Midway while reading Jane Austen's most celebrated novel years ago, I had to take a pause and exult with you about how ridiculously fun it is to read. Mark Twain disagrees with me: he once said that a library that had not one Jane Austen novel, even if it had no other books, was a good library. Hilarious, but Mr. Twain is wrong on this one. The book with one of the most famous opening lines in literature is funny, broad-minded, and brilliant; Austen is as scathing about social class and manners as Edith Wharton. Austen described Pride and Prejudice as her "own darling child." She was 37 years old at the time it appeared. Two centuries later, it sells about 50,000 copies a year in the United Kingdom, and about 20 million copies total. It has never been out of print. (Though the cover design sure has evolved...)
As the novel celebrates its two hundredth birthday this week, it's a wonderful opportunity to turn back to its pages ... as Jen Sorenson has done with her translation of the classic into comics for NPR.
Tomorrow, which is the exact anniversary of the novel, there will be a read-a-thon in Bath, England that will be featured on a 12-hour internet broadcast, connected to Jane Austen societies around the world. (The author lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806.) The only comprehensive Austen collection in the United States is expecting a "mob" this week. Philadelphia's Free Library is putting on a day-long party. Penguin has released a bicentennial edition of the novel with an introduction by Margaret Drabble.
And plenty of us will pick up the novel this week to read it whole, again or for the first time, or to revisit a chapter or two, so that Jane Austen might again sing to us across time.