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.
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:
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:
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.