Jane Austen’s Sanditon: With An Essay by Janet Todd — A Review

Jane Austen's Sanditon: With an Essay by Janet Todd (2019)Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel is in the news. A new TV adaptation and continuation of the same name premiered in the UK on ITV on August 25, 2019. The new eight-part series was written by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995) and will be shown on MASTERPIECE PBS in the US starting on January 20, 2020. Inspired by Jane Austen’s 11-and-a-half-chapter fragment, Davies claimed in an early interview that he used up all of Austen’s text in the first 30 minutes of his screenplay. That was about 24,000 words or about one-quarter of an average-sized fiction novel today. To say I was shocked by this admission is an understatement.

Alas, because it was never completed, Sanditon has not received much attention in comparison to Austen other popular novels: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. I am so pleased that the new TV adaptation has brought it into the limelight. It is one of Austen’s forgotten treasures. I have written previously about it in detail, including an introduction, character list, plot summary, and quotes. 

There are few single editions of Sanditon available in print. It is usually lumped in with Austen’s other minor works in a large volume. To remedy that gap, Fentum Press in London has published a stylish new hardcover edition entitled Jane Austen’s Sanditon: with an Essay by Janet Todd. The book has been beautifully designed with interesting and amusing illustrations from Regency-era artists such as Rowlandson, Gillray, and Cruikshank. Its dainty size of 5 ½ inches by 8 inches reminds one of the elegant volumes designed expressly for the comfort of ladies’ delicate hands.

What really brings this edition to the forefront is its editor and introductory essayist Janet Todd. To have such an eminent academic and scholar on Austen and other women’s writing on board really gives the reader the confidence that they are in capable hands. Included with the insightful seventy-page introductory essay is a brief biography of Jane Austen; the complete text transcribed from the original handwritten draft work in progress held in King’s College, Cambridge; endnotes; an essay entitled Anna Lefroy to Andrew Davies: Continuations of Sanditon; further reading; a list of illustrations; and the acknowledgments. In what appears to be a diminutive volume, the reader will be delighted to discover quite the reverse. In addition to the unfinished novel, it is brimming with information and the energy that Austen brought to her final work, perfectly complementing the text. Continue reading

On the Trail of Sanditon: The History of the Manuscript

“She continued to work at it as long as she could work at all.” James Edward Austen-Leigh (1871) 

On the 27th January, 1817 Jane Austen began work on a novel that is now known as Sanditon. It was never completed. She was gravely ill, and after a brief period of remission, her condition worsened until “her mind could no longer pursue its accustomed course” 1 and on the 18th of March 1817 after penning 22,000 words she wrote the last lines of chapter twelve and put down her pen. Exactly four months after abandoning the novel she would succumb to what is generally believed to have been Addison’s disease. She was 41 years old.

Upon her death, all of Jane Austen’s papers, manuscripts and future royalties were bequeathed to her elder sister Cassandra Austen. The Sanditon fragment was among them. With her brother Henry’s help, Cassandra would publish Jane’s last two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion posthumously in late 1817. The balance of her letters and manuscripts remained in Cassandra’s possession at their last home together in Chawton, Hampshire. On the 9th of May 1843, Cassandra Austen then age 70 wrote her will and named her younger brother Charles Austen as residuary legatee and executor. On the same day she wrote to him itemizing the bequests of personal belonging she wished him to distribute to the family.

“As I have leisure, I am looking over and destroying some of my papers – others I have marked ‘to be burned’, whilst some will still remain. These are chiefly a few letters and a few manuscripts of our dear Jane, which I have set apart for those parties to whom I think they will be most valuable. …I have marked the contents of one of the small Drawers of one of my Bureaux for Anna.” 2

Cassandra died two years later in 1845 and Jane Austen’s legacy to her sister was dispersed among immediate family members. This amounted to what we now group together as her Minor Works primarily comprising: the 3 volumes of Juvenilia, the fragment of The Watsons, the novella Lady Susan, the cancelled chapters of Persuasion and the unfinished Sanditon. The last two items were passed to Anna Lefroy (1793- 1872), Jane and Cassandra’s niece and daughter of their eldest brother James. As young child Anna had lived with her aunts after her mother’s death in 1795 until her father remarried. She remained a favorite relation of both Jane and Cassandra. In 1814 Anna married neighbor Benjamin Lefroy, one of the sons of Jane’s dear friend Mrs. Anne Lefroy of Ashe, (Tom Lefroy’s aunt).

