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Mansfield Park: A Review

Mansfield Park

by Jane Austen

While I’m not sure we really know how Mansfield Park rates among groups of readers, and there is evidence to suggest that like the other four novels beyond Pride and Prejudice, this one pleases slightly different subgroups of among Austen wide and varied audience, I was relieved to find that the 2008 reissue of Mansfield Park begins with a fine essay by Jane Stabler, who, while concentrating on social issues and psychology, also empathizes with its heroine’s drama of consciousness; like Margaret Anne Doody in the 2008 reissue of Sense and Sensibility, she makes a strong lucid case for regarding the novel as a radical critique of Austen’s society. Unlike the Oxford Pride and Prejudice, the 2008 MP is tailored to the specific volume. So beyond the usual appendices by Vivien Jones about rank and status in the era, and explicating dances literally and as metaphors, there is a useful brief essay on Lovers’ Vows which makes clear some of the parallels between Inchbald’s charaMP and Lovers Vows, and an appendix on the Navy, which corrects and adds information ignored in Austen’s idealized depiction of the Navy.

The explanatory notes are very thorough, essays in themselves sometimes, and there is the usual brief biography, bibliography and note on the text.

As with the new Penguin edition of S&S (where Ros Ballaster reprints the 1811 text which is not bowlderized as is the 1813), in the new Penguin MP, a decision has been made to print the first text of MP issued in Austen’s lifetime, printed by Egerton in 1814. Everyone agrees this one is riddled with small errors, and some suggest that Austen’s switching to Murray for the second, in 1816, implies she was unsatisfied with it. She corrected the second as best she could: “I return also, Mansfield Park, as ready for a 2d Edit: I beleive, as I can make it” (Letters, 11 December 1815, from Henry’s London home to John Murray).

In her original and important JA’s Textual Lives, Kathryn Sutherland argued, that the 1811 text of Sense and Sensibility and 1814 text of Mansfield Park came closer to the spirit of Austen as they were not overly polished and corrected as she thought they had been by R. W. Chapman. Up to this point, people regularly used the 1816 edition as their copy text (collated with the 1814 and emended appropriately).

I have gone into the merits of Sutherland’s case before, and shown that what we have here is an agenda fight (what image of Austen does an editor want a reader to come away with) as well as a competitive business in editions. This Oxford reissue is really a reprint of the 1816 text first established by James Kinsley in 1970: he reprinted Chapman as revised by Mary Lascelles after studying the previous collations and emendations. It seems that the Penguin people are in competition with Cambridge, for the quarrel in print has been between Sutherland on behalf of the new Penguins and Janet Todd on behalf of the new Cambridge edition of Austen.

The value of the new Penguin text is that a text is provided which has not been available before (and at a much much cheaper price than the Cambridge). The interested reader could compare this 2008 reissue of the Oxford with the new Penguin. Beyond that the Penguin people decided to reprint Tony Tanner’s profound essay on Mansfield Park, an early persuasive explication and defense of the book along Lionel Trilling lines, with the difference that Tanner did not think we need dislike Fanny; indeed like Stabler, Tanner expects us to empathize with her. The new Penguin edition decision to print along the runners at the top of the page both the original volume and chapter number as well as the chapters when they are consecutively numbered is also very useful. Perhaps this is the most useful innovation the new Penguins offer.

I come to the sticky part: a discussion of the troubling content. Full disclosure is best. Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Austen novel, and Mansfield Park my second favorite. The year I was fifteen I read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park for the first time, and I know it has never quite left my mind since. On any given day I can easily call it to mind, and I often do. I remember very vividly the end of my first reading experience. As I came to the closing page, and read (and my brain has this etched in) “the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure,” the thought crossed my mind, “what a strong book this is, this is the strongest book I’ve ever read,” and when I got to its last sentence, I turned back to the first page and began rereading. I didn’t want this strengthening calm to end. I also remember being astonished at the blurb which called it a “rollicking comedy.” Austen was teaching me how to survive.

Further, I have submitted a proposal to give a paper at the 2009 JASNA to be called “Disquieting Patterns in Austen’s Novels.” Among my topics will be the quasi-incestuous patterns across the six novels, and I mean particularly to deal with Fanny’s intense adoration of Edmund, partly displaced onto her brother, William.

