Pride 47, Prejudice 5
Pride and Prejudice was originally entitled First Impressions, which is a much better title when one considers how Jane Austen bombards her readers with the theme of “impressions”: first, flawed, and founded. However, that is material for a future post.
What I would like to consider today is why did the publishers deem it necessary to change the title to Pride and Prejudice? Several of my writer friends have had title changes at our publishers’ suggestions. For example, I have seen Wayward Love changed to Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion; Darcy’s Dreams to Darcy’s Temptation; Darcy’s Hunger to Vampire Darcy’s Desire, and most recently, A Touch of Scandal to The Scandal of Lady Eleanor. I fought to keep my working title of The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy because I rightly believed the title would catch Austen readers’ attentions. You have no idea how many frantic readers sent me messages to the effect of “You are not killing Mr. Darcy, are you?” Changing titles is a common practice among publishing companies.
Imagine the conversation between Thomas Egerton Publishers and Jane Austen…
Egerton: Miss Austen, we believe the reading public would respond to a title change.
Austen: Are you implying that I must add the word “Darcy” or “Pemberley” to the title to sell books?
Egerton: No, that will not be necessary for another 200 years.
Austen: (in awe) Do you expect my works to survive and become part of the British literary canon?
Egerton: Of course, not. You are a female. We will be fortunate to sell a few hundred copies, Miss Austen.
Austen: (a bit disconcerted by his condescending tone) But my book is about misconstruing others – of the weakness of making judgments based on first impressions.
Egerton: (ignoring her objection) We will follow the pattern of your first publication. Sense and Sensibility will be followed by Pride and Prejudice. It will give you a “hook” to capture your readers. Now, if you will sign the contract, we may begin publication.
But why did Austen’s publishers choose those two words: “pride” and “prejudice”? Was it to stimulate a debate among those who wonder whether it was Darcy or Elizabeth who was prideful? Who acted with prejudice? College professors base entire semesters on just that concept.
Critics have surmised that the original title was discarded following the publication of First Impressions by Mrs. Holford in 1801, and that the final title might well have been suggested by the last pages of Fanny Burney’s Cecilia (1782), in which the phrase “pride and prejudice” is printed in capital letters three times in a single perorational paragraph. The original title may well have been taken from the opening chapter of Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), in which we see St. Aubert instructing his daughter Emily “to resist first impressions, and to acquire that steady dignity of mind, that can alone counterbalance the passions” – a lesson of Jane Austen’s novel as well. (Inside Pride and Prejudice by JOHN HALPERIN, Department of English, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235, Persuasions #11, 1989)
As I am writing a novella entitled, “Mr. Darcy’s Fault,” in which the word “fault” plays prominently, I would like to think the title choice was how often the words “pride” and “prejudice” are found in Austen’s text, and that the publishers’ belief was such repetition would create resonance and “connectiveness.”
The word “pride” appears seven and forty times in the text. One of my favorite uses of the word occurs in, “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously.” I am also found of, “With what delightful pride she afterward visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed.”
“Prided” is used but once, as is “proudly” and “proudest.” Meanwhile, “proud” is used one and twenty times. “Some may call him proud, but I am sure I never saw anything of it,” is spoken by Mrs. Reynolds. Later in the story, Elizabeth considers Darcy’s actions in dealing with Wickham. “For herself, she was humbled; but she was proud of him – proud that in a cause of compassion and honor he had been able to get the better of himself.”
“Prejudiced” is found once in the text; “prejudices” is used twice, and “prejudice” appears five times. “The general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton to attempt to place him in an amiable light.”
When I originally entitled my second book Darcy’s Dreams, I did so because I mimicked Austen’s repetition. I used the word “dream” seven and fifty times in the book. When Ulysses Press added the word “temptation” to attract readers, I made a mad scramble during the edits to add “temptation” to the manuscript. The process made me wonder if Austen did the same thing with “pride” and “prejudice.” Although I know it’s an illogical assumption, I like to imagine our dear Jane adding those two words as motifs within her text and also imagine her grumbling, just as I did with “temptation.”