In 1871, the fragment was first made known to the public in her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his aunt Jane Austen: A Memoir. Described only as the ‘Last Work’ it included experts of the text and a bit of family lore about the manuscript.

‘The chief part of this manuscript is written in her usual firm and neat hand, but some of the latter pages seem to have been first traced in pencil, probably when she was too weak to sit long at her desk, and written over in ink afterwards. The quality produced does not indicate any decline of power or industry, for in those seven weeks twelve chapters had been completed. It is more difficult to judge of the quality of a work so little advanced. It had received no name; there was scarcely any indication what the course of the story was to be, nor was any heroine yet perceptible, who, like Fanny Price, or Anne Elliot, might draw round her the sympathies of the readers. Such an unfinished fragment cannot be presented to the public.’ James Edward Austen-Leigh 3

According to family tradition, Jane intended to call her novel ‘The Brothers’ presumably after brothers Thomas, Sidney and Arthur Parker in her story. Interestingly, Jane Austen’s favorite poet George Crabbe also used this title for one of his own stories in his book Crabbe’s Tales. Her family chose instead to name it Sanditon when it was published in 1925 by R. W. Chapman. 4 If ‘The Brothers’ had been used it would have been Austen’s second reference to her favored poet in one of her novels. Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park also has among her small group of books the same volume on her table in her attic room.

There was a bit of an Austen family kerfuffle over what they all deemed worthy of print from the remaining letters, fragments and juvenilia. Anna Lefroy was obviously not among the dissenters who opposed publication and allowed the excerpts of the manuscript of Sanditon in her possession to be included in Jane Austen: A Memoir. She must have had an open mind to ‘publish and be damned’ since she had her own aspirations to be a novelist, attempting to complete Sandition herself. Ironically, she did not finish her version either.

Upon Anna Lefroy’s death in 1872 the Sanditon manuscript remained in the Lefroy family for two more generations. In 1925 when R.W. Chapman researched the manuscript and transcribed the first full copy for publication, it was owned by Mary Isabella Lefroy (1860-1939), grand-daughter of Anna. In 1930 she presented it to King’s College, Cambridge, in memory of her sister Florence Emma Austen-Leigh (1857-1926) and the latter’s husband Augustus Austen-Leigh (1840-1905), Provost of King’s from 1889 until his death. 5 (It appears that the Lefroy and Austen’s intermarried quite frequently)

The manuscript of Sanditon has remained in safekeeping with Cambridge University for eighty years and has been exhibited only twice, most notably during the bicentenary exhibition honoring Jane Austen’s birth in 1975 at the British Library. There is also a copy of Sanditon transcribed by Cassandra Austen for her brother Frank that is owned by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton and displayed at Chawton House Library.

First page of the Sanditon manuscript

Now, go visit Cambridge University Janeites to gaze upon Jane’s “usual firm and neat hand”  in her last manuscript. 

“One other hill brings us to Sanditon — modern Sanditon — a beautiful spot.”  Ch 4

1.) Austen-Leigh, James Edward, A Memoir of Jane Austen, pg 151
2.) Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, pg 243
3.) James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, pg 170-71
4.) Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, pg 254
5.) Gilson, David, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, pg 376-77

Upcoming event posts 

Day 4 – March 18 Group read Chapters 5-8
Day 5 – March 19 Regency seaside fashions
Day 6 – March 20 Group Read Chapters 9-12
Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Completions

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By the Seaside with Sanditon: Guest Blog with Julie of Austenonly on Regency-era Seaside Resorts

Joining us today to extend the Sanditon celebration across the Internet is a very special guest, Julie the very affable and talented blog mistress of Austenonly. Her expertise in Georgian and Regency era culture and history is astonishing. Her extensive library of resource books would make even Mr. Darcy envious. To tie into to our ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ event this week, she will be blogging about the development of Regency-era seaside resorts similar to what our Mr. Parker and Lady Denham are attempting to create at Sanditon. Enjoy! 

Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment, Sanditon, is set in a small Sussex seaside resort, a place that is being ruthlessly and relentlessly “improved” by Mr Parker, a man obsessed with his creation and the money-making opportunities it affords: 

Mr. Parker`s character and history were soon unfolded. All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very openhearted; and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information to such of the Heywoods as could observe. By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast — on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon, the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself and the other principal landholder the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides…  Sanditon, Chapter 2 

Sanditon is also under the patronage of Lady Denham, the wealthy widow of Mr Hollis and a baronet, a social climber though marriage and a woman rather in the mould of  Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice,. Here she is described by Mr Parker: 

“There is at times,” said he, “a little self-importance — but it is not offensive — and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far. But she is a good-natured woman, a very good-natured woman — a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character — and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education. She has good natural sense, but quite uncultivated. She has a fine active mind as well as a fine healthy frame for a woman of seventy, and enters into the improvement of Sanditon with a spirit truly admirable. Though now and then, a littleness will appear. She cannot look forward quite as I would have her and takes alarm at a trifling present expense without considering what returns it will make her in a year or two. That is, we think differently. We now and then see things differently, Miss Heywood. Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution. When you see us in contact, you will judge for yourself.” Lady Denham was indeed a great lady beyond the common wants of society, for she had many thousands a year to bequeath, and three distinct sets of people to be courted by: her own relations, who might very reasonably wish for her original thirty thousand pounds among them; the legal heirs of Mr. Hollis, who must hope to be more indebted to her sense of justice than he had allowed them to be to his… Sanditon, Chapter 3 

In this satire on developing seaside resorts, commercial greed, hypochondria and the type of people these place attracted, it is perhaps no mere coincidence that Jane Austen ensures that Mr Holllis, the first husband of Lady Denham, shares the name of the man who began the development of Lyme Regis from small fishing village to a seaside resort. 

Lyme Regis from A Guide to all the Watering and
Sea-Bathing  Places etc (1803) by John Feltham

Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster. He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the Three Cups Hotel at Lyme and bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade). He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804. 

Continue to full post 

Upcoming event posts

Day 4 – March 18 Group Read Chapters 5-8
Day 5 – March 19 Regency seaside fashions
Day 6 – March 20 Group Read Chapters 9-12
Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Completions

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Welcome to ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’ a Celebration of Jane Austen’s Last Novel

“Sanditon…The finest, purest Sea Breeze on the Coast—acknowledged to be so—Excellent Bathing—fine hard Sand—Deep Water ten yards from the Shore—no Mud—no Weeds—no slimey rocks—Never was there a place more palpably designed by Nature” 

Welcome, to ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’, an in depth look at Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel set in the Sussex seaside village of Sanditon. Included will be a group read and discussion, guest bloggers, and plenty of great giveaways.

Leeches at three. Bring your green parasol!

 Introduction   List of Characters   Reading resources

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for March

Jane Austen Selected Letters, Oxford World's Classics (2009)The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that Austen inspired books are heading our way in March, so keep your eyes open for these new titles. 

Austen’s Oeuvre 

Selected Letters of Jane Austen (Oxford Worlds Classics) 

Oxford University Press continues to re-issue their stable of Oxford World’s Classics including all of Austen’s major novels last year, Catharine and other Writings last January and now her Selected Letters edited by scholar Vivien Jones. This edition includes nearly two-thirds of Austen’s surviving correspondence, and Jones’ lively introduction and helpful notes. Publisher’s description. In one of her personal letters, Jane Austen wrote “Little Matters they are to be sure, but highly important.” In fact, letter-writing was something of an addiction for young women of Jane Austen’s time and in her social position, and Austen’s letters have a freedom and familiarity that only intimate writing can convey. Wiser than her critics, who were disappointed that her correspondence dwelt on gossip and the minutiae of everyday living, Austen understood the importance of “Little Matters,” of the emotional and material details of individual lives shared with friends and family through the medium of the letter. Ironic, acerbic, always entertaining, Jane Austen’s letters are a fascinating record not only of her own day-to-day existence, but of the pleasures and frustrations experienced by women of her social class which are so central to her novels. 

