If You Have to Ask . . .

If You Have to Ask . . .

On my bookshelves I have multiple copies of Jane Austen’s novels. Here, at a glance, is my current inventory:

Quite a few years ago, when I was in my twenties, I dated a man who appeared to have good Prince Charming potential. Then, out of the blue one day he asked me:

Why do you have so many copies of Pride and Prejudice?

For answer I immediately thought of the immortal words of Louis Armstrong when someone asked him to explain jazz:

If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Louis Armstrong

Meaning, if you don’t intuitively understand the concept, no amount of explanation will help you understand.

But instead of quoting Louis, I patiently explained to Potential Prince Charming that each P&P version on my book shelf was different or had a specific purpose.

I started with the first copy of Pride and Prejudice I bought when I was twelve years old. I’ve read it so many times over the years, the cover is quite tattered. Several pages have come loose, and I have to hold the book together with a ribbon when I’m not reading it.

Next I showed him my 1945 edition of P&P.

I showed him the pages with wonderful illustrations by artist Edgard Cirlin that depict scenes from Jane Austen’s life, such as her writing desk in the parlour at Chawton, the Steventon rectory, and the pump room at Bath, or this illustration of the hall in Godmersham House:

I explained that this edition was special because it was the first to give me those visual insights into Jane Austen’s life.

He nodded, but I could tell by that time he had lost interest in the conversation. Not long after that, we went our separate ways.

In the years since then I’ve added even more versions of Austen’s novels to my collection. Here’s my 2004 annotated version of P&P:

It’s a hefty paperback book because it has twice as many pages as most versions of P&P. The even numbered pages contain Jane Austen’s text; the facing odd numbered pages contain explanations, definitions, or other helpful information about the text. For a sample, here’s a portion of Mr. Collins’ first visit to Longbourn:

In the back of the annotated book is a timeline of the story’s events . . .

. . . as well as some location maps.

A few years ago I was visiting one of my favorite used bookstores and found this beautiful version of Pride and Prejudice published in 1946:

I love the color and the gold embossing; but here’s the really interesting thing about this book: It’s never been read! The spine and binding are very tight, and several of the pages are uncut, meaning they were missed in the trimming process and are still attached to each other.

I’m really surprised that anyone could own such a beautiful book and not at least open it to thumb through the pages, but that’s just me. Beginning with the title page, it’s filled with illustrations by Robert Ball. Some illustrations are in color, like this double-page spread of Kitty and Lydia Bennet eyeing the militia officers in Meryton:

Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers’ names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to know the officers themselves.

In addition to color illustrations, the book has black and white drawings, like this one depicting Darcy and the Bingleys leaving Netherfield:

Here’s how the artist portrayed Elizabeth Bennet:

And this is his portrait of Mr. Darcy:

I have other copies of Pride and Prejudice, but my absolute favorite version is contained in a book of Austen’s collected works, which I received as a Christmas gift a few years ago. The book bundles Austen’s six major novels into one edition, and it’s BIG—measuring over 12” by 10” by 3” thick.

One of the reasons I love it so much is because it, too, is beautifully illustrated in color and black-and-white drawings by C. E. Brock. Here’s one of his illustrations of Lizzy and Darcy:

Gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change.

So, I guess I do have a lot of copies of Pride and Prejudice (as well as Jane Austen’s other novels), and each version has a special meaning to me or is unique in some way. There isn’t one I could bring myself to part with. In fact, I’m always on the lookout for a new edition to add to my collection.

What about you? How many copies of Jane Austen’s novels do you have?

24 Responses to If You Have to Ask . . .

  1. I have about 7….or maybe 8….I have some stored at my friends house in the US because I live in the Dominican Republic most of the year and it has lots of humidity here so I keep the special (aka “viewing only”) copies back at her house to keep them pristine. Now my JAFF I am going to plead the 5th…lol

  2. Well, now, you’ve done it. I’m gonna have to add an annotated to my collection. Dang! My fingers are simply itching to have one. I’ve seen them but never really looked closely at them. I too have several copies of P&P myself. This was a fun post. You have shown a light in a direction we don’t usually see. How funny that we all have this in common and wouldn’t have known it without you mentioning it. I also have a large book with all the stories and haven’t had the chance to see what all it contains. I will now look more closely at my copies and see what is hidden in the back. Usually I just give a heavy sigh at the end and close the book.. no longer.

