TODAY is the 200th anniversary of the publication of one of the best-loved books in the English language : Pride and Prejudice. Events are taking place across Hampshire this year to celebrate the book and its author - Jane Austen.
As well as television and film adaptations, Pride and Prejudice has spawned updated revisions, such as Bridget Jones’ Diary, while the original novel remains popular.
And this year it’s set to become more popular still, with the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice being celebrated.
Austen is one of Hampshire’s best known daughters.
The beloved writer was born here in 1775, buried here in 1817 and found much of her inspiration in the county.
There are a number of locations across the county which can claim a connection to the author. These include Steventon, near Basingstoke, where she wrote the first drafts of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, Southampton, where she lived for some time following the death of her father, before moving to a house on the Chawton estate, near Alton, and Winchester, where she lived her final days and is buried in the cathedral.
In 1809 she moved to a cottage on the Chawton House Estate, that her brother had inherited. It was while at Chawton that Jane spent her most prolific writing years. It was also while living there that she had her first novel published, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811, using the pseudonym A Lady, as well as Pride and Prejudice, which was first published on January 28, 1813.
Today the house where she lived is Jane Austen’s House Museum, and contains many of the Austens’ belongings as well as furniture and some original letters and manuscripts.
To mark the anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, numerous events are being held across Hampshire.
The museum is holding a series of talks, workshops and events throughout the year, including two exhibitions: The Story of Pride and Prejudice and later in the year an exhibition of the costumes work in the much-loved 1995 BBC adaptation of the novel, which starred Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
Chawton House Library, which was Austen’s brother’s home and which was the reason that she came to the area, is also marking the occasion with a yearlong series of events.
The Chawton estate passed to Austen’s brother, Edward, in 1797 and in 1809 Austen herself moved into Chawton Cottage on the estate and began the most prolific period of her writing life, which continued until her death.
She was a frequent visitor to Chawton House, and the graves of her mother and sister can be found in the ancient church.
The 400-year-old house is now the home of Chawton House Library, run by a charity, which houses a rare collection of women’s writing from 1600 to 1830, including various editions of Pride and Prejudice and an original Austen manuscript of one of her early pieces, Sir Charles Grandison.
The house is always popular with Austen fans and it is expecting to see an explosion in visitor numbers this anniversary year, boosted by a number of special events including general and academic conferences, a talk by Simon Langton, director of the 1995 BBC adaptation and a Regency ball.
Eleanor Marchant, director of development at Chawton House Library, says that it is a special time for the charity.
“For us it’s a really interesting time because we’ve got really strong links with the Austen family and Pride and Prejudice.
“It was because of the house that Austen came to live at Chawton in the first place; she would never have come to the village if her brother Edward hadn’t inherited the house here.
“The charity promotes early English women’s writing. Pride and Prejudice is one of the most iconic novels by a female author and it’s very important in that timeline of women’s writing and female authorship coming into the public sphere. So it’s something we’re very keen to celebrate and it also happens to coincide with our tenth year anniversary of being a charity so it’s a double celebration this year.
“It’s lovely to be one of the locations that’s at the centre of this anniversary because she does mean so much to the county and she’s so important in the history of literature.”
Eleanor notes that there are Jane Austen societies all over the globe and Hampshire is a destination for national and international fans of her work.
She believes there are two key reasons for her ongoing appeal.
“I think people tend to latch on to what seems to be a much more civilised and slower pace of life, where things invariably seem to work out. Those people who don’t deserve good fortune end up not having it and those people who strive for it get there in the end.
“And I think the overriding factor is she’s immediate, no matter what era you’re reading it in. The characterisation is so good and the wit is still so funny that we can identify with it. I think that’s why it translates down the ages and across the globe.”
Jane became ill and went to Winchester to be near her physician in May 1817. She stayed in a house on College Street, which is marked with a blue plaque but is not open to the public, until she died aged just 41 on July 18.
Winchester Cathedral, where she was laid to rest, has an illustrated exhibition running throughout the year that tells the story of Austen’s life in Hampshire.
These are just some of the events happening across Hampshire to celebrate the publication of the greatest novel by one of the greatest writers of all time.
For more information about Jane Austen’s House Museum, visit jane-austens-housemuseum.org.uk
For more information about Chawton House Library, visit chawtonhouse.org
For more information about Winchester Cathedral, visit winchestercathedral.org.uk
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE IN A NUTSHELL
Elizabeth Bennett is the novel’s heroine.
She is one of five daughters from members of the landed gentry whose future is insecure due to property being inherited along the male line.
The novel centres largely on her romantic life, also focusing on her sister, Jane’s and to some extent her other sisters’.
There is much excitement in the Bennett household and the wider area when a wealthy and handsome man, Mr Bingley, moves into a nearby house with a party that includes his friend, Mr Darcy.
Mr Bingley is charming and seems attracted to Jane but Elizabeth overhears Mr Darcy slight her at a ball.
Elizabeth later meets Mr Wickham, a militia officer, who claims to have been deeply wronged by Mr Darcy.
Elizabeth is attracted to Mr Wickham and her dislike for Mr Darcy is hardened. But everything is not what it seems and Elizabeth realises she may have been very wrong in her judgements of the two men.