First Impressions

Display Date
October, 1796

First Impressions is an early version of Jane Austen’s well-known novel Pride and Prejudice and the first of her novels to be completed. She began writing the novel in October 1796 after visiting her brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth in Kent. Marilyn Butler in her biography of Austen suggests that the novel may have been written as “an instinctive reaction against Kent hauteur.” In August 1797 Jane finished the novel. 

In November, 1979 Jane’s father, George Austen then offered the manuscript to publisher Thomas Cadell. The publisher rejected the novel without seeing the manuscript. Despite this rejection, First Impressions remained, according to Butler who cites Jane’s letters to Cassandra, a family favorite. David Nokes, however, says that after leaving the rectory at Steventon, “First Impressions” was rarely brought to read aloud, indicating a change that occurred after the move. At the time, Austen did not consider another publisher, and she had to change the name after 1801 with the publication of Margaret Holford’s novel First Impressions, or The Portrait. The new title Pride and Prejudice comes from a phrase in Frances Burney’s novel Cecilia.

Pride and Prejudice included the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet who is the same age that Austen was during the period that she wrote the novel. In her letters to Cassandra, Austen expresses a certain closeness to this character. She wrote “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know” (273).

Today, readers fascinated by the work of Austen have used the original title of Pride and Prejudice for books that indicate the modern appreciation of her work. One such book by Charlie Lovett is titled First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen. This book, which became a New York Times bestseller, parallels the life of an Austen enthusiast and Austen’s life. Another, titled First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice rehashes the events of the novel by reexamining the pivotal scene that likely inspired the original titled. In the original novel, when Elizabeth first meets Darcy she overhears him describing her as “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”. In A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice author Alexa Adams retells the story by examining what would have happened if Mr. Darcy had not created such a rude first impression. 

Works Cited:
Austen, Jane. "Letters." Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. 270-80. Print
Butler, Marilyn. “Austen, Jane (1775–1817).” Marilyn Butler Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2010. 1 Feb. 2016

Clark, Clare. "Book Review: ‘First Impressions,’ by Charlie Lovett." The Washington Post, 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

"First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice." Barnes & Noble. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Nokes, David, ed. "Bath and Southampton." Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. 264-67. Print.