1813 – a very good year
I don’t need to remind regular readers of this blog that we’re currently celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s greatest novel, Pride and Prejudice. If you have, until this point, been ignorant of that fact – shame on you!
Although I’ve been really busy organising and putting the final flourishes to P and P Tours’ 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice Tour (not long now) I’ve still had time, in my less hectic moments, to wonder about the time period in which Austen wrote her opus magnus and what else was going on in 1813.
Then, as now, as is suggested in Pride and Prejudice itself, with George Wickham being in the Militia, war was very much on the minds of everyone in 1813.
Whilst nearly everyone knows that the Duke of Wellington, one of this country’s greatest military leaders, led the combined allied forces to victory over Napoleon Bonaparte and the French ‘Grande Armee’ at Waterloo in 1815, not many are aware that just two years earlier the then Earl of Wellington, led the British army, together with it’s Portuguese and Spanish allies, during the Peninsular war, where he drove the French forces back across the Pyrenees.
As a reward, Arthur Wellesley, for that was his birth name, was later made Duke of Wellington and some years after Waterloo, but well before Abba topped the charts, he also served as Prime Minister, twice.
The Prime Minister in the hot seat in 1813 is little remembered, except by those with a keen interest in history. Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was actually Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister and he took the job upon the death of the only British PM ever to be assassinated, Spencer Percival. Liverpool finally retired in 1927 after 15 years in power.
Revolution was also still very much on the minds of the masses across Europe, although to a lesser extent in Britain. France had been through the brutal revolution that had de-throned the Bourbons and eventually saw Napoleon being crowned Emperor, somewhat ironically. The other royal houses of Europe looked on in horror as the aristocracy of France was deposed from its position of power and the seemingly never-ending wars represented the determination of Austria, Russia and Prussia to avoid a similar fate.
Back home Jane Austen used the vehicle of Pride and Prejudice to perfectly capture how Britain’s ruling class managed affairs to avoid such a bloody revolution by accommodating the growing aspirations of the rising and increasingly affluent middle classes and by consenting to marriage between the classes – hence the match between Darcy and Elizabeth.
Social revolution perhaps, but much better than the bloody variety.
1813 also saw a continuation of change across the Atlantic with the newly independent United States of America continuing to battle Britain, taking advantage of their former master’s distraction with the Napoleonic Wars.
Away from war there were other things happening. The (Royal) Philharmonic Society was created in London, pineapples were introduced to Hawaii, James Madison was elected President of the US for a second term and a team of explorers braved the savage elements and crossed the Blue Mountains in Australia in an attempt to find a way to open up the vast interior of that continent.
Also abroad Simon Bolivar, the great South American revolutionary and military leader, entered Caracas and was ratified as ‘The Liberator’ and in the Orient, the British government took steps to restrict the power of the East India Company, who had dominated the country and its affairs.
In the arts, Robert Southey was made Poet Laureate, Lord Byron sold eight full print editions of The Giaour and the great poet returned to Britain from his Grand Tour. Rossini’s opera Tancred opened in Venice to great reviews and another renowned Italian composer, Guiseppe Verdi, best known for Carmen, was born.
In the field of science, explorer and missionary David Livingstone was born, rubber was patented, and the first raw cotton-to-cloth mill was opened in Massachussetts.
Taking all of that and my obvious bias into account, it still seems to me that the publication of Pride and Prejudice was the most important thing to happen in 1813, although perhaps the descendants of the Duke of Wellington may disagree. As shown by the numbers of people who continue to use P and P for our private, escorted tours and chauffeuer driven tours, there remains a real appetite for, and love of Jane Austen’s great work.
The novel continues to capture the imagination of readers of all generations and shows no sign of abating. Like all truly great works of art Pride and Prejudice has a timeless quality and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it going strong for centuries to come.