It’s a simple story: boy is rude to girl, girl dislikes boy. Boy proposes to girl and she refuses him. Later, she discovers that he’s stinking rich. Hijinks ensue. In the end, they are married in an ideal 19th-century wedding of both love and money. Today, over 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice remains Jane Austen’s most beloved novel.
1. Like her characters, Austen was rejected for not being rich enough.
Pride and Prejudice is about young women of gentile poverty trying to find good marriage matches. This issue must have been fresh on the young author’s mind when she wrote the book. At age 20, she had a flirtation with a young man named Tom Lefroy. Like a scene out of one of her novels, she flirted scandalously with him at a ball. “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together,” she wrote to her sister Cassandra. “He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you.” But Austen’s social status wasn’t high enough and Lefroy’s family separated the two lovebirds. Lefroy was soon engaged to a woman with a large fortune. Austen wrote her sister: “At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy … My tears flow as I write this, at this melancholy idea.”
2. Mr. Darcy is extremely rich.
The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but how rich is that exactly? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune. It’s no wonder Mrs. Bennet gushed about Elizabeth’s engagement—"How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!" Marrying Darcy would be like marrying a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt.
3. Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of her day.
In the book, the Bennet family is almost ruined when Lydia elopes with the nefarious soldier George Wickham to Scotland. “I am going to Gretna Green,” Lydia writes her sister, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton.” Unlike England, Scotland allowed people under 21 to get married without parental consent, and without the same legal and religious bureaucracy. Gretna Green was the first town over the Scottish border. There, a young couple could be joined with “marriage by declaration,” which often occurred in a blacksmith shop.
4. Like Elizabeth and Jane, Austen was close to her sister.
In Pride and Prejudice, the relationship between the two sisters is central to the novel. In real life, Jane was very close to her sister Cassandra. They wrote each other almost every day when they were apart and would voluntarily share a bedroom, even when they could sleep separately. When Jane died, Cassandra wrote her niece: “She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow.” It’s no wonder that close sisters appear in so many of Austen’s novels.
5. A publisher rejected the novel without even reading it.
Austen finished the book, then titled First Impressions, when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent it to the publisher Thomas Cadell, writing that he had "a Manuscript Novel comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss [Fanny] Burney's Evelina." He asked how much it would cost him to publish the book and what Cadell would pay for copyright. In response, Cadell scrawled “Declined by Return of Post” on the letter and sent it back with insulting speed. The novel languished for 14 years until, flush with the success of Sense and Sensibility, Austen revised the manuscript. It was published in 1813 when she was 37 years old.
6. The title came from a Fanny Burney novel.
Austen probably got the title Pride and Prejudice from Cecilia by Fanny Burney, where the phrase is repeated several times—and in block capitals, no less. “The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr. Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. … If to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination.”
7. Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously.
Austen didn’t put her name on her novels, and would only say they were “By a Lady.” The title page of Pride and Prejudice said, “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed her name to the public.
8. Austen worried the novel was too frivolous.
Because Pride and Prejudice humorously deals with women getting married, it’s often described as “chick lit,” a label some fans find reductionist. But Austen herself worried the book wasn’t serious enough. “The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling,” she wrote. “It wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had.” Overall, though, Austen was “well satisfied enough” with the novel, especially with the character of Elizabeth. In another letter, she said, “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.”
9. She sold her copyright for 110 pounds—but wanted 150.
Austen sold the copyright for Pride and Prejudice to her publishers for 110 pounds, even though she said in a letter that she wanted 150 pounds. She chose this one-time payment, forfeiting any risk or reward connected to the future of the book. It was a bad gamble. The book was a best seller, and was on its third printing by 1817. It has been in print ever since.
10. Pride and Prejudice has been adapted hundreds of times.
The adaptations of Pride and Prejudice seem endless (and sometimes bizarre). There have been at least 11 film and TV versions of the book, including the 1995 TV movie starring Colin Firth as a memorable Darcy. Other adaptations include Bridget Jones Diaries, the Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice, the mystery novel Death Comes to Pemberley, and the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” And Austen fever never stops—the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is set to come out in February.