They're calling it "one of the greatest mistakes in publishing history." In 1797, a publisher named Thomas Cadell didn't even bother to look at the three-volume novel. Instead, he declined the book and sent it back to the disappointed young author "without a word of encouragement."
That author was Jane Austen. The book was an early version of "Pride and Prejudice."
In this month's Literary Review, Mark Bostridge takes a lively look at "Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World" by Claire Harman. The work, just released in the UK, examines "Austen mania" and its roots and includes the story of the efforts Austen and her family made to get her books into print.
It was 14 years after Cadell's rejection that Austen's first book was finally published.
"What Jane Austen could never have foreseen – and might have had some trouble comprehending," writes Bostridge, " was her transformation, in the 190 years following her death at the age of forty-one in 1817, into a writer of mass popularity, a global phenomenon, whose six completed novels are among the best-known, best-loved works in the English language."
Her global appeal is explained, adds Bostridge, by "the apparent timelessness of her work."
"To a large extent, her books are unattached to specific times and places. 'She stopped the clock', writes Harman, and now is always her time."