Next Monday, 28th January 2013, it’ll be exactly 200 years since Pride & Prejudice was first published. Today this book is more popular than ever – an amazing achievement for its author, an English spinster who lived quietly in the Hampshire countryside.
Jane Austen’s shelf life has been far longer than her own (she died in 1817 at the age of 41), and her golden rules for publishing longevity still apply:
1. A catchy title – even if you’re borrowing it from someone else. Austen originally called her novel First Impressions, but two other works had been published with that title by the time hers was accepted for publication. Pride & Prejudice was probably inspired by the final chapter of Fanny Burney’s Evelina, where the phrase appears 3 times in block capitals. Alliteration is not compulsory, but it helps …
2. The power of editing - we know that, following the success of Sense & Sensibility in 1811, Austen ‘lop’t and crop’t’ the novel that she’d written between 1796 and 1797, when she was the same age as its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. And we’re always being advised to put our writing to one side before editing – although 15 years is taking this a bit far!
3. A heroine you’d like to be – Lizzy Bennet’s self-belief and zest for life, tempered with witty cynicism, sparkle on the page even now. And, from what we know of surviving letters, she seems to have more of the 20-year-old Jane Austen in her than any of the author’s other heroines.
4. A hero you’d like to … [please insert word of your choice] Oh, Mr Darcy! Even BC (Before Colin), he set my pulses racing. Difficult to know why at the start, when he insults our beloved heroine. But then that’s become a bit of a winning formula, hasn’t it?
Any more rules for being a bestseller after 200 years?