Jan 102014

pride-and-prejudice-an-annotated-edition2A Truly Edifying, Entertaining, and Astute Edition!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift from Mom 🙂

As some of you may know, I was planning to reread Pride and Prejudice in 2013 to honor and celebrate its 200th Anniversary. Well, I sort’ve accomplished my goal – started it in 2013, but I finished it in 2014. 😉

Also, I wanted to try reading an annotated edition for the first time. I debated for awhile whether I should read the annotated edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks or the revised one by David M. Shapard. Both have their merits and came highly recommended, but since I already had the Spacks edition on my library shelf I decided to start with that one. I intend to read Shapard’s edition in the future.

Now, while I can easily devote my review to the genius of Jane Austen and spend paragraph after paragraph of this review outlining every flawless aspect of her writing, I don’t think I’d be imparting anything readers don’t already know. Jane Austen is brilliant, Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece, ’nuff said! 😉

Instead, I thought it might be beneficial for me to discuss my experience reading P&P with annotations, and comment on the observations, interpretations, and explanations made by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading Patricia Meyer Spacks’ annotations:

  • Words with Alternate Meanings: Spacks made an interesting study of how Jane Austen would often use the same word, but imply different meanings. Some of Austen’s most commonly used words in this novel – pride, condescension, blush (or colours) can be interpreted with different and distinct meanings each time. It was quite fascinating to observe how such words can have a variety of shades and degrees of connotation.
  • Words with New or Uncommon Meanings: In several cases, I learned to look at statements and words differently. An example is the word “awful” where Bingley states “I do not know a more awful object than Darcy,” I have always thought of awful as meaning dreadful or terrible and supposed that was what Bingley was saying about Darcy. But if you interpret the word awful as meaning “awe-inspiring” (as Spacks suggests) it changes the whole tenor of Bingley’s description. (page 85)
  • Reoccurring Themes:

    • Throughout her annotations Spacks illustrates the repetitive metaphor of marriage as a business. A theme I knew was present in the novel, but I was not previously aware of how prevalent it was until now. She also points out that Mrs. Bennet isn’t the only character who thinks of it as such, Charlotte, Mr. Collins, and even Lydia support this metaphor.

    • Another theme that Spacks enjoyed exploring is how pride and/or prejudice can be found in nearly all the characters of Pride and Prejudice, not just the two main principles. Characters who want recognition for their abilities, achievements, and situations – such as Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins – exhibit some form of pride. And characters who draw quick conclusions based on appearances and impressions – such as Jane Bennet, the Gardiners, and Mrs. Bennet are guilty (at some point) of holding onto their prejudiced opinions.

  • Illuminating the Time Period: Having read my fair share of novels set in during the Regency Era, I was already aware of a lot of the practices and norms of the time period. But there was definitely some more for me to learn! One example would be on the subject of nerves. (We hear much of them from Mrs. Bennet.) I’ve always thought of them as an anxiety, a weakness, and a call for attention. What I didn’t know was that during the eighteenth century many theories and psychological studies made popular the condition of having “refined nerves.” And rather than being just considered a weakness, it implied a “highly developed emotional responsiveness.” (page 32) Mrs. Bennet doesn’t just fancy herself ill, she thinks herself superior in feeling.

  • Entertaining Asides: I enjoyed seeing Spacks’ sense of humor come into play as regards comments made by Austen throughout the novel. It was almost as if she was sharing a joke with her readers. One of my favorites is when Lady Catherine states that her “character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness,” Spacks remarks: “One may wonder who has celebrated it.” (page 394)

My one minor quibble for this edition would be with the images. Sometimes the image didn’t have anything to do with the text around it, like images of Jane Austen, her homes, and other people in her life. They didn’t quite seem to belong. I think more images that pertain to the text and time period would have been beneficial – i.e. articles of clothing, house interiors, and scenery.

I emphatically recommend this annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice to readers who want to gain a better and deeper understanding of Jane Austen’s beloved masterpiece!

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  22 Responses to “Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition – Jane Austen (Edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks)”


    It is so interesting, Meredith. Definitely, I will take a copy of this. Thank you for share your comments.


    I haven’t read this one, but she sounds like its fun and not just academic. I want to read an annotated Persuasion and Mansfield Park when I get the chance. Thanks for sharing!


