Jane Austen imitated by PD James – Blog #4 by Edmund King – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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Jane Austen imitated by PD James – Blog #4 by Edmund King

Jane Austen imitated by PD James

Recently reading PD James Death comes to Pemberley, I wondered how reviews of this novel compared to those of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen had sold the copyright of the novel to Thomas Egerton, and he published the first edition in January 1813 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice ). Perhaps it was Egerton who placed the advertisement in the Morning Post  on 9 February 1813 (p.2 col.2): ‘This day published, in 3 vols. price 18s. in boards, Pride and Prejudice; a Novel, by a Lady, Author of “sense and Sensibility”…’

 The Morning Post 9 February 1813

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000174/18130209/002/0002

Pride and Prejudice sold well. By October 1813, Mackay’s Circulating Library was advertising the novel in its list of new books, in the Caledonian Mercury – Saturday 9 October 1813 (p.3 col.5)

The Caledonian Mercury – Saturday 9 October 1813

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000045/18131009/012/0003?_=1350670811367

J. Bottrill, a Printer and Bookseller in Lutterworth, stated that he added the novel to his circulating library in the Northampton Mercury – Saturday 23 October 1813 (p.3 col.2); and on the 5 November in the Leicester Journal (p.3. col. 1).

Northampton Mercury – Saturday 23 October 1813

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000317/18131023/030/0003

The second edition Pride and Prejudice was advertised in the Morning Post – Saturday 20 November 1813 (p.2 col.2)

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000174/18131120/002/0002

In 1818, a year after Jane Austen died, the issue by John Murray of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, “…together with a biographical note of the Author”, in four volumes, prompted a lengthy, favourable review of Jane Austen’s works in The Scots Magazine – Friday 01 May 1818 ( p.57 col.2; p. 58). The review begins, as below:

The Scots Magazine – Friday 01 May 1818

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http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000547/18180501/016/0057

The review continues: …“When this period arrives, we have no hesitation in saying, that the delightful writer of the works now before us [i.e. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion], will be one of the most popular of English novelists, and if, indeed, we could point out the individual who, within a certain limited range, has attained the highest perfection of the art of novel writing, we should have little scruple in fixing upon her. She has confined herself, no doubt, to a narrow walk. She never operates among deep interests, uncommon characters, or vehement passions. The singular merit of her writings is, that we could conceive, with the slightest strain imagination, any one of her fictions to be realized in any town or village in England…She has much observation, – much fine sense, – much delicate humour, – many pathetic touches, – and throughout all her works, a most charitable view of human nature, and a tone of gentleness and purity, that are almost unequalled. …As stories they are nothing in themselves, though beautiful and simple in their combination with the characters. … such is the facility and the seemingly exhaustless invention of this lady, that, we think, like a complete mistress of a musical instrument, she could have gone on in the same strain for ever…”

The Scots Magazine – Friday 01 May 1818

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000547/18180501/016/0057

If Jane Austen’s qualities attracted such praise only a year after her death, the reception by reviewers of Death comes to Pemberley has been more mixed. The Guardian review is mocking and starts: “It is a truth not universally acknowledged that a classic novel is not in want of a sequel.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/31/death-comes-to-pemberley-pd-james  )

The Historical Novel Review is also negative: “…I’m sorry Ms James, I normally love your work, but I’m afraid I won’t even be keeping this one on my e-reader.” (http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/death-comes-to-pemberley-by-p-d-james.html)

The New York Times Sunday Book Review is far more complimentary: “Not infrequently, while reading “Death Comes to Pemberley,” one succumbs to the impression that it is Austen herself at the keyboard.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/books/review/death-comes-to-pemberley-by-p-d-james-book-review.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&  )

The Independent also gushes: “It’s a great joint achievement, and a joyous read.”  ( http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/death-comes-to-pemberley-by-pd-james-6256572.html  )

For my own part, Death comes to Pemberley is erudite, well-plotted, picking up very well on the characters and situations of the earlier work. Perhaps PD James was knowingly constrained by the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice, in which Jane Austen so clearly displays the goodness, fallibilities and follies of mankind, with a restrained, yet occasionally barbed, language that will never be equalled.

Ed King December 2012

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