Today we installed the new display in our Visitor Centre, celebrating 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
The full title of the display is 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice: From Austen to Zombies, and it contains only a small sample from the hundreds of editions and other books about the novel in our collections, from the first edition to the zombies, who appeared in the ‘mash-up’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a few years ago.
At the heart of the display is our copy of the first edition, one of a set of Austen first editions in our Hugh Sharp collection. It’s a beautifully-preserved copy of this three-volume set, still in the original publishers’ boards. Like many first editions of famous books, its plain appearance gives no clue to the literary treasure within.
Some other well-known editions are included, such as the ‘Peacock’ edition, which contains Hugh Thomson’s illustrations, reprinted many times since, but we’ve also taken the opportunity to rediscover some gems, such as the edition illustrated by Chris Hammond, published in 1900 only a few years after the ‘Peacock’.
Our legal deposit collections are an invaluable resource for this kind of display. Many libraries preserve the best editions of novels like Pride and Prejudice and associated scholarly material: we accumulate everything, scholarly and popular. This kind of material tells us a lot about who publishers thought would read the novel, who bought copies, and how attitudes to it have changed over time. In documenting this history, an edition produced a few years ago aimed at teenage fans of the ‘Twilight’ series is as important as the magisterial scholarly edition produced by R.W. Chapman in 1923, and you will find both in our exhibition.
One of the most interesting things these books tell us about Pride and Prejudice is how people have responded to the novel over the years. The ‘Peacock’ edition mentioned above comes with an introduction from an eminent man of letters, critic George Saintsbury. Anyone whose perception of Pride and Prejudice is that it’s the quintessential women’s romantic novel may be surprised to learn that a century ago, it was men who formed the Jane Austen fanbase. Saintsbury even coined the term ‘Janite’ (later ‘Janeite‘) to describe these avid readers, and ended his introduction with a discourse on why Elizabeth, of all fictional heroines, would be the perfect one to marry. What he would have made of today’s emphasis on Mr Darcy?
Although exhibitions always involve a lot of work, this one was certainly one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done here at NLS – as I’ve adored Pride and Prejudice since I first read it as a teenager, it was a real labour of love. I hope visitors enjoy it too!
- Our free display runs from 10 July to 15 September, open 7 days a week.
- Find out more about the display on the special webpage on our website.