Hugh Thomson’s Illustrations of Pride and Prejudice
From the 1894 first illustrated edition of Jane Austen’s novel
Museum Number: CHWJA:JAHB29.1, CHWJA:JAH237-272
Former Collections Officer, Jane Austen's House Museum
Before television, film and even theatre productions, Jane Austen’s novels were brought to life by illustrators. This ‘Peacock’ edition of Pride and Prejudice, published in 1894 by George Allen, was the first fully illustrated edition of Jane Austen’s most popular novel. This was not the first attempt to add illustrations to Austen’s novels, but with 160 illustrations (including headpieces, tailpieces and ornamental initials) it was the first to fully integrate them into the novel.
The illustrator, Hugh Thomson, was best known for his pen and ink illustrations and, in addition to Jane Austen, illustrated the novels of Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. Thomson used to visit the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum to research costume styles, room decorations and furniture design for his illustrations. Despite this, the drawings have a distinct late 19th century style rather than accurately representing the start of the 19th century. Like Jane Austen in the memoir written in 1870 by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, Pride and Prejudice has been given a Victorian tint in these illustrations.
Thomson’s ability to capture the spirit of the novel’s scenes in his humorous drawings has drawn many people to these illustrations. Just like a favoured television or film adaptation, these illustrations provide readers with a visual link to the story and characters.These illustrations attracted new fans to Pride and Prejudice, and have become almost as iconic as the novel itself. This edition proved more popular than any previous one and by 1907 the publisher had sold 25,000 copies. Macmillan & Co. published an edition of Pride and Prejudice in 1895 illustrated by C. E. Brock. However, it is the 1894 George Allen edition
that fetches a much higher price in secondhand bookshops today.