Jane Austen Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics) – A Review

Jane Austen Selected=“You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.” Jane Austen, 24 December 1798 

Jane Austen’s personal correspondence has stirred up controversy since her untimely death in 1817 at age 41. The next year her brother Henry Austen wrote in the ‘Biographical Notice of the Author’ included with the publication of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that she ‘never dispatched a note or a letter unworthy of publication’. Years later, a niece Caroline Austen did not agree, ‘there is nothing in those letters which I have seen that would be acceptable to the public.’ In comparison to her published works, the letters do dwell upon ‘little matters’ of domestic life in the county, but to the patient reader we begin to understand Austen’s life and experiences beyond the minutia and realize through her clever descriptions and acerbic observations how this simple parson’s daughter became the author of novels that are so valued and cherished close to 200 years after their publication. 

This reissue by Oxford University Press of their 2004 edition of Jane Austen Selected Letters is more than worthy of a second printing. Not only does it include two thirds of the known surviving letters and a thoughtful introduction by scholar Vivien Jones chronicling the history of the letters stewardship with the family, its supplemental material alone makes it an incredible value for the price. As with the other Oxford World’s Classics of Austen’s major and minor works that have been reissued this past year, it includes a brief biography, notes on the text, a select bibliography, a chronology of Jane Austen’s life, and explanatory notes. Unique to this edition, and by far the highlight are the glossary of people and places and the detailed index for quick reference. 

For students and Austen enthusiast seeking a compact edition in comparison to the comprehensive and hefty Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, this reissue is a sleek and densely informative package. Usually I abhor abridged editions of anything, but in this instance we are given an excellent selection of letters and a lively introduction at less than a third of the price of its competitor. In this economy, I say better and better.   

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Jane Austen Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics)
Selected, introduced and notes by Vivien Jones
Oxford University Press, USA (2009)
ISBN: 978-0199538430

The Sunday Salon: Preview of Oxford World’s Classics: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe: Day 16 Giveaway

Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflection brought only regret, and anticipation terror. How often did she wish to “steal the lark’s wing, and mount the swiftest gale,” that Languedoc and repose might once more be hers! The Mysteries of Udolpho, Chapter 22

Welcome to The Sunday Salon as we discover new books and offer a review or two. Today as we continue to explore Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I thought it quite timely of Oxford University Press to redesign and release their 1998 edition of Ann Radcliffe’s, The Mysteries of Udolpho during the Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey event here at Austenprose. Readers will kindly recall that it is one of the Gothic novels that character Isabella Thorpe recommends to her new impressionable friend, and our heroine in the making, Catherine Morland. After she quickly devours the book it ‘Gothicizes’ her view of the world, coloring her perception of real-life experiences. Having not read Udolpho myself, I am more than a bit curious about what it contains and have moved it to the top of my book queue on my nightstand. Here is an overview from the publisher’s description. 

A best-seller in its day and a potent influence on Austen, Sade, Poe, and other purveyors of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Gothic horror, The Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the most important works in the history of European fiction. After Emily St. Aubuert is imprisoned by her evil guardian, Count Montoni, in his gloomy medieval fortress in the Appenines, terror becomes the order of the day. With its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters’ psychological states, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a fascinating challenge to contemporary readers. 

First published in 4 volumes by G. G. and J. Robinson of London in 1794, Mrs. Radcliffe was paid the handsome sum of £500 for her manuscript which would be worth approximately £28,015.00 today or about $44,580.06 in US funds. This amount is impressive, even for a modern day author. I dare say that Jane Austen would have been happy with that sum for her novel Northanger Abbey instead of the £10 that she originally received from Crosby & Co in 1803, only to see it languish on their shelves unpublished for six years before she bought it back. Happily, this novel did not experience such a winding publication history, was an immediate best seller, and has never been out of print. This edition includes an interesting and enjoyable introduction and explanatory notes by Terry Castle, an 18th-century literature authority and Professor of English Literature at Stanford University, textural notes, a select bibliography, and a chronology of Ann Radcliffe. Here is an excerpt from Prof. Castle’s introduction to entice you. 

Perhaps no work in the history of English fiction has been more often caricatured – trivialized, misread, remade as hearsay – than Ann Radcliffe’s late eighteenth-century Gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho. Some readers, indeed, will know Radcliffe’s novel only as hearsay: as that delightfully ‘horrid’ book – full of castles and crypts and murdered wives – pressed upon Catherine Morland, the gullible young heroine of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817), by her Bath friend Isabella Thorpe. After consuming the book in a great reading binge, the impressionable Catherine begins to see the everyday world around her as a kind of Gothic stage-set against which friends and acquaintances metamorphose – absurdly – into outsized Radcliffean villains and victims. The results are amusing: Northanger Abbey remains one of the great spoofs on reading-as-hallucination. But Udolpho itself is mere pretext – the intertextural cliché, or thing already known, upon which Austen builds her chic comedy of misapprehension.  Prof. Terry Castle (vii)

Mayhap Ms. Castle neglected to remember some of Mr. Shakespeare’s works before she crowned Udolpho the most caricatured, trivialized or remade in the history of English literature — but I will overlook the slight! Udolpho is a significant literary achievement, remarkably innovative for its time and profoundly influential even today. It takes a “stout heart” and “nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry” to tackle its 693 pages, and I plan to work away at it as I can over the next few months. I hope to be totally Gothicized!

Further reading

  • Read about The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • Read about authoress Ann Ward Radcliffe
  • Read about the ‘Northanger Canon’ at Jane Austen in Vermont
  • Read about the ‘Horrid’ novels in Northanger Abbey by James Jenkins
  • Read about the Long Publishing History of Northanger Abbey at Jane Austen’s World
  • Check out this biography on Ann Radcliffe, The Mistress of Udolpho, by Rictor Norton

 

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 16 Giveaway

Oxford Word’s Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho (2008)

By Ann Radcliffe 

Oxford University Press (2008). The new re-designed edition includes a full unabridged text of The Mysteries of Udolpho, an introduction by Terry Castle and loads of great supplemental material. A nice compact medium sized edition with textural notes, biography and chronology on the author, and explanatory notes 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho (2008), by Ann Radcliffe

 (US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts
Day 17 – Oct 27          Guest Blog – Gothic Classics Volume 14
Day 18 – Oct 28          Group Read NA Chapters 25-28
Day 19 – Oct 29          NA & MU Resources
Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31