The front cover of Robert P. Irvine's, 2020 Broadview Editions version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 

At a Glance

The Broadview Editions publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice reinforces the almost controversial depiction of the novel as a 19th century, European period piece that focuses on women and their roles in society at that time. The front is a cropped section from an embroidery piece titled "Sampler", made in the early 19th century by Mary Rook. A finely dressed man and woman are depicted gazing at each other beside a large estate and livestock-ridden field. The edition is edited by Robert P. Irvine, who has other works that focus on the role of gender in the world that Jane Austen creates in her work. He includes an introduction that focuses mainly on the historical context of Pride and Prejudice as well as the role of women during the time period and the impact they had on society. The version also includes a biographical section on Austen, accompanied by excerpts from her early works, letters passed between the author and her sister, and reviews of her works from the time period. 

What is the Cover Telling the Reader?

The original work that the cover is taken from, an embroidery piece by Mary Rook titled "Sampler"

Irvine's edition has the sanctity of Jane Austen and the legacy of her work at the forefront, even if they differ from the modern perception of the novel. The covering piece appears extremely dated, through the embroidery and the style of the work. The long elegant gown of the woman and the magnificent cape and walking stick adorned by the man tell the reader that this work is not from the modern era and those depicted are wealthy enough for such luxuries. The warm colors and rural imagery do not catch the viewer's eye immediately, but more details are noticeable the longer one looks. The estate and pasture that are depicted also indicate the potential setting and tones of the novel as elegant yet rustic. The role of the various estates and country houses is extremely important in the novel as a way of expressing wealth and social prowess among potential suitors. What mostly catches the eye, especially when looking at the grander work that the cover derives from, is that the couple is meant to be the center of the piece in this edition. When considering the non-cropped version, the couple is pressed up to the side of the frame, with the house being the main focus. This cover, however, makes sure the man and woman are one of the only things not covered by a title or cropped off the edge, hinting that romance or courtship will be a crucial part of the narrative. After gazing at this book cover, the reader will not be surprised to see that the first line of the novel is "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a life." (Austen 41); the cover strongly suggests that the premise of the novel will have older values and be focused around marriage or other relations. 

Robert P. Irvine's Additions to Austen's Work

Looking past the cover of the edition, Irvine's introduction of the 2020 version of Pride and Prejudice steers the reader's attention toward how society functioned during the time the novel was written, which heavily impacted the narrative. He decides to discuss the early frameworks of modern feminism, as well as the almost nonexistent role of women outside of marriage in British society during this time period. This preface includes not only the essay but a map of England and the book cover of the original edition. Irvine wants readers to think not only about the history that led up to Pride and Prejudice being written, but the history that led up to one's current reading of the 1813 novel, which caterers to a more historical-focused audience that would consider the work a 'classic'. 

The original cover of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, as included in the broadview editions.

Closing Thoughts

It is an old book, and it is an old story, which is something that is commonly suppressed by modern audiences. It was not written as a steamy, Victorian love story, but instead as the reflections of a young mind on the world around her. The edition reminds the reader to use the novel as a window into Austen's world, which was drastically different from ours, yet just as entertaining. 

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Edited by Robert P. Irvine, Second edition, Broadview Press, 2020.