Cassandra and Jane Austen
Jane Austen wrote and revised Pride and Prejudice over a period of sixteen or seventeen years. Known as First Impressions, she began working on the manuscript at Steventon in 1796 but her father's attempt to have the book published in 1797 was unsuccessful. It was only when she was happily settled at Chawton that she revised the book and following the success of Sense and Sensibility, offered it to the publisher Thomas Egerton. Pride and Prejudice was published on 28th January 1813. Jane wrote to Cassandra the next day.
I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London; - on Wednesday I received one copy.... I must confess that I think her (Elizabeth Bennet) as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.
Jane Austen received some favourable notices in journals but particularly delighted in collecting comments from friends and family. She was pleased to have Cassandra's approval. In a later letter to her sister she writes,
Your letter was truely welcome and I am much obliged to you for all your praise, it came at a right time,..
For those of you who have not read Pride and Prejudice and would like to know the background for Lydia Bennet’s Story, this will give you a brief idea of the plot and characters.
Charles Bingley, a man of large fortune moves to Netherfield Park, in the neighbouring vicinity of the Bennet family of Longbourn, near Meryton, Hertfordshire. Mrs. Bennet is anxious to have one of her five daughters marry him and when they meet him at the assembly ball they are delighted with him. They are less inclined to like his friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich landowning gentleman from Derbyshire who appears to be proud, disagreeable and capable of snubbing Mrs. Bennet’s second daughter Elizabeth by refusing to dance. Mr. Bingley and the eldest daughter Jane soon form an attachment but his sisters and Mr. Darcy believe that Jane is of inferior birth and do not approve. Despite Darcy’s reservations about the family, he cannot help falling for Elizabeth’s charm, wit and ‘fine eyes’. Caroline Bingley does her best to try and steer his affections in her direction and criticises Elizabeth at every opportunity.
Elizabeth despises Mr. Darcy, believing him to be proud and disagreeable and is attracted to George Wickham, an officer in the local militia. Wickham tells Elizabeth that he grew up on Darcy’s estate, Pemberley, that his father worked for Darcy’s father and that he has not been given the promise of the living (clergyman’s position and income) that is due to him after old Mr. Darcy died. Elizabeth believes the charming Mr. Wickham wholeheartedly and dislikes Mr. Darcy even more as a result.
Meanwhile, the Bennet family’s cousin Mr. Collins visits them with the intention of marrying one of the Bennet girls. Mr. Bennet’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins and he will inherit Longbourn. His patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh has instructed him to marry and he proposes to Elizabeth. There are ructions when she refuses him but Mr. Collins swiftly turns to Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas and they soon marry.
Mr. Bingley and his party return to London, Caroline writes to Jane that she does not expect them to return and hints at a match between Bingley and Darcy’s sister Georgiana. Jane is naturally upset and Elizabeth believes it is a scheme to keep her sister and Bingley apart.
Elizabeth, Charlotte’s father and sister Maria go to Kent to visit Charlotte and Mr. Collins at home and they meet Lady Catherine de Bourgh who is Collins’s patroness and Darcy’s aunt. Darcy visits his aunt with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth cannot understand Darcy’s character, she believes he is responsible for dividing Jane and Bingley after she has a conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth is astounded and shocked by a surprise proposal from Mr. Darcy and refuses him outright. Darcy writes to her, outlining his role in influencing Bingley and tells her about Wickham’s infamous misconduct with Darcy’s sister, persuading her to elope with him. Elizabeth realises that Darcy is in the clear, she has been prejudiced by her own pride.
Elizabeth returns home and then goes on a trip to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle Gardiner. They visit Darcy’s home, Pemberley and meet him unexpectedly. They are all invited and Elizabeth meets his sister. She begins to see Mr. Darcy in a new light and her uncle and aunt find him charming.
Elizabeth is shocked to receive two letters from Jane telling her that Lydia has eloped with Mr. Wickham from Brighton, where Lydia has been staying with her friend Harriet Forster. Elizabeth leaves for Longbourn immediately. She believes that her chances of marrying Darcy are slim, now that she has fallen in love with him.
When Lydia and Wickham are found they marry but it is only later that we discover that if not for Darcy who settles all Wickham’s debts, the marriage would not have taken place at all.
Bingley returns to Netherfield to ask Jane to marry him and she accepts much to Mrs. Bennet’s delight.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh presents herself at Longbourn and demands of Elizabeth whether the rumour that she is engaged to Mr. Darcy is true and asks her to refuse him if he should ask. She makes it clear that there is an understanding between Mr. Darcy and her own daughter Anne and suggests that Elizabeth’s family are not good enough. Elizabeth refuses to co-operate and this gives Darcy renewed hope that she may accept him after all. His proposal is accepted at last and the eldest Bennet girls are married.
Elizabeth Bennet finally accepts Mr Darcy's proposal