I think Mansfield Park is a novel as much about love as it is about social issues, but it’s about hidden love—so is S&S, Elinor’s for Edward, her brother’s brother-in-law; in P&P, it’s Jane’s for Bingley who has apparently discarded her and thus publicly humiliated her; Emma has Jane and Frank…and Harriet’s for everyone; Persuasion’s, Anne Elliot still cares for Frederick Wentworth and so it goes. It is a book shaped by a mind consciously harboring a tabooed, expressly forbidden love which, if Sir Thomas were to suspect in the scene where she refuses Henry Crawford, Fanny would be horrifically castigated and outcast immediately. Much of Fanny’s behavior becomes understandable when we realize how she has to work at keeping this secret; also if we perceive the distance between her and our implicit or implied author: Austen is not influenced intensely by Edmund; Fanny is. Many of Fanny’s reactions are shaped by her intense apprehension for Edmund.

Of course whether we like a book is essentially chacun a son gout. All one can do is make visible the faultlines: what’s called the book’s moralism, Fanny Price and the choice of life her character and fate endorses. As with Pride and Prejudice, I own 11 editions of this book, not counting translations into French and Italian. Revealingly, one of the more popularly-oriented of my editions, one with a minimum apparatus of a perceptive and frank introductory essay by Margaret Drabble (and brief appendix) identifies most candidly and simply what makes some readers call the book moralistic: Drabble shows how over the course of the book Fanny gradually learns to accept and then to love Mansfield Park as it “offers her safety and protection;” no more than Portsmouth is this house idyllic, but rather “full of the energies of discord—sibling rivalry, greed, ambition, illicit sexual passion, and vanity” kept, just, under control; the difference are the palliations wealth provides: space, books, order, servants, beauty.

Much critical comment has attacked Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park, and one of the changes she makes is to sweep away this beauty and insist on the discords and the misery of those who are forced to support the house.

According to Drabble, Austen is exposing what goes on beneath the patriarchal surface “to demonstrate . . that life is not simple, choices are not simple, we cannot have our cake and eat it too” (xii). Mansfield Park differs from Austen’s other novels in that here she makes visible what is left latent in Pride and Prejudice—Austen was not altogether ironic when she called it “too light, bright and sparkling.” P&P was written when Austen was 20; MP was revised and completed long Austen left Steventon, had lived as marginalized gentry in Bath, had had to depend on brothers when her father died; by my chronology Lady Susan and The Watsons were drafted closest in time to this novel.

On the other hand, and this is important, Mansfield Park is beautiful, it is peaceful, it is an upper class haven of reading and peace and culture. And that too is what is today unacceptable: the aspiration to that.

What is usually said to be the source of the objection to Fanny was identified early on by Edmund Wilson: “The woman reader wants to identify herself with the heroine, and she rebels at the idea of being Fanny.” John Wiltshire repeats this so persuasively he’s worth quoting at length:

“In a fascinating article about the teaching of Mansfield Park in an elite college in Delhi, Ruth Vanita has shown how her students both identified with, and dis-identified with, the novel’s heroine, the quiet, submissive Fanny Price. As Vanita writes, the students recognised in the heroine’s situation many of the lineaments of their own position. As girls they are denied privileges accorded to their brothers, for instance, just as Fanny is denied the privileges given to her cousins. But the students disliked what one might call Fanny’s coping style—her quiet dutifulness, her need to make herself valued by being ‘good’. Vanita stresses how reluctant her female students were to recognise Fanny’s courage in resisting the family’s concerted attempt to make her marry Henry Crawford. Most interestingly, she suggests that the contempt some students expressed for Fanny was really self-contempt at a female role many were in reality forced to adopt in modern Indian society.

These reactions, however, are found also in Australian students, whose social situation is not at all similar to their Indian counterparts. Anglo-Saxon Australian (and ‘assimilated’) girls are generally free to choose their sexual partners or at least this is the prevailing cultural assumption—and they are not generally treated as inferior to their male peers. They, too, despise Fanny Price. Hers is a life governed by constrictions and denials, and many young readers do not want to imaginatively align themselves with such a life, or do not allow themselves to understand how little free in effect a life may be. One cannot help thinking, though, that if the truth were told, many of these students-quiet, intelligent girls, whose inner life is sustained by reading-resemble Fanny far more than they do Elizabeth Bennet.

