Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Susannah Fullerton

Book-illustrations-mr-darcy-and-elizabeth-20710753-493-769

I joined a bandwagon, I admit it! It was the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice last month (just in case you missed it) and lots of lovely new books about Jane and her novels have been released to coincide with such an important event. I’ve mainly been reading about Shakespeare lately, but to be frank, I’ve had enough, and the Pride and Prejudice bicentenary seemed a perfect excuse to jump ship and reach for the familiar and much loved ground of Austen instead. It still counts as work anyway, because I’ll be teaching Pride and Prejudice next term and I am simply getting a head start! As such, I was considerably intrigued by the premise of Susannah Fullerton’s ‘celebration’ of this much loved novel. Alongside some enjoyable literary criticism, Fullerton has also written chapters on Pride and Prejudice in translation, Pride and Prejudice sequels and adaptations, Pride and Prejudice on film, Pride and Prejudice illustrations and editions, and Pride and Prejudice marketing materials, all of which are topics I don’t often see discussed. Opening the pages of this very attractive, copiously illustrated collection of essays, I was excited to discover new insights into the book I love so much.

I whizzed through the essays on the characters and the style of the novel; there wasn’t much new in there, but the discussion was lively, intelligent and enjoyable nonetheless. Where my interest really became piqued was in the chapter on translations. So much of Austen’s brilliance is in the subtlety of her language, and I have always wondered how well that can be captured in another tongue. Apparently, until recently, the answer to that question has been ‘not very’. The first translation of P&P was a few short months after its first publication; in a time when there were no such things as rights, Austen probably wasn’t even aware of its existence. It was a cheap, much abridged and much adapted French version, amended to suit the tastes of the French public. Forty of the original sixty one chapters were left out entirely. Subsequent French translations followed the same theme; in fact, until very recently, the main translation of Austen available in France was a decidedly dodgy early 19th century one, which makes it no surprise that Austen has spend most of the last two hundred years being barely read in the country.

I was shocked to find that the situation was much the same across Europe, until very recently. Austen’s language is complex, and harnessing her wit and clever turns of phrase outside of her native tongue must be a nigh-on impossible task. I certainly wouldn’t like to attempt it. Fullerton raises the excellent point that the title Pride and Prejudice is itself a minefield, before even getting started on the text; both ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ have multiple meanings in English, and the correct understanding is often gleaned through context. Where there is no direct translation available, which understanding do you take as the dominant? Arrogance or dignity? Presumption or suspicion? The more you dig, the more tangled you get. In recent years, mostly since Colin Firth turned millions of women on to the charms of Mr Darcy, a new wave of translations have appeared that have led to a new interest in Austen outside of English speaking countries, but I still wonder whether they can truly have the same experience as those of us who can read the original text. I’d love to hear from people who can comment on Jane Austen in translation, as I really am intrigued by this!

Another chapter that I really enjoyed was the chapter outlining the various editions and illustrations of Pride and Prejudice that have been produced since its first publication. Originally it was published in cardboard wrappers, as the book buyers of the early 19th century would have taken their copies to a book binder and had them bound to their own specification. In the later decades of the 19th and early 20th century came a huge explosion in Austen’s popularity, and a range of attractively produced volumes were made available. From the luxurious and still much coveted ‘Peacock‘ edition (it has been my dream for many years to own this edition; I live in hope of coming across a copy in a charity shop!) illustrated by Hugh Thomson to cheap ‘yellowbacks’ decorated with pictures of Elizabeth and Darcy in High Victorian fashion, there was something for every pocket. Fullerton reproduces many illustrations, most of which I’d never seen before. I had no idea that Helen Sewell, illustrator of the first editions of the Little House on the Prairie books, had illustrated an edition, though her Lizzy Bennett looks rather too po-faced for my liking. I rather like the look of Chris(tiana) Hammond’s illustrations from the late 19th century, which are very detailed and show Lizzy to great advantage. My own edition of Pride and Prejudice is a 1902 Macmillan copy with Austin Dobson illustrations; I like it very much, but now I know the range that is available, it’s made me itch to find an upgrade! Not that I think any illustration can truly do the characters justice; there can surely be no better picture than that us faithful readers can conjure in our own heads.

Overall, this is a lovely book that looks at Pride and Prejudice from a wide range of intriguing perspectives, bringing us right up to the modern day with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the action figures die hard fans can buy to create their own Jane Austen worlds at home! I feel enlightened by it, and I think that understanding more of the context surrounding the novel has certainly enriched my appreciation of what a wonderful book it is and how lucky I am to be able to access it so easily without the barrier of language to block my enjoyment. I am very thankful to the publisher Frances Lincoln for sending it to me, and I can’t recommend it enough. It will make a brilliant teaching tool when I finally get to spend my days talking about Darcy and Lizzy rather than Romeo and Juliet!

