Pride and Prejudice (Annotated Editions), by Jane Austen

A few months ago, I wrote a short post about DK Publishing's "Illustrated Classics" edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, calling it "not the annotated Pride and Prejudice of my dreams", but praising it for its information, art direction, and extremely reasonable price. (Powell's Books was selling it for $6.98.) Since that time, Belknap/Harvard University Press has published what does appear—at least at first glance—to be the P&P of my dreams, so today we'll be doing a little comparison shopping.

Harvard's newly-released Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition was edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks, an English professor at the University of Virginia, and features a lengthy introductory essay, notes on historical context, and definitions of terms likely to be unfamiliar to modern readers. The book itself is oversized and beautiful, with a number of full-color historical illustrations. Unfortunately, it costs a staggering $35—and would have been improved by further editing.

Both editions contain inaccuracies. The DK version's note on "Courtship and Marriage" states that Mr. Collins asks Mr. Bennet's permission before proposing to Elizabeth, indicating a "slavish respect for social norms". There is little support for this in the text—while Mr. Collins has certainly discussed his plans with Mrs. Bennet ("...allow me to assure you that I have your respected mother's permission for this address"), Elizabeth's father seems surprised (and amused) by his intentions. The Harvard edition contains some fairly basic biographical errors: Jane Austen was one of eight children, not seven, and had six brothers rather than five. (Her older brother George, who may have been deaf or developmentally delayed, didn't live with the family.) The editions also periodically contradict each other. DK defines white soup as a "warming alcoholic drink, generally served at balls, made from eggs, meat stock, and sweetened wine", while Ms. Spacks describes it as "an elaborate soup based on veal stock, cream, and almonds". (The internet seems split between the two, so I'll settle for merely pointing out that they both sound revolting.)

As I am unable to recommend either book without reservations, I'm suggesting readers shop according to their intended use. If you're a hardcore Pride and Prejudice fan looking for an informative and coffee-table-worthy version of your favorite book, shell out for the Harvard edition. If you're a student in need of a useful, easy-to-handle, highly affordable copy, stick with DK Publishing. If you have the cash, buy 'em both—they're both great (if flawed), and buying them both will encourage publishers that Austen's other books need the full-fledged annotation treatment, too.
Posted by: Julianka


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