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Pride and Prejudice | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Dealing with issues of marriage, morality, and social conduct, Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice is one of British literature's great examples of the "novel of manners." In her artfully crafted portrait of English society at the turn of the 18th century, Austen follows the fortunes of the Bennet family, whose five daughters are all ready to take husbands. Gently satirizing the manners and values that govern their actions and limit their choices, the novel brings to life a richly detailed world whose characters jump off the page.

Many contemporaries of Austen praised the work upon publication, and it has since been translated into many languages and annotated in numerous critical editions. Its lead characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, have inspired countless adaptations and imitations.

1. Pride and Prejudice was not the original title.

Austen first told the story of Elizabeth Bennet through a manuscript she called First Impressions. Written between 1796 and 1797, First Impressions was an epistolary novel, one that unfolds through a series of epistles, or letters. Epistolary novels were very popular at that time. When she revised the manuscript in 1811, she changed the narrative point of view and renamed the novel Pride and Prejudice. The manuscript for First Impressions has not survived.

2. Austen's writings would have been lost in obscurity if not for a nephew's 1870 memoir.

Austen's popularity declined in the decades following her death, with few people reading her novels. Her reputation was revived at the height of the Victorian era, however, with the 1870 publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh. Austen-Leigh portrayed his aunt Jane as a sweet-natured woman concerned mainly with family matters—the very ideal of Victorian womanhood. Since then, Austen has enjoyed enormous popularity, even cult-like devotion.

A portrait of James Edward Austen-Leigh taken in the 1860s

A portrait of James Edward Austen-Leigh taken in the 1860s Sotheby's

3. Jane Austen may have died of arsenic poisoning.

Near the end of her short life—she died at 41—the ailing Jane Austen complained in a letter that her complexion was "black and white and every wrong color." Crime writer Lindsay Ashford has linked this comment to a symptom of arsenic poisoning known as "raindrop pigmentation," a mottling of the skin. Ashford has also pointed out that many popular remedies of the day contained arsenic. Austen also complained of joint pain and may have taken an arsenic-laced remedies that promised to cure it.

Arsenic in mineral form

Arsenic in mineral form James St. John CC BY 2.0

4. Pride and Prejudice was rated the United Kingdom's second most-beloved book.

In a 2003 BBC poll of the United Kingdom's best-loved novels, Pride and Prejudice ranked second. Only J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings received more votes. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman came in third.

5. Pride and Prejudice was popular with soldiers in World War I.

Austen's novels were popular in wartime, with both soldiers in the trenches and the top brass. During World War I, soldiers seem to have read Austen's novels to escape the horror and monotony of trench warfare. In fact, Rudyard Kipling wrote a story called "The Janeites" about a group of soldiers who bond over their love of Austen. Churchill himself listened to Pride and Prejudice while weathering a serious illness that kept him away from his duties.

American soldiers wearing gas masks during World War I

American soldiers wearing gas masks during World War I Moore, William E.; Russell, James C.

6. Bridget Jones's Diary is based on the novel.

Published in 1996 and made into a film in 2001 starring Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones's Diary is a contemporized retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The book and film focus on the same types of societal and romantic pressures that Austen described, moving the setting from the 18th-century English countryside to modern-day London. Colin Firth, who appears as the Darcy figure in the film, also played Darcy in an earlier (and very popular) BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

7. Jane Austen accepted a proposal of marriage but broke off the engagement the next day.

It sounds like a scene from Pride and Prejudice: While visiting her friends Catherine and Althea Bigg in their home Manydown Park, Jane received a proposal from their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither. Bigg-Wither, who was five and a half years Jane's junior, was said to be "plain," "awkward," and "uncouth." Perhaps Jane accepted his proposal for the security he might offer her. However, she did not love him, and after reversing her acceptance, she hurried away from Manydown Park.

8. Pride and Prejudice spawned a murder mystery spin-off.

Death Comes to Pemberley by mystery writer P.D. James centers on a murder committed several years after the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy. The author attempts to recreate the literary style of Austen throughout the novel, which was later turned into a BBC miniseries.

Death Comes to Pemberley by mystery writer P.D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley by mystery writer P.D. James.

9. Pride and Prejudice wasn't published in the United States until 15 years after Austen's death.

While the book was published in the United Kingdom under the well-known title, the first edition in the United States wasn't published until 1832 and was entitled Elizabeth Bennett, or Pride and Prejudice.

10. A zombie movie based on Pride and Prejudice was released in 2016.

To a long list of works that derive from or parody Pride and Prejudice, the 2016 film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies adds the threat of the undead to the challenges faced by the five Bennet daughters. The movie is based on a 2009 book of the same name.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) Lionsgate Films

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