Most people when you mention Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, remember that from a difficult first meeting between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, true love eventually blossoms when young Elizabeth realises first impressions may be deceptive. However, a recent discovery by a student at Windsor Castle has revealed that a man despised of by Jane, was perhaps a fan of her writing and may have been the first person to buy one of her books.
Jane’s novels are said to epitomise the Regency England of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. But it was the man and his morals that gave the period its name that Jane could not stand – the Prince Regent, later George IV. Jane was not alone; indeed many could not stand the Prince’s infidelity, gluttony and generally enjoying the more entertaining side of life than working hard. We must realise in this that we are talking of both a man responsible for the design of the Brighton Pavilion as a pleasure palace and a lady who was the daughter and sister of a vicar. So, there is very much in Jane’s writing that echoes the formality and protocol of the period.
On one occasion, Jane actually wrote a letter strongly against the actions of the Prince, and it is said, was grudgingly persuaded to dedicate Emma to King George IV, and her dedication was not the most eloquent of her works. It is said that this dedication was at the suggestion of the then Prince Regent’s librarian at Carlton House, James Stanier Clarke; he was a cleric and naval author two areas that were well known to the Austen family. Her father and one of her brothers were vicars, and two other brothers were Captains in the Royal Navy.
A graduate student recently discovered a bill of sale at Windsor Castle from 1811 charging the Prince Regent 15 shillings for a copy of Sense & Sensibility this occurred two days before the book was advertised perhaps making it the first known sale of a Jane Austen novel – to a man she hated. Perhaps the irony would not have been lost on Jane, and it may even have provided her with another story for a book.