‘It is a truth universally acknowledged…..’
Almost everyone the world over who has ever done English literature will recognise this line as the opening line of chapter one of book one of Jane Austen’s ‘’Pride and Prejudice’’.
Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of the British Regency. Elizabeth had four sisters and no brothers and although their parents were alive, their future was bleak as the estate was entailed.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) was a prolific writer and was encouraged in this by her family. Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce” (Fergus, “Biography”, Jane Austen in Context.) Only some personal and family letters remain, by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant (Le Faye, “Letters”, Jane Austen in Context).
Archivist Jean Hansons, however, has recently discovered what she believes to be a new document revealing that Jane thought up the idea for the story after reading about the life of William Marshall of ‘The Greatest Knight’ fame, who at the time of his death in 1219 left four sons and five daughters and when the sons all died early, left the girls initially in an equally precarious position.
The document, written in her small right-sloping neat hand, is not addressed but appears to be pages three and four of a letter, written on both sides of paper in a cramped style, even adding tiny notes up the left margin of the last page. Experts and hand writing analysts are examining the document to determine its authenticity but an initial evaluation by experts has tentatively suggested that it is genuine. Another possibility is that it could be an excellent simulation by a group of people known collectively as the Jeffs, although experts have said that not even they could be this good.An example of Jane Austen’s writing
Jane did not share her family’s love of history and one of her most memorable quotes is “I read it [history] a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention” so it comes as a surprise that Jane would base what is probably her most famous work on actual historical personages.
The letter discusses the similarity between Marshall’s daughter Isabel (1200-1240) and Elizabeth Bennet. Like Elizabeth, Isabel did marry, espousing Gilbert de Clare, 5th Earl of Hertford and the pair went on to have six children. In the document the possibility of a sequel to Pride and Prejudice is posited, exploring the lives of the six children that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy would go on and have.
The letter further discusses the character in the book Lady Catherine De Bourgh and states that she is based on Catherine the wife of William de Burgh (circa 1160 -1205/1206). If this does prove to be the case it may show that Jane had access to a document that is unavailable to us now, as William de Burgh’s wife has hitherto been known only as the daughter of Domnall Mór Ua Briain, King of Thomond. It is an interesting speculation that William may have engendered the Fitzwilliam maiden name of Lady de Bourgh, who in her turn engendered the famous song ‘Lady in Red.’
The examination of the document is due to be completed in February 2015 and until then Jane Austen fans and William Marshall fans can only hold their breath and wait.
©Jeff Jefferty Jeff January 25th 2015
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Jeff Jefferty Jeff is currently working on his Opus Dei, a magnificent swash buckling epic based on the life and times of himself since his dear wife Mrs JJ flounced off to her mothers leaving him to master the art of opening tins without a manual.