Worldwide, people are celebrating the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice.
While the Jane Austen Society of the Netherlands named a new English garden rose in honour of Jane Austen on June 23, Bank of England governor Mervyn King announced Jane Austen would be the next woman to grace a banknote.
In June, Sir King announced Winston Churchill would replace Elizabeth Fry on Britain’s £5 bank note. When accused of promoting a single-sex currency he said Jane Austen was ‘waiting in the wings’ to replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note.
While the new Bank of England governor Mark Carney reviews the decision, the row continues over the choice of Jane Austen as ‘prototoken’ woman and whether there is sufficient female representation on British currency. The only two women to appear on British bank notes have been Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale.
A universal truth
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife… However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be…”
From its opening, the importance of money as income, inheritance and gambling fund is a motivating force for the men and women in Pride and Prejudice.
As the Bennet family home is entailed to Mr Bennet’s cousin, Mr Collins, the importance of securing a comfortable living – through marriage – for her five daughters becomes Mrs Bennet’s goal.
The suitors arrive with their own financial issues: young aristocrat Mr Bingley who is captivated by eldest daughter Jane, the shyly arrogant Mr Darcy who becomes captivated by Lizzie’s ‘fine eyes’, soldier, gambler and seducer Mr Wickham, and the fawning clergyman Mr Collins.
The novel ends with wry humour, the letter Mr Bennet sends to Mr Collins.
I must trouble you once more for congratulations. Elizabeth will soon be the wife of Mr Darcy. Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.
On his recent international tour, owner-editor of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, Tim Bullamore put paid to the myth of Jane Austen as ‘St Jane, who did her knitting and domestic duties’.
“The reason we think that is because of Victorian morality. People began to portray this sort of anti-feminism view where the woman’s place is in the home and no-one would be tainted by such disgusting things as money,” Tim said.
As a ‘hard-headed business woman’, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra that she “preferred pewter to praise”. Jane appreciated the small income from the novels in which she so ably demonstrated social strategy and negotiation.
The path to popularity
How did Pride and Prejudice, a little-known novel from the Regency period (1811-1820), become a consistent bestseller?
“The easy answer is Colin Firth and the BBC adaptation of 1995. But, in fact, it had been increasing in popularity since Jane Austen’s death largely because there’s timeless themes: boy meets girl, they misunderstand each other, they re-unite, they live happily ever after,” Tim said.
The 1995 BBC mini-series has so caught the zeitgeist that a 12-foot fibreglass sculpture of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy currently rises out of London’s Serpentine Lake.
In a recent UKTV survey, the scene where Lizzie Bennett meets Mr Darcy after his swim in the lake at Pemberley was voted “the most memorable moment in a British TV drama”.
Tim said: “[The statue] is a great way to remember the remarkable job that Colin Firth and Andrew Davies achieved in popularising Jane Austen’s best-loved novel.
“But while it’s great publicity, let’s not forget that the ‘lake scene’ was never actually in Pride and Prejudice.”
The statue will travel to several UK locations before permanent installation at Lyme Park, Cheshire, where the scene was filmed, the Atlantic Wire reported.
But this, Jane Austen’s first novel, failed on its first impressions. Publishing house Cadell returned the manuscript unopened – the letter endorsed ‘declined by return of post’.
It is believed Reverend Austen, Jane’s father, sought to surprise his 21-year-old daughter with publication of her novel, First Impressions, that had so enlivened their family circle.
The novel languished for another 16 years before Jane heavily revised it for publication with a new title.
“First Impressions, the title, had at that time been used by another novelist, very recently, so Jane Austen couldn’t use it,” Tim said.
All things Pride and Prejudice
In recent years, Pride and Prejudice has inspired many prequels, sequels, spin-offs and mash-ups from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Darcy and Elizabeth as super-sleuths.
What inspired this explosion? Jane’s passion for her characters, Tim said.
“Even after it was first published, Jane Austen would walk around London looking for pictures that would be Mr and Mrs Darcy after they got married, so, she saw an afterlife for it.
“When you read the book you feel the afterlife – you want to know what happens next. So, it’s caught people’s imaginations.”
May your first impressions last!
Celebrate the bicentenary with a Pride and Prejudice study afternoon hosted by the Jane Austen Society of Australia (Brisbane branch). Saturday 20 July, 2013, 1.00pm at the CWA Rooms, Ruth Fairfax House, 89 Gregory Terrace, Spring Hill.
Hear the 4ZZZ interview with Tim Bullamore (Jane Austen Regency World Magazine):
The Pride and Prejudice English garden rose: http://www.roses.co.uk/bush-roses/512-pride-and-prejudice.html
The ‘lake scene’, Pride and Prejudice (BBC): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hasKmDr1yrA
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
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