Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility was first published on this date in 1811. Austen began writing the book in 1795, when she was about 19 years old. She called it Elinor and Marianne, after the Dashwood sisters who are the novel’s main characters. In its original incarnation, Elinor and Marianne was an epistolary novel, told entirely through letters. A couple of years later, Austen revised it into a narrative format, but then she set the book aside for more than a decade.
In 1809, Austen took up the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood again, putting it through another round of revisions. Finally, a London publisher named Thomas Egerton agreed to publish her “novel in three volumes, By a Lady.” She wrote to her sister, Cassandra, in April 1811, while she was in the middle of correcting proofs of the novel: “I am never too busy to think of S & S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her suckling child.”
Austen paid for the novel’s printing and advertising, and agreed to pay Egerton a commission. It was a financially risky arrangement for the author, but Sense and Sensibility turned a profit. Austen wrote to her brother: “You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S. & S. is sold & that it has brought me £140 — besides the Copyright, if that [should] ever be of any value. — I have now therefore written myself into £250 — which only makes me long for more.” Egerton agreed to publish her second novel — a book that had begun as First Impressions in 1796 but ended up being called Pride and Prejudice — in 1813.
Eudora Welty called Sense and Sensibility “as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”