review and for the helpful comment to RegencyRomantic. Prof. Spacks’ inclusion of other views would seem to be one difference with the Shapard edition. I notice a Library Journal reviewer mentioned the inclusion of “interpretations of other scholars” as well. Shapard’s was clear, helpful, sometimes repetitive — I thought it valuable enough to give to a niece who’d never read P&P. But Spacks’ sounds rich and varied enough to be the new “Indispensable”!

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  4. I just finished the Shephard edition and I was very disappointed. On the plus side, reading it did slow me down and make me notice things I might otherwise read right over. And his interpretations gave me lots to disagree with!

    Other than that, the notes were not very useful. For one thing, I hardly noticed a single note that added anything I didn’t already know – and I’m not that erudite!

    Also many of his note were extremely repetitive (the same word gets exactly the same note each and every time it is used).

    But worse than all that, some of his notes were just plain wrong. For instance he defines “interesting” as “important” each and every time it is used. Important is a very general word, but its most common meaning is something like “weighty.” “Interesting,” as used in the 19th century, might mean “important” but only in a very narrow sense, as important to the particular person because of their particular “interest” in the subject (“interest” meaning something like “stake”). We still use this definition of “interest,” mostly in legal contexts when we talk about “conflict of interest” or “disinterested advice” – which does not mean advice from someone who is bored with our concerns, but advice from someone who has no financial stake in the outcome.

    A more useful set of notes would have told us why whatever was interesting to the particular character in the particular context. Which would have meant a different note for each instance.

    I have ranted!

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    • AprilFool, the Shapard edition really serves a different niche than this new Spacks edition. It is paperback, compact and geared for the novice reader. As a book seller I recommend it all the time to students. It is written in simple English and though I agree that it is at times repetitive, it does contain good historical info. The Spacks edition is a more scholarly work with analysis of characters and plot in addition to the historical facts. It is heavy and not something I would recommend to a student who needs to lug it around in their backpack. It is also 3 times the price. I have enjoyed both, and will continue to use each and compare what each editor has added. It is helpful to have two resources. I think the Spacks edition has the depth of detail and analysis that you are seeking.

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  9. Currently reading! This book is making me love Austen — more. And to think, I started out feeling so-so about her, last year. I’m now a fan. :-)

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