Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition
Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition
Jane Austen
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2010
464 pp., $41.00

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Lauren Winner

Book Notes

A splendid annotated edition of Jane Austen's most famous novel.

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In her introduction to this handsomely produced annotated edition, Patricia Meyer Spacks tackles off the bat the question that many readers may raise upon hearing of this book: Does Pride and Prejudice really need an elaborate explanatory apparatus? Sure, there are a few 18th-century idioms that might baffle the 21st-century reader (or slip by unnoticed and uncomprehended), but surely part of the novel's power is that the forest stands even when a reader doesn't grasp every last leaf.

In response, Spacks contends that judicious annotations enrich our appreciation of the Austen's narrative worlds, but the most persuasive argument is the annotations themselves. Starting with the very first entry—a brief discussion of why the novel's memorable and famous first sentence is indeed so memorable and famous—Spacks' annotations are illuminating. Some of the annotations are simply clarifications of vocabulary: "intelligence" means "information," "unlucky" means "unfortunate," and so forth. But many are more substantive: Spacks explores what the passive voice does at the end of chapter 3's first paragraph; analyzes Mrs. Bennett's narrative function in the novel; quotes from 18th-century moralistic literature to shed light on contemporary norms of femininity; and spotlights moments where Elizabeth's character develops. The dozens of illustrations—a watercolor of Austen by her sister, for example, and images of late 18th-century drawing rooms—add a layer of visual delight and edification to the clarifying notes Spacks offers.

Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School. For the academic year 2010-11, she is a visiting fellow at Yale's Institute for Sacred Music. Her book A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia is out this month from Yale University Press.

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