28 January: On this day in history
What events happened on 28 January in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…
28 January 1813: Pride and Prejudice is published
Jane Austen’s masterpiece finally reaches the booksellers’ shelves
“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.
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.