For my part I think the reason Fanny is disliked is she is a creature of the book she inhabits; her character and behavior are conditioned by Austen’s larger aims which, like Trilling and Tanner, include offering a perspective which finds a life worth living in giving oneself over to quiet kindness, reciprocal consideration, a principled refusal to perform falsely, to network as we say, in order to hold fast to the self, against life’s continual chaos and cruelties. The heroine of this book is consequently someone who lives on and in herself as she is; she is in a way intensely self-possessed, not to be taken over by others if she believes they are doing wrong at the same time as she has no need to change them. She would not agree with Mary Crawford’s idea that marriage is a “take-in,” but she will not perform falsely to achieve it, and we are shown what the social world is and thus way. It’s revealing at the end of the book Mary has not married but retreated to her sister’s companionship.

I submit it is this lack of valuing socializing itself and for itself, a Rousseauian impulse that is so disliked. I find Fanny to be one of the strongest feminists in Austen’s oeuvre; what in Mary is a wary caution, but cunning which gets nowhere as Mary has not divested herself of a need for society’s false admiration, in Fanny becomes a principle. Fanny says she cannot see why women should be expected to jump at a man’s offer; the deeper truth is (like all the other Austen heroines) inwardly she has no need to conform or for inward acceptance by those she find deeply uncongenial. The difference is in this book to suit its theme this trait of Fanny’s is made centrally important to her personality.

You can purchase Mansfield Park in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.

Retail Price: £5.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)
ISBN-10: 0199535531
ISBN-13: 978-0199535538

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.

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Mansfield Park: An Overview

Henry has finished “Mansfield Park,” and his approbation has not lessened. He found the last half of the last volume extremely interesting.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 9, 1814

Mansfield Park is a novel by Jane Austen, written at Chawton Cottage between 1812 and 1814. It was published in July 1814 by Thomas Egerton, who published Jane Austen’s two earlier novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. When the novel reached a second edition, its publication was taken over by John Murray, who also published its successor, Emma.

The main character, Fanny Price, is a young girl from a poor family, raised by her rich uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at Mansfield Park. She grows up with her four cousins, Tom Bertram, Edmund Bertram, Maria Bertram and Julia, but is always treated as inferior to them; only Edmund Bertram shows her real kindness. He is also the most virtuous of the siblings: Maria and Julia are vain and spoiled, while Tom is an irresponsible gambler. Over time, Fanny’s gratitude for Edmund’s kindness secretly grows into romantic love.

When the children have grown up, the stern patriarch Sir Thomas leaves for two years so he can deal with problems on his plantation in Antigua. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary Crawford arrive in the village, which begins a series of romantic entanglements. Mary and Edmund begin to form an attachment, though Edmund often worries that, although her manners are fashionable, they hide a lack of firm principle. However, she is engaging and charming, and goes out of her way to befriend Fanny. Fanny fears that Mary has enchanted Edmund, and love has blinded him to her flaws. Henry plays with the affections of Maria Bertram and Julia, despite Maria being already engaged to the dull, but very rich, Mr. Rushworth. Because Fanny is so little observed in the family circle, her presence is often overlooked and Fanny sees Maria and Henry in compromising situations several times.

Encouraged by Tom and his friend Mr. Yates, the young people decide to put on Elizabeth Inchbald’s play Lovers’ Vows; Edmund and Fanny oppose the plan, believing Sir Thomas will disapprove, but Edmund is eventually drawn into it, offering to play the part of Anhalt, who is the lover of the character played by Mary Crawford. In particular, the play provides a pretext for Henry and Maria to flirt in public. Sir Thomas arrives unexpectedly in the middle of a rehearsal, which ends the plan. Henry leaves, and Maria is crushed; she marries Mr. Rushworth and they leave for their honeymoon, taking Julia with them. Fanny’s improved looks and pleasant temper endear her to Sir Thomas, who pays more attention to her care.

Henry returns to Mansfield Park and decides to amuse himself by making Fanny fall in love with him. However, her genuine gentleness and kindness cause him to fall in love with her instead. When he proposes marriage, Fanny’s knowledge of his improper flirtations with her cousins, as well as her love for Edmund, cause her to reject him. The Bertrams are dismayed, since it is an extremely advantageous match for a poor girl like Fanny. Sir Thomas rebukes her for ingratitude. Thereafter she soon returns to her lower middle class family where she wishes to return to Mansfield Park. Sir Thomas is hopeful that she will realize the usefulness of a rich husband. Henry goes to visit her there, to demonstrate that he has changed and is worthy of her affection. Fanny’s attitude begins to soften but she still maintains that she will not marry him.

