I'm a trainee journalist living in London. A personal blog is forthcoming.
Published February 5th 2013
"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading"
It is a truth universally acknowledged that famous first lines will be overused in the anniversary celebrations of great novels.
Pride and Prejudice. Image from Wikipedia.
2013 is the bicentenary year of one of the greatest and most famous pieces of literature to ever come out of England. Jane Austen's "own darling child," Pride and Prejudice (originally entitled First Impressions, was published on 28th January 1813, with a second print run required by October of the same year. While she was prepared for potential literary fame as the book became an immediate success, I doubt Austen ever envisaged that success reaching across 200 years and her pride and joy becoming one of the best-loved books of all time.
Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennet, the second child of five daughters born to an English gentleman in a fictional Hertfordshire town of Meryton. The Bennets are not overly rich and Mrs. Bennet, rather lacking in tact and social grace, occupies much of the women's drawing room talk with hopes of her daughters finding suitable matches to rise in society and fortune.
Elizabeth Darcy depicted by C.E. Brock. Image from Wikipedia.
When Charles Bingley, "a single man in possession of a good fortune," moves into the neighbourhood, Mrs. Bennet is thrilled by the fantasy of his marrying one of her girls and, upon finding him to be a good-spirited, friendly and kindly gentleman, the eldest Bennet daughter Jane soon develops feelings for him. However, pride and prejudice is borne from both families when Bingley's sisters and his friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who feel the Bennet family are not suitable social companions, object to Bingley's returned feelings and discourage him from making Jane his wife.
Despite his strong judgement of the Bennet family, Mr. Darcy finds himself attracted to Elizabeth Bennet, whose strong character and sharp and sarcastic mind prevent her from looking past her first impression of him as a cold and proud man. From Elizabeth's point of view, the true nature of Austen's well-realised characters is slowly revealed to the reader, in a plot-filled commentary on early nineteenth century society and romance.
Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Darcy and Elizabeth in the 1995 BBC Adaptation. Image from Wikipedia
Praised for her strong characterisation and clever use of irony and humour, Jane Austen's delightful work remains relevant to each new generation because she explores the strengths and weaknesses of people we might meet every day. The subjects of nature vs. nurture in personal development, class and social standing, money and marriage are all themes that are inherent in society, transcending generations to provide conflict in reality and literature whatever the era. Austen's work has stood the test of time because of the undeniable skill she demonstrates in exploring these ideas and showing the ignorance and hypocrisy of mankind while celebrating the power of love.
There are several ways to celebrate the bicentennial of this great masterpiece, from reading Austen's novels and biography, The Real Jane Austen; A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne, and watching the various adaptations, to exciting events that are due to take place throughout the year. You can see a calendar of events around the world here.
Jane Austen's House Museum in Hampshire. Image from their official website.
The Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, is at the forefront of Austen-themed happenings this year with recitals commemorating Austen's love of music, reading relays, regency dance workshops and balls, and exhibitions of various aspects of her life, from clothes and letters to the story of Pride and Prejudice.
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath also has its fair share of Pride and Prejudice goings on. On top of its annual Jane Austen Festival, and famous high tea in the Regency Tea Room, they will host a costumed ball and banquet on 22nd June (updates on ticket information will be available here) and are encouraging Austen fans to join in their Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, to read and watch the selected multitudes of Austen-inspired novels and adaptations by the end of the year. More details here.
Bicentennial Celebrations at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. Image from their official website
Cambridge University will be holding a Pride and Prejudice conference in June, and the BBC's recreation of the Netherfield Regency Ball will be shown on BBC Two over Easter.
Slightly over 200 years ago, Jane Austen wrote; "I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation... I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." This is how I, and thousands of other literature lovers like me, feel about her most famous and beloved piece of work. Join in the celebrations this year to commemorate the magnum opus of one of the greatest writers of all time.