Well That Was a Mistake, Wasn't It?
October 26, 2016 By Shelley DeWees
In November 1797, Thomas Cadell, of the eminent London publishing firm Cadell & Davies, rejected Jane Austen’s early draft of Pride and Prejudice. The letter he’d received from Austen’s father was perfectly cordial; in truth, it was rather sweet (‘As I am well aware of what consequence it is that a work of this sort should make its first appearance under a respectable name[,] I apply to you’), and adorably naïve in its assumption that one of the most successful firms in England would be piqued by ‘a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols. about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina’, from the unknown daughter of an unknown parson. It was clumsy, but it was kind and frank, and representative of benevolent intentions—and for these reasons, as any Austen scholar will likely tell you, it didn’t deserve the curt reply that Cadell bestowed upon it, ‘declined by Return of Post.’ In five words Cadell condemned Pride and Prejudice to remain, sight unseen, on Jane Austen’s desk for the next sixteen years until it was finally published by Thomas Egerton in 1813.