Jenny was a book worm who craved an education. Jenny’s father sent her and her sister, Cassandra, to school in Oxford, England, but both girls returned home after being diagnosed with typhus. Several times throughout her sickness, Jenny was on the cusp of death. Following their slow recovery, Jenny and Cassandra attended a boarding school for only a few months, after which the fees became too expensive for Jenny’s father to continue to afford. Thus ended Jenny’s formal education, but not her self-education.
Jenny had access to a large variety of books in her father’s personal library. Jenny also began reading books from the extensive personal library of a family friend. Jenny and her other siblings staged plays for family and friends based on the books Jenny had read. Her ever-supportive father provided Jenny and her sister with expensive paper and other materials for writing and drawing. By the time she was 12, Jenny was writing poems, short stories, and plays to amuse her family and friends. In seven years, Jenny had produced twenty-nine works made up of over 90,000 words she kept in three bound notebooks called “Volume the First,” “Volume the Second,” and “Volume the Third.” Contained in those pages was a satirical novel Jenny titled “Love and Freindship.” Whether 12-year-old Jenny intentionally misspelled friendship remains a mystery.
Around the time she wrote “Love and Freindship,” Jenny decided that she wanted to become a published author and earn money from her writing. She continued to write voraciously and, when she was 20 years old, Jenny began to write a novel she called “First Impressions.” She wrote a few pages, then read them aloud to her family. She had done this with other works, but they were more receptive to “First Impressions” than with any of her other work. Everyone in the room was silent when she read. They wanted to hear every syllable. At the end of every reading, they pressed Jenny to find out what was going to happen next. “First Impressions” became a family favorite. Jenny’s father wrote to Thomas Cadell, a publisher in London, to see if he would publish the book, but Cadell declined.
Jenny continued to write, and a publisher finally agreed to publish one of her books “on commission.” In this case, the publisher paid for the cost of printing the books along with advertisements. The author earned money only after the publisher was repaid for the cost of printing the books, then the publisher withheld a 10% commission on every book sold. If the books failed to sell enough copies to cover the cost of printing, the author was responsible for the remainder. Luckily for Jenny, the book quickly sold out. The publisher printed more, and they sold out as well.
Jenny tried again to publish “First Impressions.” Publishers were still cautious about publishing Jenny’s work, and Jenny was hesitant to publish another book on commission. Everyone wondered if the success of her first book was just a fluke. Finally, Jenny sold the copyright to “First Impressions” for what amounted to a little less than $10,000 in today’s money. The book was an instant hit and the first printing quickly sold out. A second edition sold out within six months. A third edition sold out as well.
“First Impressions” still sells well. It has been published in numerous languages, and has been adapted for television, and films. To date, the book has sold more than 20 million copies, and has become one of the most beloved novels in English literature. Of course, it took time for “First Impressions” to sell that many copies. It took more than 200 years. This novel by Jenny was first published in 1811. Jenny was the childhood nickname of Jane Austen. “First Impressions” was the original title of “Pride and Prejudice.”
1. “Jane Austen’s House | the Most Treasured Austen Site in the World.” Janeaustens.house. https://janeaustens.house/.
2. “First Impressions | Digital Austen.” Digitalausten.org, digitalausten.org/node/34.