Why It Took 16 Years to Publish ‘Pride and Prejudice’

On Jan. 28, 1813, Pride and Prejudice was published for the first time. It was the first novel written by Jane Austen, although it wasn’t the first book she published. She’d released Sense and Sensibility two years prior.

Austen started writing what became Pride and Prejudice (Amazon | Bookshop) in Oct. 1796. She titled the work-in-progress First Impressions.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

It took her ten months to write it, and then her father, Rev. George Austen, tried to find a publisher for the work. He sent the manuscript to the publishing house, Cadell & Davies, to see if they’d release the book.

The publisher instead rejected the reverend’s inquiry by marking it “return to sender.” That means no one at Cadell & Davies bothered opening the minister’s letter.

Jane kept writing, though, and produced Sense and Sensibility (Amazon | Bookshop). The publisher Thomas Egerton released that book in 1811, and the first edition sold out within two years. Encouraged by that success, Egerton agreed to publish Jane’s first novel.

The Publishing of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Egerton paid Jane £110 for the copyright to the manuscript, equal to about £5,120, or $6,320 today.

He agreed to pay the printing and advertising costs but would keep any profits generated by the book. To avoid confusion with a work by another author, Jane changed her novel’s name to Pride and Prejudice.

On Jan. 28, 1813, an ad in the London newspaper The Morning Chronicle promoted a book by “the author of Sense and Sensibility.” The new novel, Pride and Prejudice, was available as a three-volume set for 18 shillings. That’s about £42 in today’s money.

Critics loved the book, which tells the story of 20-year-old Elizabeth Bennett searching for a man to marry.

Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who later married Lord Byron, called the novel “a very superior work.” And playwright Richard Sheridan said Pride and Prejudice was “the cleverest thing he ever read.”

Jane was also pleased with the work. After receiving her copy of the book, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, saying, “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”

The first edition of Pride and Prejudice sold out within its first year. The book was in its third edition by 1817.

And to date, it remains one of the most popular English-language novels ever published. As of 2013, more than 20 million copies of Pride and Prejudice have sold.

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