A Novel, By a Lady: Jane Austen First Editions

Isabel Bishop, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, study for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 1940s.
Isabel Bishop, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, study for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 1940s. Sold June 4, 2019 for $6,500.

Jane Austen has been a cultural mainstay since her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published in 1811. For over 200 years Austen and her novels have been capturing the hearts of readers, garnering a dedicated fanbase that has given way to a countless number of literary reimaginations plopping the likes of Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood and their gaggle of sisters in a modern setting, or finding Mr. Knightly fighting zombies on an eighteenth-century countryside walk to Hartfield. Film adaptations of Austen’s works have cropped up since the golden age of Hollywood (not to mention a film inspired by Austen herself). Each iteration creates a cultural impact of its own and inspires entirely new generations of “Janeites” to carry on the torch, but it is Austen’s original words that above all else keep readers coming back again and again.

For the first time in nearly a decade, first editions of all six of Jane Austen’s major novels were offered in Swann’s winter 2020 sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts on February 20. The novels came across the block in exceedingly rare period bindings, just as Austen herself would have seen them published, with half-title pages and in three volumes. Below we touch on the offering and what makes a first edition Austen novel special.

Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, first edition, three volumes, in period binding, London, 1811. Sold February 2020 for $81,250.

Published anonymously, “By a Lady,” Sense and Sensibility is the rarest of Austen’s six major works, with likely only 1,000 copies or fewer being printed for the first edition. The first version of Sense and Sensibility is known to have been written about 1795 in the form of letters. It was then revised and prepared for the press in the first year of Jane Austen’s residence at Chawton between 1809 and 1810.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, first edition, three volumes, in period binding, London, 1813. Sold February 2020 for $100,000.

Originally titled “First Impressions,” Pride and Prejudice was written between October of 1796 and August of 1797 when Jane Austen was not yet 21. After an early rejection by the publisher Cadell, who had not even read it, Austen’s novel was finally bought by Egerton in 1812 for £110. It was published in early 1813 in an edition of approximately 1500 copies. 

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, first edition, three volumes, in period binding, London, 1814. Sold February 2020 for $20,000.

Mansfield Park was published in a relatively small edition of perhaps 1,250 copies. The first edition we are offering includes the final blanks and advertisements for the second editions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in the last volume.


Jane Austen, Emma, first edition, three volumes, London, 1816. Sold February 2020 for $27,500.

Emma was Austen’s fourth novel and was the only one of the author’s novels to bear a dedication, to the Prince Regent. Proving that the zeitgeist surrounding Austen is everlasting, a new adaptation of Emma was released over Valentine’s Day weekend, 2020, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn.

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, first edition, four volumes, London, 1818. Sold February 2020 for $11,875.

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, Austen’s first sold and last written works, respectively, were finally published in this tandem edition in December 1817, five months after her death in July of that year.

Do you have a Jane Austen edition we should take a look at?