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Editor's Note: “To Teach the Admiring Multitude”

For all the fairy-tale nature of Jane Austen’s conclusion to Pride and Prejudice, it’s also a narrative of opportunities missed, roads not taken.  That failure begins, of course, in August 1797 with Thomas Cadell’s letter declining to look at the manuscript of First Impressions “by return post.”  Within the novel, the missed opportunities are myriad:  What would have happened had the Bennets produced a son to cut off the entail, or if Mr. Bennet had saved to make some provision for his daughters?  What would have been different had Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam been more careful about hiring a companion for Georgiana?  What if gentlemen weren’t in short supply at the Meryton Assembly, making Elizabeth keenly aware of her disadvantaged position, or if Darcy were less grumpily rude?  If Jane were more open about her attachment to Bingley, would Bingley have been strong enough not to be persuaded by Darcy?  What would have happened if Mr. Bennet refused to allow Lydia to travel with the Forsters to Brighton?  If business had allowed the Gardiners to stick to their original plan of going to the Lakes, would Elizabeth ever have met Darcy again?  Some of these missed opportunities occur only to readers.  But after the enforced gratitude of Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, Elizabeth mourns the loss of Darcy that it seems to guarantee: 

[N]o such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was.  An union of a different tendency, and precluding the possibility of the other, was soon to be formed in their family.

As Elizabeth herself recognizes, it’s only when she believes Darcy is lost to her that she begins to “comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her.”

Some of these missed opportunities seem necessary or probable, given the characters Austen created; rectifying others might change the very premise of the novel.  And who can calculate the benefits and losses of Cadell’s refusal even to look at First Impressions?  Surely an early publication would have altered the course of Austen’s career.  How many more novels might she have written with a first successful publication in 1798, when she was only twenty-two?  It’s likely, of course, that years spent lopping and cropping her manuscript made the final version a stronger work than its earlier drafts.  Would First Impressions hold as firm a place in the hearts and minds of an admiring multitude as Pride and Prejudice does?  Would there be Jane Austen societies in so many parts of the world?

Of course, opportunities were missed, with the happy results we know, and, 216 years after Cadell’s mistake, an admiring multitude traveled to Colorado in November for JASNA’s 2023 Annual General Meeting, Pride and Prejudice: A Rocky Romance, ably organized by Heather McVoy.  There, in view of rocks and mountains, we celebrated the twists and turns of Austen’s most beloved novel.  There were few missed opportunities (except those occasioned by too many choices and too little time) for the admiring multitude to be taught about Pride and Prejudice’s genesis, its relation to Austen’s social and cultural context, the novel’s artistry, and its diverse afterlives.  Essay versions of many of the conference presentations are available here.  Others, including the plenary lectures by Claudia Johnson, Janet Todd, and Stephanie Barron, will appear in JASNA’s print journal, Persuasions 45.

The Miscellany is similarly wide ranging and exciting—from essays on the Austen family to studies of Mansfield Park to essays on film adaptations and contemporary portraits of Jane Austen.  We are also pleased to include the Jane Austen Bibliography of works published in 2022, compiled by Sara Pearson, Claire Bellanti, and Robin Henry.

Persuasions On-Line involves not quite a multitude but a small band of hard-working true friends of Jane Austen.  The contributors to this issue deserve our gratitude for their thought-provoking efforts.  Thanks are due to the members of the Editorial Board (listed at the bottom of the title page) for reading essays throughout the year with rigorous generosity.  Marsha Huff has proofread these essays and made very helpful editorial suggestions.  Carol Moss has built the pages, worked with images and clips, and caught errors.  Although we were hoping to be able to say that Persuasions On-Line comes to you from Antarctica, Carol was not confident that the internet connection would be sufficient (and, in fact, her computer crashed).  Iris Lutz stepped up during her absence and solved some thorny problems as well.  We should be grateful to all these people.  Although Elizabeth Bennet tells Jane, “‘We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing,’” we believe that there is enough worth knowing and thinking about here to teach the admiring multitude more about Pride and Prejudice

2023 AGM AdaptedLanding2


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