Trade paperback, Oxford Worlds Classics, ISBN: 978-0199538430 

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired) 

Confession fo a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler (2009) UK editionConfessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler 

Great news for UK readers! You will now know what all the Janeite laughter has been about in the Colonies since 2007 when Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict hits your shore on March 16th. Here is the publisher’s description. Courtney Stone – sassy, smart and suddenly single – has always felt she might have been better suited to life in Jane Austen’s England. She senses that she would have found soul mates in Emma and Elinor, and through good times and bad S&S and P&P have been her secret under-the-duvet pleasures. One evening, having drifted off to sleep after self-medicating with pizza, Absolut, and Elizabeth and Darcy, Courtney wakes up in nineteenth-century England, in the bed (not to mention the slim and svelte body) of a girl called Jane Mansfield. At first she thinks this has to be some sort of weird dream, but slowly she becomes used to the absence of toothpaste and fat-free food, and finds herself actually enjoying Jane’s life. Perhaps she could do without her wicked new ‘mother’ who wants to marry Jane off as soon as possible to the nearest wealthy man although this may not be such a bad thing, as the nearest wealthy man just happens to be the very dishy Charles Edgeworth. But, in becoming Jane, Courtney has left some important unfinished business behind, and she soon realises that in order to return to the present day she needs not only to solve the riddle of Jane and Charles but to get to grips with her own twenty-first-century relationship phobias along the way. A laugh-out-loud romp with a Regency heart, this delightful debut is a truly modern comedy of manners. 

Hardcover, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, ISBN: 978-0747594215 

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan (2009)Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan 

Did you love the sweeping romanticized 2005 adaptation Pride & Prejudice? If so, you might enjoy this new sequel of the movie based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice which continues Elizabeth and Darcy’s life as newlyweds in all its enthusiastic  romantic splendor. Publisher’s description: Elizabeth and Darcy are positively goo-goo eyes for each other and the burgeoning love and closeness between them drives the plot. As the narrative unfolds through the honeymoon and then the challenges of Elizabeth assuming the role of Mistress of Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth thoroughly reveal their differing points of view of how their relationship blossomed from misunderstanding to perfect understanding. As the couple grows in maturity and understanding, as they accustom themselves to each other and to married life, Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy emerges as a fascinating portrait of a deep and passionate marriage. 

Trade paperback, Sourcebooks Landmark, ISBN: 978-1402215230 

Sandition: Jane Austen's Masterpiece Continued, by Jane Austen & Juliette Shapiro (2009)Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Unfinished Masterpiece Completed, by Jane Austen & Juliette Shapiro 

Jane Austen’s last writing endeavor before her death in 1817 was Sandition. Many other authors over the years have attempted to complete it. Here is author Juliette Shapiro’s contribution in this nice new edition from Ulysses Press. Publisher’s description. Had Jane Austen lived to complete Sanditon, it would undoubtedly be as famous and treasured as her other novels. But unfinished at her death, the masterpiece has remained mysterious and overlooked. Now, author Juliette Shapiro has completed Sanditon in a vivid style recognizable to any Austen fan. Here is the story of Charlotte Heywood, who has recently arrived in the town of Sanditon to enjoy the benefits of the ocean air. At first, Charlotte finds amusement enough standing at her ample Venetian window looking over its placid seafront and salubrious ocean, wind-blown linens and sparkling sea. But there is much more to this promising little coastal resort. Before long, Charlotte discovers that scandals abound. To the delight of her eccentric host Mr. Parker, she becomes captivated by the romance of the seaside lifestyle. But is the town of Sanditon truly the haven that Mr. Parker likes to think it is, and will Charlotte Parker find happiness here? 

