The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

X. Jane Austen

§ 2. Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen was twenty-one when she began, in 1796, the earliest of her published works, the novel then called First Impressions, but new-named Pride and Prejudice on its publication, in a revised form, in 1813. In 1797, her father offered the manuscript to Cadell, the London publisher, who promptly declined to consider it. First Impressions had been completed some three months when Jane Austen began to write Sense and Sensibility. This novel appears to have been left unfinished for some thirteen years, or, if finished, to have been left unrevised; for it was not till April, 1811, that it was in the hands of the printer, and it was published in the autumn of that year, the title-page stating that it was written “By a Lady.” This was the first of Jane Austen’s books to be published. Its success was immediate. In 1798, she began to write Susan, which was the first draft of Northanger Abbey. This, too, she put by for some years. In 1803, she sold it to a London publisher, who did not issue it; in 1809, she tried in vain to secure publication; in 1816, she succeeded in recovering the manuscript. She then, perhaps, worked upon it further; yet, she was still doubtful whether she should publish it or not, and, at last, it was posthumously published in two volumes in 1818, at the same time as Persuasion. In 1803 or 1804 (according to the only piece of evidence—the dates in the water-marks of the paper on which it is written), Jane Austen began a story that she never finished; it was published under the title The Watsons, by J.E. Austen-Leigh in the second edition (1871) of his Memoir. He suggests that

  • the author became aware of the evil having placed her heroine too low, in such a position of poverty and obscurity as, though not necessarily connected with vulgarity, has a sad tendency to degenerate into it—
  • a suggestion which displays little appreciation of the spirit of Jane Austen’s work, and is at variance with the facts of the story. Emma Watson, though poor, is gentle-born: and the only hint of vulgarity to be observed in the tale is furnished by an impertinent peer, Lord Osborne, and a hardened flirt in good circumstances, Tom Musgrave. It appears to have been the author’s intention that the heroine should ultimately marry a refined and intelligent clergyman, whose character, together with that of Henry Tilney, might have served to counteract the impression produced by that of Mr. Collins and of Mr. Elton.

    After 1803, or 1804, there came a gap of several years in Jane Austen’s literary work. It was not till 1812 that she began Mansfield Park, which was finished in June, 1813, and published in or about May, 1814. Emma was begun in January, 1814, finished in March, 1815, and published in 1816. Persuasion, the last-written of her published works, was begun in the spring or summer of 1815 and finished in July, 1816. The manuscript was still in her hands at her death in 1817; and was posthumously published in two volumes in 1818. In January, 1817, she began to write a new novel, but, after the middle of March, could work no more. Various reasons have been assigned for the gap in her literary production between 1803 or 1804 and 1812. It will be noticed that, from 1812 to 1816, she worked steadily; and further significance of the dates mentioned above is her reluctance to publish anything that had not undergone long meditation and revision.