Yesterday I finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice, using David M. Shapard’s Annotated edition. It took me more than twice as long as just reading the novel only, but the annotations provided a lot of extra helpful and interesting information and it was very worth the extra time.
I found the annotations generally fit into three categories: word definitions, plot analysis, and explanations of historical context. The word definitions were interesting, even though I’m pretty comfortable with Jane Austen’s writing, because it points out situations where the exact definition of a word has changed since the early 1800s. For example, many times Jane Austen refers to a character’s “mind” – which in her time meant their personal character/disposition, rather than the current way we think of “mind” – as referring to one’s intellect or brain. That’s not a difference I realized before reading this edition.
Also, occasionally the annotations reference Jane Austen’s letters, which help to understand her opinions of love, marriage, and social situations of the time.
**Even though I think most anyone at all interested in Jane Austen probably already knows the plot of Pride & Prejudice (at the very least from the movies), I will still advise: Plot spoilers below.**
Here’s an example of how the annotations help to understand some of the historical context:
Mrs. Bennet, after hearing the surprising news that Elizabeth is now engaged to Mr. Darcy, responds:
“My dearest Child,” she cried, “I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! “Tis as good as a Lord!” And a special licence. You must and shall be married by a special licence.”
I definitely had no clue what a “special licence” was, but the annotation explains:
“A marriage license granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the English church, that allowed a couple to marry whenever and wherever they wished. Only wealthy and prominent people would be able to procure such a license, so it carried great social prestige. In addition, a special license allowed one to marry in a home or private building – in contrast to a regular license, which, in addition to specifying the parish, required marriage in a chapel or church. Thus marriage by special license offered the maximum possible privacy, something that had become highly valued in weddings during this period.”
I highly recommend The Annotated Pride and Prejudice if you’d like to re-read the novel. If you’ve never read the novel before it might not be a good idea to start with this edition. As David M. Shapard points out in the beginning, a number of plot spoilers are included in the annotations.
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