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Analysis

What’s Up With the Title?

You know how nowadays, the book jackets for novels written by the same author are usually really similar—same font, same general layout, and so on? (Think about those endless John Grisham novels.) That's because publishers are going for an if-you-liked-that-you'll-also-love-this approach.

Pride and Prejudice is basically the result of the same kind of thing, turn of the 19th century-style. Originally, the novel was going to be called First Impressions, but after Austen hit the big time with the blockbuster sales of Sense and Sensibility, her publisher asked if they could try for a little branding magic by sticking to the same title formula: noun-and-noun. Sure enough, this new novel went over like gangbusters.

But titles matter. With First Impressions, readers are thrown into the characters' point of view immediately. We experience those first impressions right along with Darcy and Elizabeth. Also, first impressions are all about people interacting with each other, so a novel called First Impressions puts the idea of people meeting with and reacting to other people front and center. The focus is on manners, behavior, and outward appearance.

Pride and Prejudice? Not so much.We're no longer looking at things through the characters' eyes. Instead, it sounds like people are being called names—and it's up to the reader to try to figure out who's who. The reader isn't buddy-buddy with the characters any more, but is instead all judgy and superior from the get-go. Our novel BFFs aren't Darcy or Elizabeth at all. Instead, our main pal is the narrator, who knows ahead of time that someone's full of pride and someone else is probably full of prejudice.

Also, we've now moved into some deep psychological territory here. Feeling prideful and being prejudicial are things we do in the privacy of our thoughts, not things we wear on our sleeve. A novel named in this way immediately puts readers all up in the characters' thoughts, seeing how they make decisions and what their value systems are all about.

Which title do you prefer? Why?

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