Although Jane Austen is known for her novels set in the Regency period, it happens that she really, really hated the regent himself, Prince George (later George IV). But a new discovery in the Royal Archives suggests that he was among her first readers.
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A bill of purchase from 1811 was recently unearthed in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, where an effort is underway to catalogue over 350,000 papers relating to King George III and his household. It shows a charge of fifteen shillings to the Prince Regent for a copy of Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility. Notably, the transaction took place before the book’s first public advertisement, which places him among her earliest readers. Scholars believe this to be the first documented sale of an Austen book.
Austen’s dislike of the Prince Regent is infamous. She once wrote in a letter, “Poor [Princess Caroline], I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” But George was a “great admirer” of her work, and the royal librarian met with her, giving her “permission” to dedicate her next book to the Prince Regent. That’s not the kind of “offer” you can refuse.
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She reluctantly wrote a simple dedication: “Emma, Dedicated by Permission to H.R.H. The Prince Regent.” Her publisher insisted that she write something more flattering, and so Emma is dedicated, “To His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, this work is, by His Royal Highness’s permission, most respectfully dedicated by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant, the author”. Austen scholars consider this to be purposefully and exaggeratedly pompous, not reading like her usual prose at all.
She’d probably be relieved to know that most modern publications do not include this dedication.
Feature Image Via Electric Literature