Last year, the good folks at the Harvard University Press presented the first installment in their commitment to annotate all six of Jane Austen’s major novels. Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks set the standard for the series: an unabridged first edition text, annotations by an Austen scholar, full color illustrations, over-sized coffee table format (9.5” X 10”), extensive scholarly introduction, and supplemental material – all pulled together in a beautifully designed interior and stunning cover. It was a grand slam home run. Now, just in time for holiday gift giving, Persuasion: An Annotated Edition was released this month supplying the same powerful presentation; this time to Jane Austen’s final, most profound and poignant novel, Persuasion.
Packed in the side margins of almost every page are running commentaries by editor Robert Morrison. Adding explanations, asides and illuminations, readers will be aided in understanding the narrative that may appear to the first time reader as a simple story of love lost and regained, but in actuality, is quite layered in complexity: laced with historical context, social commentary and influenced by Austen’s personal life. The illustrations run the gambit from paintings and line drawings of country manor houses and city dwellings similar to the residences of the principal characters, portraits of the monarchy, political figures, contemporary authors, Austen and her family, title pages of books of the era including Austen’s, maps, fashion plates, and images from famous illustrated editions of Persuasion by A. Wallis Mills, Charles Edmund Brock and Hugh Thomson. Of note are the helpful and interesting appendixes which include the two canceled chapters of Persuasion that were deleted by Austen herself, “Biographical Notice of the Author’ written by her brother Henry Austen, a list of further reading, and credits for the illustrations.
Students will be happy to know that quotes from major Austen scholars abound: for example, the famous “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” love letter in volume II, chapter 11 (p 290) from Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot rightly receives two plus pages of small type commentary from leading Austen experts such as Stuart Tave, Roger Gard, Deidre Lynch, Mary Favret, John Wiltshire, and Tony Tanner alone. There are numerous others as well, placing this edition in the scholarly category because of the numerous citations.
Besides the unabridged text, scholarly notations and quotes from deep thinkers, this edition is sumptuous eye candy for the Janeite. It is a real pleasure to have so much information collected and assembled for our edification and enjoyment. Morrison offers a lengthy and lucid introduction, but I wished that he had continued his personal observations and opinions more extensively in his annotation and not relied so heavily on quoting others. If this edition has any shortcomings, like its predecessor, the quality of the illustration does not match the content therein.
Next year we will be treated to their next annotated edition, Emma. After HUP has completed Austen’s six major novels, one secretly hopes that they might consider her novella, Lady Susan. Often overlooked, it is one of my personal favorites and could attract more readers if properly explained.
4 out of 5 Stars
Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited Robert Morrison
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2011)
Hardcover (360) pages
Cover image courtesy of Belknap Press © 2011; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2011, Austenprose.com