The 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single blog in possession of a good readership must commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, which occurred this week. Literary and science fiction blogger Abigail Nussbaum has some interesting thoughts for the occasion. In this 2010 post, I listed Pride and Prejudice (which I read in high school) among the fifteen books that have influenced me the most.

The BBC website recently did an article on “The Curious American Cult of Jane Austen.” But the article doesn’t provide any evidence showing that Austen is any more popular in the US than in Britain and other English-speaking nations. Even a casual web search reveals many Austen fan organizations in Britain, and numerous celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of P&P, including a reenactment of the Netherfield Ball ( a key scene in the book) organized by the BBC itself.

UPDATE: In this 2007 post, I considered the role of property law in Pride and Prejudice:

Generations of English lit professors have spilled barrels of ink over this book; but, as far as I know, most of them haven’t placed much emphasis on the fact that the plot hinges on a point of property law.

The reason why it is so important for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s five daughters to find wealthy husbands is that they cannot inherit their father’s estate, since it is subject to the fee tail – a now archaic form of property estate that was required to pass through the male line. As a result, upon Mr. Bennet’s death, his land (which forms the overwhelming majority of his wealth) will go to his nearest male relation, the despicable Mr. Collins. In the early nineteenth century, few women could acquire significant wealth other than by inheriting it or marrying into it; thus the Bennets’ predicament. As Austen explains in Chapter 7:

Mr. Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother’s fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his.

UPDATE: Some commenters take me to task for describing Mr. Collins as “despicable.” I certainly don’t mean to suggest he’s a major villain, merely that he is “despicable” in the standard dictionary sense of “deserving to be despised” – which he merits due to his arrogance, insensitivity, and obsequiousness. Still, it’s possible that “despicable” was a poor choice of words because many people interpret it as a stronger censure than I intended.