Shortly after Henry leaves, Fanny learns of a scandal involving Henry and Maria. The two have met again in London and begun an affair that, when discovered, ends in scandalous elopement and divorce. To make matters worse, the dissolute Tom has taken ill, and Julia has eloped with Mr. Yates. Fanny returns to Mansfield Park to comfort her aunt and uncle and to help take care of Tom. Although Edmund knows that marriage to Mary is now impossible because of the scandal between their relations, he goes to see her one last time. During the interview, it becomes clear that Mary doesn’t condemn Henry and Maria’s bad behaviour, only that they got caught. Her main concern is covering it up and she angrily implies that if Fanny had accepted Henry, he would have been too busy and happy to flirt with other women. This reveals Mary Crawford’s true nature to Edmund, who realises he had idealised her as someone she is not. He tells her so and returns to Mansfield and his living at Thornton Lacey. “At exactly the time it should be so, and not a week sooner” Edmund realises how important Fanny is to him, declares his love for her and they are married. Tom recovers from his illness, a steadier and better man for it, and Julia’s elopement turns out to be not such a desperate business after all. Austen points out that if only Crawford had persisted in being steadfast to Fanny, and not succumbed to the affair with Maria, Fanny eventually would have accepted his marriage proposal–especially after Edmund had married Mary.

Mansfield Park is the most controversial and perhaps the least popular of Austen’s major novels. Regency critics praised the novel’s wholesome morality, but many modern readers find Fanny’s timidity and disapproval of the theatricals difficult to sympathise with and reject the idea (made explicit in the final chapter) that she is a better person for the relative privations of her childhood. Jane Austen’s own mother thought Fanny “insipid”, and many other readers have found her priggish and unlikeable. Other critics point out that she is a complex personality, perceptive yet given to wishful thinking, and that she shows courage and grows in self-esteem during the latter part of the story. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin, who is generally rather critical of Fanny, argues that “it is in rejecting obedience in favour of the higher dictate of remaining true to her own conscience that Fanny rises to her moment of heroism.” But Tomalin reflects the ambivalence that many readers feel towards Fanny when she also writes: “More is made of Fanny Price’s faith, which gives her the courage to resist what she thinks is wrong; it also makes her intolerant of sinners, whom she is ready to cast aside.”

The story contains much social satire, targeted particularly at the two aunts. It is perhaps the most socially realistic Austen novel, with Fanny’s family of origin, the Prices, coming from a much lower echelon of society than most Austen characters.

Edward Said implicated the novel in western culture’s casual acceptance of the material benefits of slavery and imperialism, citing Austen’s omission to mention that the estate of Mansfield Park was made possible only through slave labour. Other critics, such as Gabrielle White, have criticised Said’s condemnation of Jane Austen and western culture, maintaining that Austen and other writers, including Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, opposed slavery and helped make its eventual abolition possible. Claire Tomalin, following literary critic Brian Southam, claims that Fanny, usually so timid, questions her uncle about the slave trade and receives no answer, suggesting that her vision of the trade’s immorality is clearer than his. However, Ellen Moody has challenged Southam’s interpretation, arguing that Fanny’s uncle would not have been “pleased” (as the text suggests) to be questioned on the subject if Southam’s reading of the scene were correct.

You can purchase Mansfield Park in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.

From Wikipedia, The online Encyclopedia.

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Oxford World’s Classics: Pride and Prejudice- A Review

Oxford Pride and Prejudice Cover

Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen

A Review by Ellen Moody
Gentle readers, here we are again, with diptych reviews of what turns out to be a reissue by Oxford in 2008 of its 2004 edition of Pride and Prejudice. I have complemented Laurel Ann’s review (from Austenprose). Laurel Ann’s review will give an overview of the novel, while I will focus on this particular edition and Pride and Prejudice’s overall popularity.