Trade paperback, Ulysses Press, ISBN: 978-1569756218 

The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer (2009)The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer 

First published in 1936, the incomparable Georgette Heyer presents a romantic comedy thriller counterpointing a young and older couple, a devise that she would continue to use throughout her writing career. Here is a plot summary from Wikipedia. On his deathbed, Baron Lavenham arranges a marriage between his great-nephew, Sir Tristram Shield, and his young French granddaughter, Eustacie de Vauban. His grandson and heir, Ludovic, is on the run on the Continent, after allegedly murdering a man in a dispute over a valuable heirloom, the talisman ring. The romantic Eustacie, appalled by her betrothed’s phlegmatic character, runs away and soon encounters a smuggler, who turns out to be her cousin Ludovic. The two take refuge at a local inn, after Ludovic is injured escaping from Excisemen. There they encounter an older lady, Miss Sarah Thane, who vows to help them. The subsequent plot revolves around proving Ludovic’s innocence by finding the missing ring and unmasking the real murderer. 

Trade paperback, Sourcebooks, Casablanca, ISBN: 978-1402217715 

Nonfiction 

Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen, by Jennifer Grillone (2009)Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen, by Jennifer Adams 

Jane Austen has often been quoted for her pithy and sarcastic witticism, now the tables are turned as writers and others have their say on Jane Austen’s works and life. In this new beautifully package gift quality volume, author and editor Jennifer Adams acknowledges one of the most beloved and influential English novelists of all time. Publisher’s description. Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen offers one hundred quotations on Austen and her writing from well-known authors, critics, intellectuals, and the actors and directors of film adaptations of her novels. The book features writers from J. K. Rowling, Ian McEwan, Anna Quindlen, and P. D. James to Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, C. S. Lewis, and Harper Lee. It also includes quotations from such favorite actors as Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, James McAvoy, and Colin Firth. Insightful, pithy, and often illuminating, these quotations give you a glimpse into why Austen is considered by many to be the greatest writer in the English language second only to Shakespeare. 

Hardcover, Gibbs Smith, ISBN: 978-1423604785 

Austen’s contemporaries  

Waverley: or 'Tis Sixty Years Since (Oxford World's Classics), Walter Scott (2009)Waverley: or ‘Tis Sixty Years Since (Oxford World’s Classics), by Sir Walter Scott

In 1814, Jane Austen wrote to her friend Anna  Lefroy; “Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. I do not like him, and do not mean to like “Waverly” if I can help it, but fear I must.” Previous to its publication in 1814, Walter Scott had been primarily known as a poet, so when Austen read his first novel, she had good reason to be concerned about his talents challenging other authors royalties! It was an immediate success prompting Scott to continue writing historical novels which he is now most remembered for. Publisher’s description. Generally regarded as the first historical novel, Walter Scott’s Waverley; or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since is set during the Jacobite rising in Scotland in 1745, this novel springs from Scott’s childhood recollections and his desire to preserve in writing the features of life in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Waverley was first published anonymously in 1814 and was Scott’s first novel.

Trade paperback Oxford World’s Classics, ISBN: 978-0199538027 

Bride of Lammermore, Oxford World's Classic, by Sir Walter Scott (2009)The Bride of Lammermoor (Oxford World’s Classics), Sir Walter Scott 

The Bride of Lammermoor is an historical novel based on an actual incident in the history of the Dalrymple family of Scotland set in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). Along with A Legend of Montrose, it forms the third series of Scott’s Tales of My Landlord; the two novels were published together in 1819. The story was also the inspiration for one of my favorite operas, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Publisher’s description: The plans of Edgar, Master of Ravenswood to regain his ancient family estate from the corrupt Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland are frustrated by the complexities of the legal and political situations following the 1707 Act of Union, and by his passion for his enemy’s beautiful daughter Lucy. First published in 1819, this intricate and searching romantic tragedy offers challenging insights into emotional and sexual politics, and demonstrates the shrewd way in which Scott presented his work as historical document, entertainment, and work of art. 

Trade paperback Oxford World’s Classics, ISBN: 978-0199552504 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann

Oxford World’s Classics: Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition – Our Diptych Review

“Catherine, at any rate, heard enough to feel that in suspecting General Tilney of either murdering or shutting up his wife, she had scarcely sinned against his character, or magnified his cruelty” The Narrator, Chapter 30 

Gentle readers, Please join us for the fifth in a series of six reviews of the revised editions of Jane Austen’s six major novels and three minor works that were released this summer by Oxford World’s Classics. Austenprose editor Laurel Ann is honored to be joined by Austen scholar Prof. Ellen Moody, who will be adding her professional insights to complement my everyman’s view.

Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan,The Watsons and Sandition

 by Jane Austen

Oxford World’s Classics (2008) 

Laurel Ann’s review 

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is the novel that almost wasn’t. We know from Cassandra Austen’s notes that her sister Jane wrote it during 1798-1799, prepared it for publication in 1803, and sold it to publishers Crosby & Company of London only to never see it in print. It languished on the publisher’s shelf for six years until Austen, as perplexed as any authoress who was paid for a manuscript, saw it not published, and then made an ironical inquiry,  supposing that by some “extraordinary circumstance” that it had been carelessly lost, offering a replacement. In reply, the publisher claimed no obligation to publish it and sarcastically offered it back if repaid his 10 pounds. 

Seven more years pass during which Pride and Prejudice is published in 1813 to much acclaim, followed by Mansfield Park in 1814 and Emma in 1815, all anonymously ‘by a lady’. With the help of her brother Henry, Austen then buys back the manuscript from Crosby & Company for the same sum, for Crosby could not know this manuscript was written by a now successfully published and respected author and thus worth quite a bit more. Ha! Imagine the manuscript that would later be titled Northanger Abbey and published posthumously in 1818 might never have been available to us today. If its precarious publishing history suggests it lacks merit, I remind readers that ironically in the early 1800’s most viewed it as “only a novel“, whose premise its author and narrator in turn heartily defend. 

“And what are you reading, Miss – ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” The Narrator, Chapter 5 

If this statement seems a bit over the top, then you have discovered one of the many ironies in Northanger Abbey as Austen pokes fun at the critics who oppose novel writing by cleverly writing a novel, defending writing a novel. Phew! In its simplest form, Northanger Abbey is a parody of the Gothic fiction so popular in Austen’s day but considered lowbrow reading and shunned by the literati and critics. In a more expanded view it is so much more than I should attempt to describe in this limited space, but will reveal that it can be read on many different levels of enjoyment; — for its coming of age story, social observations, historical context, allusions to Gothic novels and literature, beautiful language and satisfying love story. 

Some critics consider Northanger Abbey to be Jane Austen’s best work revealing both her comedic and intellectual talents at its best. I always enjoy reading it for the shear joy of exuberant young heroine Catherine Morland, charmingly witty hero Henry Tilney and the comedy and social satire of the supporting characters. At times, I do find it a challenge because so much of the plot is based on allusions to other novels, and much of the story is tongue in cheek. Explanatory notes and further study have helped me understand so much more than just the surface story and I would like to recommend that all readers purchase annotated versions of the text for better appreciation. 

Oxford World’s Classic’s has just released their new edition of Northanger Abbey which is worthy of consideration among the other editions in print that include a medium amount of supplemental material to support the text. Also included in this edition are three minor works, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition. Updated and revised in 2003, it has an newly designed cover and contains a short biography of Jane Austen, notes on the text, explanatory notes which are numbered within the text and referenced in the back, chronology, two appendixes of Rank and Social Class and Dancing and a 28 page introduction by Claudia L. Johnson, Prof. of English Literature at Princeton University and well known Austen scholar. Of the five introductions I have read so far in the Oxford Austen series I have enjoyed this one the most as Prof. Johnson style is so entertaining and accessible. She writes with authority and an elegant casualness that does not intimidate this everyman reader. The essay is broken down into a general Introduction, Gothic or Anti-Gothic?, Jane Austen, Irony, and Gothic Style, and Northanger Abbey in Relation to Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sandition. Here is an excerpt that I thought fitting to support my previous mention of publishing history and tone. 

