Pride and Prejudice has become one of the most beloved stories in English literature since its publication in 1813. To some extent, it is a quite straightforward love story; however, to view it as just a love story would mean to diminish its significance and it is clearly a lot more than that. Originally, Austen wrote this story under the title of “First Impressions” but later, after extensive reworking, she renamed it “Pride and Prejudice”. Unfortunately, there are no remains of the original text written between 1796 and 1797 to compare them with the novel published in 1813, but the 1813 text can work as an informant of the possible reasons why Austen decided to give it a new title. This essay is to discuss whether the book’s renaming was a wise choice. Personally, I believe that Jane Austen aptly changed the title.
To begin with, as far as publishing issues are concerned, a theory that is circulating around is that the book was going to stick to its original title, but after Jane Austen’s success with the blockbuster sales of Sense and Sensibility her publisher thought it would be a good idea to follow the same formula of alliteration and title style, which is noun and noun. Moreover, due to the fact that Austen revised the book many times before its final publication, surely, there would have been major changes to the story that possibly led to her deciding that the title “First Impressions” was not as suitable for the final product as the title “Pride and Prejudice”.
Regarding the content of the book in relation to the title, the title “First Impressions” does not completely delve into the story’s themes. What defines Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy throughout the story is both pride and prejudice, which are basically two characteristics that are woven into the fabric of Victorian life and society. To be more precise, at first sight the title “Pride and Prejudice” is an obvious representation of Darcy and Elizabeth, the two main characters. Darcy represents pride in his every move, especially at the beginning of the book when he calls Elizabeth ‘tolerable’ and ‘not handsome enough to tempt him’. From this day on, Elizabeth appears to hold a prejudice about Darcy, until she is proved wrong. We see many other characters, social expectations and regulations throughout the book that display these traits, which seem to create the whole theme of the book. It is noticeable how back in the society of the time that Austen was writing in, the title she ultimately settled on, rather than First Impressions, reflects the social attitudes and prejudices of particular social groups of the time. This also leads to the perspective that she wrote the novel to comment on human faults in personalities such as pride and prejudice.
Furthermore, Austen’s wise choice of the title “Pride and Prejudice” can be understood through the fact that the book’s plot heavily relies on first impressions and how people react to those around them at first. In the end of the book, the moral is that first impressions are often proved to be false, something that the heroine, Elizabeth, portrays to the fullest. Her initial negative view of Mr. Darcy and positive view of Wickham come back to haunt her later in the book as they turn to be incorrect. Finally, as Tony Tanner points out in his introductory essay to Pride and Prejudice, the choice of the word ‘impression’ in the sentimental fiction of this period had a particular significance. He argues that “the original title “First Impressions” was a phrase taken from sentimental literature where it exhibits “… the strength and truth of the heart’s immediate and intuitive response, usually love at first sight.” Although, here, the meaning is specifically connected to ‘love’, Pride and Prejudice, in its reworked form, is concerned with ‘immediate and intuitive responses’ to a range of people and places. Consequently, it is not only about ‘love at first sight’, but also dislike at first sight” (N. Walters).
To conclude, I firmly believe that Jane Austen’s choice to change the title from “First Impressions” to “Pride and Prejudice” was indeed wise. The title ‘Pride and Prejudice’ works both as a comment on the values of the time the book was written and set, but also shows the personality traits that the characters exhibit. Although all the characters are proud and prejudiced to an extent, these qualities are explored mostly through Elizabeth and Darcy. Also, a possible message Austen wanted to send through the title and the book itself is that people should not be scared to be wrong. While it is true that Mr. Darcy acted with great pride, Elizabeth’s prejudice allowed her to think the worst of Mr. Darcy, though she eventually realised how wrong she was and saw the generous and kind-hearted side of him.