Sunday 25 February 2018

Two hundred years of the dashing Darcy

This month marks the bicentenary of the first publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, possibly the most celebrated, imitated and influential novel in the English language – would chick lit exist without the romantic arc and narrative template it provided?

And even if the £110 Austen received for the manuscript from publisher Thomas Egerton in January 1813 is a far cry from the hefty advances secured nowadays by the likes of Sheila O'Flanagan or Cecelia Ahern, the book sold so well that a second edition was required a few months later.

Sir Walter Scott, who was the bestselling author of the day, praised Austen's "exquisite touch" which "renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting", and the appeal of the novel has never faded.

There have been successful literary spin-offs, most recently PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley and Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and numerous film and TV adaptations, though one wonders how the author would have reacted to Colin Firth in his wet shirt.

Not everyone has been a fan, though. Mark Twain was amusingly caustic about Austen in general, while former Tory MP Edwina Currie has admitted to "hating" Pride and Prejudice, adding that she found Austen's heroines "petty and small-minded" – which sounds like a good description of her own memoirs. And her ex-lover John Major was certainly no Mr Darcy.


Donal Ryan, whose short, intricate and darkly comic novel, The Spinning Heart, was one of the outstanding debuts of 2012, told last Sunday's Observer that he hadn't set out to write a recession novel but that in most Irish communities the recession is "the first topic of conversation and it shapes our perception of who we are".

The second novel by the 36-year-old Tipperary-born Ryan, who works for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, will be published this autumn, though it was written before The Spinning Heart and is set almost a decade ago.

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