January 28: Jane Austen’s Pride andPrejudice was published anonymously on this day in 1813. The firstreviewers judged it “very superior to any novel we have lately met with inthe delineation of domestic scenes.” Annabella Milbanke, later Lady Byronand embroiled in some notorious domestic scenes of her own, praised the bookfor its daring normality:
It depends not on any ofthe common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, norrunaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres and disguises. I really thinkit is the most probable I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interestis very strong….
In a journal entry writtenthirteen years after the novel’s first publication, Sir Walter Scott notes hisenduring admiration and envy:
Also read again, and forthe third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady hada talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinarylife which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow-wow strainI can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which rendersordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of thedescription and the sentiment is denied to me.
But Austen’s drawing roomswere not for all tastes. Charlotte Brontë (whose Villette, was published on this day in 1853) wrote the following inan 1848 letter to George Lewes, in response to his advice, after having read Jane Eyre, that she might want to writeless melodramatically and more like Austen:
Why do you like MissAusten so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say thatyou would rather have written Pride andPrejudice … than any of the Waverly novels. I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I had read thatsentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accuratedaguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highlycultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of abright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonnybeck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in theirelegant but confined houses.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.