Sense and Sensibility

First Edition of the Author’s Rare First Book in Contemporary Calf

[AUSTEN, Jane]. Sense and Sensibility: A Novel. In Three Volumes. By A Lady. London: Printed for the Author, by C. Roworth, and Published by T. Egerton, 1811.

First edition. Three twelvemo volumes (7 x 4 1/8 inches; 178 x 105 mm.). [4], 317, [1, blank]; [4], 278; [4], 301, [1, blank] pp. Complete with half-titles, but without the final blank leaf in each volume.

Contemporary tan polished calf, skillfully rebacked, with the original spines laid down. Covers with two gilt rules and decorative gilt cornerpieces, spines with five raised bands, lettered in gilt in two compartments and decoratively tooled in gilt in the remaining three compartments, the top compartment with a gilt five-pointed crown and the monogram “AR.” The same crown and monogram are stamped on the verso of the front free endpaper of each volume. There are a few minor marginal stains, but this is a far better copy than is usually seen. To find this title in its original state is nowadays just about impossible. Highly sought after, this nearly 200-year-old book is usually only available in a later binding—and mostly wanting the half-titles. Housed in a full calf clamshell case.

Begun in the mid-1790s, Sense and Sensibility, like Pride and Prejudice, went through two versions before publication, but the fact that it was the first published of Jane Austen’s novels was more or less accidental: First Impressions (the first version of Pride and Prejudice) had been summarily rejected, and Susan (the first version of Northanger Abbey and probably the first to be started of the three) had been sold to the publishers Richard Crosby & Son, but they failed to publish it. Keynes suggests the size of the edition may have been 1,000 or even as few as 750 copies (the smallest print run of any of Jane Austen’s novels).

“Sensibility” novels had been in vogue for several decades before Jane Austen put quill to paper. They were usually written in epistolary form, and indeed Jane Austen’s early drafts were epistolary, but she soon found her “voice,” and Sense and Sensibility achieved new heights in literary style. Altogether sharper, wittier, and consequently more accessible to readers, then and now. It is an undoubted monument to the genre and a landmark in the development of the novel.

Gilson A1. Keynes, Austen, 1. Item #00250

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