Stepping into the library at The Rosenbach in Philadelphia feels a bit like stepping into another century.
There are leather reading chairs and portraits in carved frames with gilding. And of course, there are hundreds of rare books in dark wood cabinets from over 150 years ago that were collected by the Rosenbach brothers throughout the 1800s and 1900s.
Among them is the first edition of “Pride and Prejudice,” which was originally published in 1813 in three volumes. Also in the collection: the first American edition, titled “Elizabeth Bennet; or, Pride and Prejudice,” published later in 1832 in Philadelphia. The beloved novel is the inspiration for the museum and library’s latest “biblioventure” series, Austen Mondays.
“We want to talk about the book, but we also want to have a lot of fun while we’re doing it. Austen’s works kind of bring that out in people,” said Edward G. Pettit, senior manager of public programs. Pettit is leading the 24-week-long virtual program series on the classic book.
The program officially began on Monday, September 19 and will continue through March 13, 2023.
Every Monday evening, Pettit will interview the people who adore Jane Austen, and have studied her life and works — from scholars to writers. Then, he will lead a conversation about a chapter or two of the book. Pettit has led these kinds of conversations for other books in The Rosenbach collection before, like “Jane Eyre” and “Frankenstein.”
For Austen Mondays, people who tune in can expect deep, intelligent conversations that “illuminate” and “elucidate” the book, says Pettit. Plus special cocktails, too.
Each week will have a different focus, including some discussion of film and television adaptations of the book, like the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley and the 1995 BBC series starring Colin Firth.
Pettit suspects that the adaptations of the novel, as well as the themes within it, are partly why the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy continues to resonate with audiences around the world, over 200 years after the book was published.
“I think the story works very well for people today,” Pettit said. “Austen’s very concerned with marriage — it’s not about status, it’s not about wealth, it is about finding a partner you can love and respect at the same time. And that still goes today. People love that story.”
The book is a great starting point for those who want to read Jane Austen for the first time, he said.
“‘Pride and Prejudice’ is absolutely a fun read. It is sparkling,” said Pettit, who has taught literature and writing at La Salle University throughout the years and written book reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He wants readers to remember that Austen is supposed to be funny. That was advice he was given by a professor back in college. “As soon as I realized that, I just devoured them all,” he said.
For those who wish to attend an “Austen-esque” event, The Rosenbach is hosting an event called “Ballrooms and Beer Halls” on Sunday, September 25 that will be full of “Regency-era politics, drinks, and fashion.”
Austen Mondays are hosted every Monday evening online.