This beautiful edition of Pride and Prejudice is one of the 41 Objects I saw at Jane Austen’s house museum in Hampshire when I visited last summer. I was curious about the peacock design, so I did a little research…
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath has this to offer:
“As a motif, the peacock is indelibly linked with the novel [P&P]; indeed so entrenched is the association that readers often assume peafowl must be mentioned somewhere within it, perhaps strutting around the grounds of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate. Surprisingly, perhaps, the birds are mentioned nowhere in the book, nor for that matter do they appear in any of Jane’s other works. The association in fact only goes back to 1894, and to one of the most iconic cover designs with which the novels would ever be graced.
“Often referred to as the most beautiful edition of any Jane Austen novel, and selling for high prices in the collectors’ market, the 1894 George Allen edition of Pride and Prejudice has two notable claims to fame. First, in its introduction by critic George Saintsbury, it includes the first use of the term ‘Janeite’ (though Saintsbury spells it ‘Janite’). And second, it was beautifully illustrated throughout by the prolific artist Hugh Thompson (1860 – 1920).
“But even more than the delightful illustrations within the novel, Thompson’s most important bequest to the iconography of Jane Austen’s works was his magnificent cover design.
“Why a Jane Austen Peacock? Rather than reproduce a specific scene from the novel, or any of its central characters, Thompson opted instead for a design that would serve as a visual representation of the book’s themes and mood, and hit on the perfect symbol for the issues of courtship, vanity, and the calculated display of wealth and beauty around which the drama revolves. The peacock and the novel have been linked ever since…”
The Peacock’s Legacy Continues
The connection between the peacock and Pride and Prejudice is now so strong, the Jane Austen Peacock brooch is available from the Jane Austen Centre’s gift shop. If that’s out of your price range, there are cell phone cases, tote bags, t-shirts, and other items available with the gilded “Jane Austen peacock cover” design online.
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Coniam, Matthew. “The Jane Austen Peacock: How a bird became an icon.” The Jane Austen Centre: Jane Austen News. 17 May 2016. https://www.janeausten.co.uk/the-jane-austen-peacock-how-a-bird-became-an-icon/.