The library’s newest exhibit, 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice, includes not only several early editions of Pride and Prejudice, but also a Jane Austen action figure, an I love Darcy bumper sticker, and a Pride and Prejudice graphic novel published by Marvel Comics.
The exhibit, which opened last Friday in the library’s east wing, celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first publishing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The items on display testify to the novel’s enduring popularity, says English Professor Constance Walker, who co-curated the exhibit with Kristi Wermager of Special Collections.
Professor Walker first talked to Wermager, an Austen fan, several years ago about putting together an Austen exhibit. Of all the Austen novels, they chose to celebrate Pride and Prejudice because they already had plenty of material to display. Much of the exhibit, including a first-edition copy of Pride and Prejudice, an 1833 edition, and an 1898 edition, come from Professor Walker’s personal collection.
Professor Walker is more than an Austen fan. “She’s a fanatic,” said Kayla McKinsey, a student in Walker’s class The Art of Jane Austen. She’s also a member of the Jane Austen Society, whose annual reports are also on display in the library.
Carls aren’t the only ones celebrating Pride and Prejudice’s bicentennial. The Jane Austen Society of North America, which boasts more than 4,500 members, held its annual meeting last weekend in Minneapolis. McKinsey was there. “I think it was the biggest one they’ve had,” she said. Sarah Horowitz (‘05) was also there, lecturing on Victorian illustrated editions of Pride and Prejudice.
Austen’s popularity endures in England too. Last summer, the Bank of England chose to feature Austen’s image on the 10-pound note. So how has Austen’s popularity lasted for 200 years? And what’s so special about Pride and Prejudice?
“Have you read it?” McKinsey asks as if the question were an answer in itself. “She’s really witty in it,” sophomore Emma Russ explains. “There are conflicts that go on between mother and daughter, which a lot of girls can relate to, but at the same time [the heroin] is having conflicts with this guy, and also class conflicts. But then [Austen] puts in these witty remarks.” Adds McKinsey, “It’s serious but at the same time, you see the ridiculousness of all that’s going on--even with the conflicts.” In addition to Austen’s humor, McKinsey attributes Austen’s popularity to themes she writes about--love, fear of rejection, family pressure--which are still relevant today.
Professor Walker points to Pride and Prejudice’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, as “one of the most intelligent and delightful heroines in all of literature.”
“Moreover, [Austen] has a perfect command of style and structure,” Walker adds.
Whatever the reason, people have loved reading Austen’s books for 200 years. Walker admits that her first-edition copy of Pride and Prejudice isn’t in great shape. But that’s what she likes about it--its wear proves that it’s been read.
McKinsey expects Austen’s themes and wit to carry her book’s popularity for another 200 years. “The Notebook will fade, but Pride and Prejudice will last forever,” she said.