As before, I must agree with Laurel: the latest Oxford Pride and Prejudice is not quite as good a buy as the latest Oxford Sense and Sensibility. The two have exactly the same supplemental materials: brief biographical note, bibliography, chronology, and (by Vivien Jones) appendices on rank and social status and on dancing. The difference is the introduction and explanatory notes are by Fiona Stafford. So this Oxford half-way house series (half-way between those series which have an overload and those which have too bare an apparatus) does not tailor each edition to the specific novel. The publisher may assume their readers will not buy all six books, but the reader minded to do so will buy the same supplementary materials six times [1]. Fiona Stafford’s explanatory notes are full and very helpful; but her introduction is disappointing because much of it (to be fair, not all), and its central perspective rehashes the many times previously-discussed theme of misleading first impressions, preconceived judgements, and slow self-recognition, for which (to take just one previous example), Tony Tanner’s essay provides a brilliant and lucid exposition. [2]

To move to context, then and now: in the case of Pride and Prejudice, there cannot be any clear battles drawn over which texts to print and (if appropriate) emend. As with Sense and Sensibility we do not have in whole or part any manuscript version by Austen of Pride and Prejudice. This is lamentable since it’s thought that, like Sense and Sensibility, our present Pride and Prejudice is a much revised originally epistolary novel; it was probably the “manuscript novel, comprising 3 volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina,” which Austen’s father sent out to a publisher in November 1797, only to see it immediately rejected. To have self-published a second book this length would have been a second costly venture, so perhaps to get Pride and Prejudice accepted by a publisher, Austen “lop’t and cropt” (Jane Austen’s letters, to Cassandra, 29 January 1813), i.e., cut and abridged her book somewhat ruthlessly. With the respectful attention Sense and Sensibility had garnered, she was then gratified to sell the copyright outright to Egerton for 110 pounds.

Thus Austen had no control over the printed texts of Pride and Prejudice at all. She was displeased by the divisions of the volumes in the first 1813 edition, blunders in paragraphing and a lack of clarity in the way the novels’ dialogues were printed, but the quick second edition (in the same year) and a third (1817) show no sign of her participation and the usual errors have begun to creep in. So there is no printed book which reflects her final decisions. The default custom is to reprint the first edition with emendation (doing basically what Chapman did), but sometimes collating the second and third. The latter option is what was done for Oxford by James Kinsley in 1973. Only with hindsight, did Austen know she could have made much more money. There is no sign she had the slightest inkling that this book above and beyond all her others would at first gradually and then suddenly by the later 20th century become a astonishingly wide best-seller.

In her review Laurel has pointed to P&P’s status. It was at first an immediately popular book among its contemporary Regency reading public. The satiric playwright, Richard Sheridan, is reputed to have said it was “one of the cleverest things he ever read” and told others to read it. Nonetheless, in the first half of the 19th century Austen’s novels were regarded as appealing to an elite taste. It was in 1870, when Austen’s nephew, James Austen-Leigh published his memoir of his aunt’s life which framed her books as sentimental romance, that the idea Austen’s books could have a general popular and wide appeal spread, and (as Henry James remarked), publishers began to work the material up.

In Jane Austen’s novels we witness a complex event of the type that the sales of the Harry Potter books represent: an initial attraction, and several intervening steps come together. After Austen-Leigh somewhat misleadingly reframed the books as nostalgic comic romances, from the late Victorian to the Edwardian era, the novels were framed as Janeism, a mixture of kitsch and arch comedy, quaint, unreal somehow, and for everyone to escape to. It is during this time we find elegant sets of books with illustrations reinforcing the comedy and sentiment of Pride and Prejudice.

In the era leading into WW1 and since, they were reframed as comfort books—an idea brought to vivid comic life in Kipling’s famous story, Janeites. Then thanks to Chapman in the 1920s Austen becomes fit matter for scholarly editions and criticism (the equivalent of Latin classics); by the 1930s, she is one of three acceptable female authors available to male readers (George Eliot, Jane and narrowly Virginia Woolf).

I belong to a large software community called Library Thing, where as of the writing of this blog 459,380 people have catalogued 29,428,407 books. A software engine there informed me I am one among 20,752 people to have a copy of Pride and Prejudice. By contrast, around 10,021 members of this community own a copy of Emma; 9,456 have a copy of Sense and Sensibility; 7,143 have a copy of Persuasion; 5,883 have a Mansfield Park; 4,988 have a Northanger Abbey.

The meaningfulness of these numbers is limited since Library Thing is made up of people who own enough books to want to catalogue them, who can do the software, and who are probably more reading types than the average person. Further, one person may own more than one or many copies of a particular book. I own 11 different editions and reprints of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in English and one French and one Italian [5]. Nonetheless, the sheer number of copies of Pride and Prejudice, and the discrepancy between this and the numbers of other of Austen’s novels owned at Library Thing are striking.

