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28 January: On this day in history

What events happened on 28 January in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: January 28, 2022 at 5:46 am
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28 January 1813: Pride and Prejudice is published

Jane Austen’s masterpiece finally reaches the booksellers’ shelves

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” So begins Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of the best-loved novels in the English language – yet relatively few readers realise just how long it took her to complete and publish it.

Austen began composing Pride and Prejudice in the autumn of 1796. She was not yet 21, and had not yet published a word. When she read the first version (entitled First Impressions) to her family, they loved it. Her father, George, even wrote to a publisher in London, Thomas Cadell, to ask if he would be interested in printing it. Cadell simply sent back the letter, marking it “Declined by Return of Post”.

For several years, First Impressions gathered dust in a drawer. Then, by around 1811, Austen took it out again. Though it’s hard to be sure – the original manuscript is lost – she almost certainly made considerable alterations, dropping its epistolary format and changing the title to the now-familiar one. She soon found a publisher for this new version: Thomas Egerton, of the Military Library, who paid her £110.

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On 28 January 1813, the novel made its first appearance in the bookshops, bound in three handsome volumes and priced at 18 shillings. Though it was hardly an instant bestseller, its reputation soon began to grow. “Buy it immediately,” playwright Richard Sheridan told a friend, adding that it was “one of the cleverest things” he had ever read.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

28 January 1393
The mentally unstable King Charles VI of France narrowly escaped death at the Bal des Ardents (the Ball of the Burning Men). He was one of six dancers dressed as wild men at a masquerade ball when a torch set one of the dancers’ flammable costumes alight. Four of the dancers burned to death while a fifth escaped by jumping into a vat of wine.
28 January 1829
William Burke, murderer and body snatcher of Burke and Hare fame, is hanged on the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh. His partner, William Hare, escapes prosecution by turning king's evidence.
28 January 1833
Charles George Gordon, who will later find fame as "Gordon of Khartoum", is born in Woolwich, London.
28 January 1841
Journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley was born in Denbigh. The illegitimate son of John Rowlands, he was originally named after his father but later changed his name after being befriended by Henry Hope Stanley, an American trader.
28 January 1912
American Abstract Impressionist painter Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming. In 1945 he married fellow artist Lee Krasner.

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Authors

Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine

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