    I have this very same edition and absolutely LOVE it!! I agree with you on the images in that they should relate more to what’s being described, etc. Also, did you realize that this item is actually a series of Austen’s works being done (annotated) by Harvard University Press? They’ve been releasing one new annotated title each year. Sense & Sensibility was just released a few months or so ago (Oct.’13). Pride & Prejudice was the first one released; then came Persuasion (2011) & Emma (Sept. ’12). Northanger Abbey will be released in April ’14. I didn’t see anything about one for Mansfield Park yet. I have copies of the released titles for my collection… I can’t resist them – they’re awesome books, I love the format…. and of course, I LOVE the stories 😉


      Yes, Valerie! I’m so excited to see all the other annotated editions by Harvard University Press! I’ve got them all on my wishlist! 😉 I like the format too – I didn’t mind the weight or size of the book at all.


    I have both spacks and Shapard’s versions. I love them both for different reasons. I love the format and content of Shapard’s version best. I enjoy the photos etc of Spacks. The Spacks version is the size of a coffee table book but Shapard’s is smaller and thus compact which for me works best. I have the annotated Persuasion which I haven’t completed. I would love the annotated Northanger Abbey.


      I look forward to reading Shapard’s version some day, Suzan – I’ve heard great things about it! I’m sure each editor makes different comparisons and interpretations, and brings different elements to light. I think there are two annotated editions of NA that either have just come out or are about to. 😉


    I read David Shapard’s original annotated P&P and found it very informative. I have Spacks’ annotated P&P book, but have not finished it. I like annotated versions, because they are an excellent way to understand Regency England. I have a number of books about the era, but find I use them more as reference when something comes to mind, rather than reading straight through.
    Thank you, Meredith, for reviewing Spack’s annotated P&P.
    Catherine Commons


      Yes, very true! It is a lot easier to understand aspects of Regency life when you read them in context, I think. I learned a lot that I didn’t already know with this edition – especially about the militia (as a unit and as a profession) and money (the equivalency of Darcy’s wealth today, the equivalency of Lady C’s chimney piece, etc.) Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts,


    I got both Spacks and Shapard for Christmas so am looking forward to reading them. I also bought both my sister in laws the Shapard for Christmas. One of them is Swedish and said she wanted a good book she could get into but that would help improve her English I thought who better to teach English than Jane and I don’t think she has read P&P before. Plus I thought Spapard looked simpler if this is your first time reading P&P? I could be wrong but its definitely easier to carry around! A very informative review I look forward to reading mine.


    Lovely review, Meredith! I need to read this edition. I have had it for quite some time and it looks beautiful sitting on my coffee table but I have yet to read it! I will definitely do that this year!!:)


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Meredith!
    Haven’t come across this one, but you’re right, annotated editions give us the context we’re missing and are priceless for that! It’s not only the details, the customs, the accepted norms of society and conduct but sometimes the language of Austen is almost like a foreign language altogether! Not to mention the little inside jokes that her contemporaries would have easily recognised, but 200 years on we need a little prompting e.g. the scene where Elizabeth and Mrs Hurst run into Darcy and Miss Bingley as they were all strolling in the Netherfield gardens. Elizabeth refuses Darcy’s suggestion that they all move to a wider path by saying something like ‘No, stay where you are, you are charmingly grouped, the picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth’, which is innocent enough – but my annotated edition suggests it’s an allusion to Gilpins ‘doctrine of grouping larger cattle…’ 🙂


      Thanks for stopping by, Joana! That is so funny about the cattle and groupings – this annotated edition made mention of that too! Very true about inside jokes and how a lot can be lost or misunderstood by the language of Jane Austen’s time being so different than our own!


    I’m glad to see you enjoyed this annotated version. I have most of Shapard’s annotated books but have yet to read them.


    A few years back I saw an annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice at Borders and thought that it would be good and that people could learn from it. I didn’t buy it, though. The only other annotated books I’m familiar with are the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. I did check one out from the library (heavy volumes!) and I remember learning about what a gasogene is — it’s a device to carbonate water, I think.


      It is interesting what you can learn (and remember) from reading an annotated edition. There is a good bit more reading involved and the volumes are usually heavier. 🙂 But it is definitely worth it!


    I decided to finally read Pride and Prejudice after watching both movies and studying it in class. However I find myself not quite understanding every part of this book, though I find it very interesting. I brought the english version (I am french) and wanted to find a version which would help me understand some of these parts. Do you think one of these books could help me to understand?

    Thank you for sharing!


      Hi Fantino! Thanks so much for your post. I think this annotated version would help a lot. One of the things I appreciated about it the most was how much more I understood the text and word choice Jane Austen used, especially with a lot of words or expressions that are unfamiliar and out-dated. Or maybe try to find a bilingual edition – one that has the book in French on one page and in English on the other? Hope you find success with reading and understanding!! That’s so awesome that you found it interesting!

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