18 comments

  1. How recently did Jane Austen start gaining popularity in the rest of Europe? I didn’t know that either! But of course it totally makes sense. Reading books in translation has never much been my thing.

  2. That whole translation business has got to be tough. Sometimes I laugh when I watch a French movie with English subtitles and I catch something that doesn’t match up. I can’t even imagine trying to translate the wit and essence of Jane Austen into another language…impossible. Yet, the thought of 40 chapters being omitted from a translated text…what the???? I hope one day you find your dream version of P&P. I will start looking on this side of the pond for it too! : )

    1. Yes, it’s so hard to get the nuances of language right! I watched the latest Bond in Paris and the subtitles were way off in many places, totally missing the sarcasm. I felt sorry for the French audience! I know – ridiculous, isn’t it? Thank you – I hope I do too. It would be such a treasured possession!

  3. Fascinating sounding book Rachel, thank you for sharing it so brilliantly! The facts about the French editions always make me feel I must miss so much when I read Russian novels for example in translation. What a great sounding collection you could gradually put together of top notch Jane Austen editions. That sounds lots of fun, and I do hope a Thomson winks at you from a charity shop shelf very soon! I have an edition of the Brock one from above in storage – it’s very nice too – wish I had it here now!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review Donna!🙂 Oh yes, me too – I always feel like I’ve never properly read translated novels, which is why I read so few of them! I’m always updating my Austens to nicer editions as I find them and I enjoy picking them up for a song. I want that Thomson so badly! I’m sorry your lovely P&P is in storage – I hope it won’t be long before you will be reunited with all your things.

  4. Thank you so much for the fabulous review of my book. I’m delighted you enjoyed reading it so much and that you will find it useful in teaching and introducing ‘P & P’ to a new generation of readers. I didn’t know that Helen Sewell had illustrated ‘Little House on the Prairie’ so was most interested to learn that.
    Good luck in finding that Peacock edition. I own one – I got it through ‘Jane Austen Books’ in America. If you ask the wonderful women who run the shop if they can keep an eye out for a copy for you, I’m sure you’ll eventually get one. Sadly, they are not cheap.
    I loved your comments about my chapter on translations – it was one of the chapters I most enjoyed writing. Until starting that chapter I hadn’t thought much about the terrible challenges of capturing Jane Austen’s many shades of meaning in a different language.
    Thanks again. By the way, I love the picture of the little girl reading at the top of your site – can you tell me who the artist is?

    1. Thank you so much for coming by, Susannah – what an honour! I so enjoyed your wonderful book; what an achievement, and thank you so much for writing it!
      Yes, Helen Sewell was the illustrator before Garth Williams. They’re beautiful woodcut style illustrations and are well worth having a look at!
      I am very jealous of your Peacock – one day, I will have one too!
      Thank you – I was fascinated by it and very much appreciated all of your research!
      The artist at the top is Jessie Willcox Smith – she was an American children’s book illustrator.
      Thanks again for commenting, Susannah – and for giving me such reading pleasure!

  5. It sounds amazing. I love Pride and Prejudice with all my heart, I have since the first time I read it, but I know next to nothing about the historical context it was placed in, and I really should remedy that. Perhaps I’ll give this book a try.
    As for your question about translations: no, it’s not the same. It is never the same, no matter the book or how good the translator is. I first read a Spanish translation of P&P, when my English wasn’t good enough to understand the language of an English novel from the Regency period (and truthfully, I barely understood what Regency was and didn’t really care, at that time). Then, a couple of years later, I read the ‘real’ thing. It was very different – a language itself can set different moods, the puns are impossible to translate, the flow is different, and so on and so forth. It keeps its charm, but in a different way. Now, if I can help it, I never read translations of books that were originally written in languages I can understand (which is a grand total of two, sadly). Oh well.

    1. Oh you definitely should – it’s perfect for all of those contextual facts you always wanted to know!
      How wonderful to be bilingual! I am so glad you’ve been able to enjoy Austen in the original, and thank you for your insight into translations – absolutely fascinating. It makes me feel sad for all those people who can’t access the real Austen!

  6. My Austen radar must have failed because I was completely unaware of this book! Thanks for reviewing it. By the way, I recommend the new Paula Byrne biography, I was going to wait for the paperback but couldn’t resist and bought the hardback!

    1. Yes it’s gone a bit under the radar but it’s very good! I am waiting for the Paula Byrne at the library – can’t afford hardback at the moment! Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. I thought nothing could top the butchery that is usually done to Le Comte de Monte-Cristo but I guess I was wrong!

    This book sounds fascinating, thank you for reminding me about it now that it is finally out.

  8. It’s astonishing that a publisher could omit so many chapters and still consider this to be the same book. Essentially what is left is a short story. Wonder which chapters they left in?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s