Pride and Prejudice
London: T. Egerton, 1813
[S.L.] I [Austen – 1813]
Celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary this year, Pride and Prejudice is arguably the best-known, best-loved novel in the English language. From the middle of the nineteenth century a new British or American edition has appeared on average at least once every two years; it has given rise to numerous prequels, sequels and dramatisations, as well to abridgements ranging from standard books to comic strips; and international popularity can be ascertained by the wide range of languages into which it has been translated, ranging far beyond the major European ones to Persian, Japanese, Thai and Tamil among others. It must be one of few novels to unite popular affection with critical acclaim. Sir Walter Scott wrote in his diary on 14 March 1826: “Also read again and for the third time at least Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.” Other authors who praised Jane Austen for such features as cleverness, accurate observations, and avoidance of sentimental and Gothic clichés, included Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Gifford, Mary Russell Mitford, Henry Crabb Robinson and, later, Robert Southey. Thus, while the first edition is not rare – David Gilson located fifty-five copies for his 1982 bibliography of Jane Austen – it is certainly iconic.
The Senate House Library copy is part of the Sterling Library of first and fine editions of English literature; Sir Louis Sterling owned first editions of all six of Austen’s major novels, which fit naturally into a collection which celebrates the high spots of English literature. His copy of Pride and Prejudice was bound uniformly with the other titles by Sawyer in red morocco with gilt tooling and marbled endpapers. Less desirable now than the drab boards in which booksellers issued the work, a fine binding is one sign of the esteem in which a previous owner regarded the work. Within Sterling’s collection, the novel gains a context from being alongside first editions of novels by authors Austen read, admired, and sometimes satirised, such as Fanny Burney, Oliver Goldsmith, Ann Radcliffe, and Samuel Richardson.