“Northanger Abbey is a sophisticated and densely literary novel, mimicking a great variety of print forms common in Austen’s day – conduct of books, miscellanies, sermons,  literary reviews, and, of course, novels. Its ambition is fitting, because it was to have marked Austen’s entrance into the ranks of print culture. After Austen’s earlier attempt to publish a version of Pride and Prejudice failed, Northanger Abbey (then called Susan) seemed to have succeeded, for it sold for a grand total of 10 to Crosby & Company in 1803. We have seen that Austen’s entrance into the printed world, unlike Catherine’s entrée into the wide world outside Fullerton, was energetically confident: when the narrator declares that novels ‘have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them’ (p. 23), she is clearly referring to her own novel too. This seems an audacious claim when we consider that Austen had yet to publish a novel, and a painful one when we consider that the novel, though bought, paid for, and even advertised, never actually appeared.” Page xxv 

What I found most enlightening about this edition were the explanatory notes to the text which were also written by Prof. Johnson. Not only do they call attention to words, phrases, places, allusions, and historical meanings, they explain them in context to the character or situation allowing us further inside the though process or action. 

115 ponderous chest: the chest is a site of spine-tingling terror and curiosity in novels such as Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forrest (1791), where it holds a skeleton (vol, I , ch. iv), and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), where it holds evidence of Falkland’s diabolical crime. p. 369. 

In addition to being an amusing parody and light hearted romance, I recommend Northanger Abbey for young adult readers who will connect with the heroine Catherine Morland whose first experiences outside her home environment place her in a position to make decisions, judge for herself who is a good or bad friend, and many other life lesson’s that we discover again through her eyes. Henry Tilney is considered by many to be Austen’s most witty and charming hero and is given some the best dialogue of any of her characters. 

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.” Henry Tilney, Chapter 14 

Luckily for Henry Tilney there was one woman who used all that nature had given her with her writing when she created him. We are so fortunate that Northanger Abbey is not languishing and forgotten on a shelf at Crosby & Company in London, and available in this valuable edition by Oxford Press. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northanger Abbey Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition,
by Jane Austen
Oxford World’s Classics
Oxford University Press, (2008)
Trade paperback, 379 pages, ISBN-13: 9780199535545
James Kinsley & John Davie, editors 

Supplemental Material
Claudia L. Johnson: Introduction and Explanatory Notes
Vivien Jones: Select Bibliography, Chronology and Appendixes
Biography of Jane Austen
Note on the Text
Textural Notes

Prof. Ellen Moody’s review

 

A Journey through Austen’s career:  the latest Oxford _Northanger Abbey_, _Lady Susan_, _The Watsons_ and _Sanditon_

 

Catherine (Felicity Jones) gazes round her room at Northanger (from the 2007 Granada/WBGH _NA_)

The pump room and Abbey at Bath (from the 1987 BBC _NA_)

If you buy any of this reissue of the Oxford editions of Austen, buy this. It alone makes available three precious texts not in print for a reasonable price anywhere else. No other recent edition of Austen’s books does this[1].

Gentle friends,

Here Laurel and I are for the fifth of our six diptych reviews of the 2008 reissue of the 2003 Oxford editions of Austen’s novels[2]. I hope I haven’t surprised anyone when I urged this volume more than any other of the series as a “must-buy,”  but if I have here’s why.

In one inexpensive annotated volume we have four novels by Jane Austen, three of which are today hard to find in such a format:  _Lady Susan_ & _The Watsons_ first published in 1871, and _Sanditon_, first published in 1925 (!) are today only readily available in Chapman’s _Minor Works_, Volume VI (1954: rpt. with revisions London: Oxford UP, 1969) was last printed in 1988; you can still buy it in hardcover, but its classical scholarly apparatus is intimidating, and it lacks explanatory notes meant for the common reader

The original new Oxford set established by James Kinsley in 1971 followed a tradition stemming from the first posthumous publication of _Northanger Abbey_ in 1818: Kinsley included _Northanger Abbey_ and _Persuasion_ in one volume[3], but as of 1980, Oxford printed _Northanger Abbey_ with _Lady Susan_, _The Watsons_ and _Sanditon_[4].  Thus in one volume we have four novels by Jane Austen, three of which are still hard to find in attractive paperback editions with needed notes, to wit: _Northanger Abbey_, a novel whose many revisions (Austen first named it _Susan_ and then _Catherine_) make it at once a palimpsest of Austen’s earliest work and interests, and a text which includes her latest and most sophisticatedly charming writing[5]; continue reading