The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, annotated & edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen and David M. Shaphard (2013)From the desk of Heather Laurence:

And now, Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “that you have made us understand each other, you may as well make Miss Morland understand yourself … Miss Morland is not used to your odd ways.”

“I shall be most happy to make her better acquainted with them.”

Modern readers encountering Northanger Abbey for the first time may find themselves like Catherine Morland:  eager to become better acquainted with the wealth of background information that brings the world of the Morlands, Thorpes, and Tilneys vividly to life. The Annotated Northanger Abbey, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard, is a new resource designed to guide aspiring heroines (and heroes) safely through the perils of obscure Gothic references and identify the treasures – hidden away in Japan cabinets and curricles, of course – that make Northanger Abbey even more enjoyable.

Shapard has previously annotated and edited editions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Many fans who have grown well acquainted with Jane Austen’s life and times through years of their own independent research may not find much new about the information in the annotations. However, even for the veteran Austen reader, this edition is appealing for its convenient access to a wide range of definitions, contexts, and clarifications. For those who are reading Northanger Abbey with fresh eyes, these annotated editions can be a convenient resource to gain a basic understanding of the language and details of the time. And, as Catherine grew from an indifference to flowers to learn to love a hyacinth, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but a new reader may be inspired to explore Regency fashion, history, or Gothic literature in greater depth?

While reading The Annotated Northanger Abbey, several different types of references are at the ready on the opposite page for easy access. This edition features over two hundred illustrations, again conveniently appearing as they are mentioned in the text rather than grouping several illustration plates in the book’s center. Mrs. Allen and her friends will especially appreciate the fashion plates, from Eleanor Tilney’s white beads and spotted muslin to Isabella Thorpe’s turban.

She could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun.

Northanger Abbey is well known for its parody of novel reading, Gothic novels in particular. Ann Radcliffe may have been the Stephen King of Jane Austen’s era, but her blockbusters and their imitators are virtually unknown today. Annotations throughout this edition provide basic information to make sense of wretched Mathilda’s, midnight bells and monks. The Annotated Northanger Abbey provides enough useful background to save a heroine from a disappointing trip to Blaise Castle, but if these Gothic tidbits make you wild to know what lies behind the black veil, you’ll want to read The Mysteries of Udolpho for yourself to find out.

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

Catherine may speak plainly, but many common idioms of Jane Austen’s day may not be readily understood today. The Annotated Northanger Abbey provides a generous supply of definitions and clarifications to enable readers to join the ladies at the netting-basket or quiz the Thorpes. Explanations of historical context and citations from Jane Austen’s own life, letters, and other writings further enhance the understanding of Catherine and Henry’s world.

Saturday se’nnights and the expected comings and goings of characters through Bath and the Abbey are all explained by a detailed chronology of events at the back of the book. While Jane Austen provides no exact calendar dates, Shepard has constructed a sequence of events based on the months or days of the week mentioned in the text. Maps of England, the area around Bath, the city of Bath and the central Bath streets are marked with familiar plot points to assist with perspective.

An extensive bibliography provides opportunities to further explore the world of Northanger Abbey with several categories, including the idea of the picturesque, language of the period, leisure and amusement, beauty and fashion, and many, many more.

Readers need dread no longer being left as far behind as Emily left Valancourt, or despair of catching up to Henry Tilney’s reading list, to enjoy Northanger Abbey to its fullest. Thanks to David M. Shapard’s Annotated Northanger Abbey, it’s possible to bring your Austen knowledge up to speed faster than John Thorpe’s horse. While I must refrain from calling it a “nice” addition to any Austen fan’s library, I will highly recommend The Annotated Northanger Abbey for its usefulness, convenience, and wealth of interesting information.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, annotated & edited by David M. Shapard
Anchor Books (2013)
Trade paperback (576) pages
ISBN: 978-0307390806

Heather Laurence currently lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two sons, and two Ragdoll cats. Like Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland, she enjoys country walks and horrid novels. Her web site, Solitary Elegance, features several illustrations from Jane Austen’s novels, an index of Northanger Abbey adaptations, and desktop wallpapers inspired by Ackermann’s Repository of Fashion.

Cover courtesy of Anchor Books © 2013; text by Heather Laurence © 2013,

4 thoughts on “The Annotated Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, annotated & edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

Add yours

  1. Great news that this is a worthy new edition Heather. I adore Northanger Abbey and I hope this edition will bring to light a better understanding of the plot, characters and the literary illusions in it. We should all “love to learn a hyacinth.” How were the images? Did they help too?


  2. Just picked up a copy of this one the other day. I am a big fan of this particular series of annotated editions. The format makes for easy reference without unduly distracting from the text of the novels and I find the information in the annotations to be informative and educational. I highly recommend them.


  3. I ordered this from, and received it the day before your review was posted. I agree with Beth, above, about appreciating this series, and have all of them now; all that are available, that is. I hope David M. Shapard is going to annotate Mansfield Park, too! Thanks for the review Heather, and Laurel Ann.


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