ICPL celebrates the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

BY BRETT KARLAN | JULY 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s a book so popular that Nialle Sylvan, the owner of the Haunted Bookshop, 203 N. Linn St., said it has spawned its own genre of fiction. She is not, however, talking about Harry Potter or Twilight.

The book she’s describing was published in 1813.

“As a bookseller, I’ve noticed Pride and Prejudice has spawned an entire genre, usually called ‘Edwardian fiction,’ ” she said. “There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of titles that draw their inspiration from that book.”

Pride and Prejudice, a novel by the British author Jane Austen, celebrates the 200th anniversary of its publication this year.

The book is a novel of manners, centering on the tension-filled relationship between the upper-class, lively, and judgmental Elizabeth Bennett and her initially oft-putting suitor, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Part of the appeal of the book lies in the way this particular relationship generalizes broad human themes.

Pride and Prejudice is relevant today mainly for the themes that it deals with,” said Beth Fisher, an adult program librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St. “It deals with marriage. It deals with money, class, and self-knowledge. People who read it today get as much, or more, out of it than people who read it when it was first published.”

Fisher has helped organized various events that the Public Library will put on throughout the month of July as a way of commemorating the anniversary. At noon July 16, for instance, the library will host “Two-Minute Jane,” an event in which participants are invited to read two-minute passages from their favorite Austen novels, Pride and Prejudice or otherwise.

The library will also screen three different film adaptations of the novel at 7 p.m. today, July 18, and 25. Fisher said each film offers viewers a chance to see Pride and Prejudice from a different perspective.

She emphasized that the July 18 screening, Bride & Prejudice, as particularly interesting. The 2004 film transplants the British novel into a contemporary Bollywood setting.

“I wanted to throw in something different,” she said. “And this version surprised me, because I wasn’t really expecting anything of it. But it was actually really good.”

The legacy of Pride and Prejudice stretches into the halls of academia as well.

“I can’t think of another example of a literary work of that [Edwardian] age that crosses over between the non-academic and academic world to the extent that Pride and Prejudice does,” Juliette Wells, an associate professor of English at Goucher College in Baltimore and a noted Austen scholar, wrote in an email.

Wells stressed the universality of the novel as an explanation for its continued success.

“Young girls read it and want to be Elizabeth when they grow up,” she said. “Teenagers read it and start to understand their parents … Older people read it and marvel that Austen, who died at 41, could capture with such brilliance life experiences across the whole age spectrum.”

“The novel means many, many things to different people,” Wells said. “As only a work of literary genius can truly do.”

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