  3. I have 7 e- books of P & P, one of sense and sensibility book, and one Mansfield . Am not sure if I have Emma or Northanger Abbey. I have soooo many P & P variation books that, believe it or not I have not read any of other JA’s books (as I am still reading the P & P variation stories). Most of my variation stories are ebooks. From time to time , I buy the actual books (after I rearrange a few things in our home ; )

    With your suggestion, I am now encouraged to buy the P & P books (with pictures and annotations).

    Thank you

    • I’m like you, and have a lot of e-books of P&P variations. They’re so entertaining and addictive! I have print versions of my favorites on my “keeper” bookshelf, which always seems to be running out of space. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      • I have a shelf on each of my 2 bookshelves dedicated to all my Austenesque Books. It was originally just the one shelf but my books just overwhelmed it and I had to clear and rearrange a shelf on my other bookshelf.

    • I have tons of variations, adaptations, and some sequels as eBooks as well. I also have several print variations but like you I only have so much room for physical copies.

  4. I have:
    1 Complete Set Edition
    3 Pride and Prejudice
    2 Sense and Sensibility (1 is Print and 1 is an Audiobook)
    1 Mansfield Park
    1 Emma
    1 Persuasion
    1 Northanger Abbey and Other Stories (is an Oxford Book)

      • I think I found it (as well as my copy of Emma) at a Dollar Tree and had to buy it for the price. I haven’t listened to it but have listened to an audio book of P&P that I borrowed from the library.

  5. Although I’m a collector by heart, my collection of Austen pales in comparison. I got myself a boxed set of hard bound books when I made up my mind to finally read Austen’s works, that was back in the early 2000’s. Can you believe I made it through school in the US, even taking elective literature classes, without reading Jane Austen?? I tried reading it when my son was little. But we were going to the library primarily for him, and my reading time was spent reading magazine articles or short stories I could zip through. That was also a time in popular literature (this was the 80’s) where novels had become very minimalist. When I picked up that P&P then I just didn’t have the patience to read language I’d left in High School or sentences that went on for a page. Ha. I eventually made it a New Year’s resolution after enjoying the mini series and theatrical releases in the 90’s. And I’ve never looked back. But I was a latecomer, for sure!

    I do LOVE my Shaphard annotated versions. I shyly admit loving my Wang board books too. 😉 But my heart goes pitty pat when I hear about the illustrated; Brock and Thompson versions, because I would love to own those. My hats off to you Nancy, and the rest of the ladies that commented.

    • Oh, and Nancy…I don’t think that Potential Prince Charming was keeper material. I hope you have met or will meet your Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly, or ……

      • You are so right, he was not a keeper! But I later met someone who understands my Austen fandom, so I got my real life happily ever after with my own version of Mr. Darcy. 🙂

    • I’m glad you mentioned the board books, Michelle. I don’t own any yet, but they’re adorable and never fail to make me smile! I definitely need to add some to my collection. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Quite a few but one of my favorites is the Annotated P&P. Love your collection and thanks for sharing!

  7. I am so Happy I’m not The only one. I became quite addicted to collecting illustrated versions after I found out by coincidence that such exist! Then I also found that some books with illustrated covers were quite charming and also have quite a few of those. I now have 20 versions of P+P, 4 Persuasion, 4 Emma, 6 S+S, 5 MP, 2 Northanger Abbey and 2 NA and Persuasion in the same books. I have The complete works, The illustrated library, The minor works and separate illustrations by Hugh Thomsen. All these are in English. On top of that I have all the books in my native language as well as Kindle versions ?

  8. I have a lot of P+P variations. I have a couple of Emma and Northanger Abbey. One of my favorite P+P is also an illustrated copy! Your different copies are all beautiful!

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