There's a great article by William Grimes in the NY Times Weekend Arts section, about new annotated versions of some classic novels, especially one of Pride and Prejudice, by David M. Shapard. P and P is one of those books I re-read, and I look forward to reading this annotated version. This article talks about all the details of the period that are illuminated by this guide. For true fans, this kind of thing is great, but for most readers, I think unnecessary.
As Grimes says, anyone who reads Shapard's guide will "read Pride and Prejudice as it was read and understood at the time of its publication, with all the period details in place and correctly interpreted."
He goes on to say:
"But the novel, in most respects, remains the same. The reader who does not know a farthing from a guinea, it's safe to say, will nonetheless grasp the great drama of attraction and repulsion that plays out between Darcy and Elizabeth. The cut and thrust of their conversation is timeless. Generations of young women who do not know the first thing about an entailed state or a quadrille will recognize in Austen's heroine a kindred spirit..."
The mores have changed, but the people remain the same. And of course that's why Pride and Prejudice is one of my comfort novels, one of the books I return to, especially when I need to curl up by the fire and escape the modern world.
Here's a link if you want to buy David M. Shapard's Annotated Pride and Prejudice at Amazon: