On my last birthday, I received a precious book. It combines wonderful things: a favourite story, tactile and auditory pleasure, interesting historical information, and a unique twist. 

The fabulous book I’m referring to is a new edition of Pride and Prejudice. Faithful readers of this column know I already have this book on my shelf, and are probably asking, “Just how many copies of the same story do you need?!” My husband asked the same question when I suggested it would be the perfect gift. But this edition is special.

Firstly — yes — it is my favourite novel: so well written that I enjoy repeatedly rereading it. The wit brings a smile to my face every time. The fact I know the story will end happily reassures me in this constantly changing world full of new and scary events.

Then, there is the book itself — it absolutely sings: “TREASURE!” It has a substantial presence: weighty and about the size of my laptop. The cream hard cover is embossed with gold lettering. The royal blue spine, embellished with gold peacock feathers, matches the tantalizing endpapers. The silky, thin, crisp pages crinkle, like a tinkling bell, when you turn them. Several appendices discuss assorted historical aspects of correspondence from the Regency period (early 1800s). And best of all, interspersed throughout the volume are glassine pockets containing the distinctive feature of this edition: 19 handwritten letters.

Barbara Heller is listed as Curator of this book and she conceived the creation of the handwritten letters that the novel’s characters send and receive. Pulling one of the letters from its pocket, scanning the address and postmark, and then unfolding it to reveal the unique handwriting of one of the characters is like opening 19 little presents.

Kudos to her for the concept and its execution. She meticulously researched the British postal service of Austen’s time and, using clues in the novel, triangulated where the fictional locations would have been, creating the appropriate postmarks and postal charges.

Each letter reflects the character who wrote it, in style, presentation, and even the type of paper and seal. The appendices discuss the history of writing and mailing letters in Britain. I learned about postage, ink, paper, and quills.

This book is the ultimate combination of topics I’ve discussed in the last few months: letters and how they were written and sealed, paper and printing, and history. And, of course a romance is the perfect love token to have received from my husband. Although, he does not seem to appreciate the crinkling of paper, as I read it in bed, nearly as much as I do…

This article was originally printed in THE BERGEN NEWS and is being reprinted with permission.

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