Probably one of the world’s most well-known and read novels, the story of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice has been translated onto film, television, online as well as the story line being adapted and reproduced in a thousand different ways. It is the classic love story line and plot. Documented by Miss Austin in the late 1700s the novel still remains relevant today. This essay will seek to identify the initial public response to the novel, the evolution of its popularity and how it has remained relevant for more than two hundred years.
The second of Miss Austin’s novels after Sense and Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice was initially refused by publishers, but Jane finally sold the copyright to the novel in 1813 so that it could be published. It received balanced and favourable reviews in the press, with praise for Austen’s realism. This demonstrates that right from the start the stories of Austen were perhaps the first time love stories and been documented as real situations and feelings could happen in real life, which the reader could identify with. The gothic style of literature at the time, from authors such as Ann Radcliffe, were tall-tales of mysticism rather than relevant to everyday life.
Three editions of Pride & Prejudice were printed within five years. The novel could have been received well because it was the second novel from Austen. Sense and Sensibility had laid the groundwork for Austen’s reputation for romantic realism, however it is important to note that all of Austen’s novels were published anonymously while she was alive, so she saw little self-recognition for her novels’ popularity during her lifetime.
The novel was immediately translated into other European languages and reached the US in the 1830s. Remaining in printed word throughout the 1800s, it was not until the 1930s that the novel was adapted for the stage, and then in the 1940s Hollywood attempted its first adaption of the novel for the screen. The film featured Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Several movie adaptation have since been produced, the most recent featured Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in 2005. What is interesting is that regardless of whether the audience already knows the story or not, adaptations of the story continue to be successful, resonant and poignant for audiences around the world – people continue to want to be told the story.
BBC television has trumped the TV adaption versions of Pride and Prejudice, with a 1980s version and an updated 1995 version, which received great success at the time and continues to be purchased and watched on DVD today. In 2012 Pride and Prejudice moved online, with a web series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which won an Emmy Award.
In consideration of the written word the number of sequels, spin-offs, related and inspired novels has reached hundreds, from Elizabeth Aston’s ‘Mr Darcy’s Daughters’ to PD James’ recent ‘Death comes to Pemberley’.
The novel has and continues to move with the times: as soon as stage turned to cinema, as cinema turned to television, as television turned to the internet and ebook, so Pride and Prejudice has been re-interpreted. As technology continues to develop it is likely that Pride and Prejudice will continue to be adapted for whatever medium the modern audience requires. It has been adapted for the ebook by volunteers and is a free download, so there is no doubt it will also remain in printed word so that new generations can still read the original words of Austen herself.