Jane Austen’s early work began as satire, parodying the excessive sensibility of contemporary fiction. Her work continued in this vein in the tradition of the domestic comedy of Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Fanny Burney. With an appreciation of the ridiculous in human behavior, she developed skill in presenting the pompous and socially imprudent character. Her more mature work, like the domestic comedy of Burney, takes on moral undertones as her protagonists are challenged to grow and change within the confines of social custom. Pride and Prejudice, acclaimed as Austen’s best novel, combines these elements.
Begun in the 1790’s and offered for publication under the title “First Impressions,” the novel was initially rejected by publishers. Austen then reworked and resubmitted the piece under the new title, and it was published in 1813. While initially Austen’s works were not as popular as were the works of Richardson and Burney, they have endured and developed a wide readership among general readers as well as scholars. Pride and Prejudice has been adapted to film and television, making Austen’s works ever more accessible to the general public. The popularity of her fiction can be attributed to its themes of love and marriage, growth and self-discovery, as well as to their comic presentation of domestic life. Its tightly structured, focused plot, moving so purposefully and subtly toward its conclusion, distinguishes Pride and Prejudice as a classic work of literature.