But why Pride and Prejudice above all? As Q.D. Leavis and others have shown, it’s not very different from Austen’s others [6]. Recently Laurel posted on Austenprose some revealing, albeit, typical results from a survey: Pride and Prejudice is named in among the top five favorite books grouped with Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre. Such surveys have been shown to be of limited use: people cannot be gotten to tell truth when asked what are their favorite books for real or even necessarily to tell the whole truth on whether they read the books they cite or not. People are guided in how they think their choices will make them look, what kind of statement they want to make about their reading habits. The same kind of feeling guides how they respond to book covers (people don’t want to show a book cover that will make them in their own eyes look bad to someone else). And how they see or think others see the book. [7]

But they do show us something, and that is how readers perceive the books they cite. And they perceive Pride and Prejudice as a primal archetypal and respectable romance book—to be cited in the same breath as Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. In Stafford’s introduction to this new Oxford, she ignores this, the very reason for this latest re-issue of Pride and Prejudice. The reason is not far to seek; she does not want to get caught up in the real conflicts over the book; above all, the increasingly verboten use of the word feminism [8]. By contrast, in Vivien Jones’s introduction to the new Penguin edition, Jones begins with a truth not universally acknowledged that “the experienced reader of romance” as she opens Pride and Prejudice knows just what to expect: after an ordeal (in this case the heroine learns to distrust herself), she’s given her heart’s dream of a handsome man, great wealth, prestige, and tender protective love in spades.

The question for women today is how falsifying is this vision? There seems to be but one legitimate goal for the Bennet sisters, one security (having a strong rich man), but are there no other options? There is cruelty in Austen’s depiction of a reading girl (Mary Bennet), which is reinforced by film-makers who deliberately choose flat-chested actresses and dress them up to look ugly. A rare departure is found in Fay Weldon’s depiction of Mary Bennet as lively, eager, and smarter than we realize in her 1979 mini-series Pride and Prejudice.

Yet, is it false to women’s experience of powerlessness today and the continued prestige and power of male and male heterosexual desires in the public marketplace? In pre-feminist and now this backlashed post-feminist era, women have seen that education has not given them power, and they turn to Austen’s version of romance as refuge, as places they can recuperate an identity they are not allowed to enjoy elsewhere. It is this perspective which leads to the aligning of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and all her novels with modern modern chick-lit. [9]

You can purchase Pride and Prejudice in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.

Paperback: 382 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0199535566

ISBN-13: 978-0199535569

RRP: £4.99

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.


  • Supplemental materials tailored to shed light and information on the specific novel at hand is one of the great strengths of the kind of edition which provides rich supplementary materials, and of the many for P&P, I recommend no less than three: 1) the third edition (2001) of the Norton Pride and Prejudice, edited by Donald Gray, for its array of well-chosen selections from Austen’s letters, early biographical writing, Austen’s Juvenilia, and especially pieces from 20th & 21st century critical essays, which form a remarkably diverse yet coherent conversation on the novel; 2) the 2003 Longmans cultural edition of Pride and Prejudice edited by Claudia Johnson and Susan J. Wolfson, for its thick section of contemporary documents on money, the marriage market, male and female character as seen as the time, the picturesque and great houses, selections from Jane Austen’s own letters and (as there was much) contemporary reactions to this novel; and 2) the stunning achievement of David Shapard, for he has produced an easy-to-use mini-encylopedia, which (since the information is placed on alternative pages) need not overwhelm a new reader: The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (New York: Anchor, 2004). Particularly felicitious are Shapard’s choices for drawings and illustrations, e.g.
  • Tanner’s essay was first published in book form as Knowledge and Opinion: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1986):103-141; it is also found as the introductory essay to the first English Penguin Library (1972) edition of the novel, which edition was reprinted in 1986; in the most recent or new Penguin edition of Pride and Prejudice (2003), Tony Tanner’s essay is reprinted as an appendix.
  • The 2003 new Penguin (referred to in Note 1) takes the step of adhering more closely to the 1813 text (there is no attempt to standardize or modernize the text), so as with the 2003 new Penguin Sense and Sensibility, which took the unusual step of reprinting the first 1811 text of that novel. The new Penguins offer readers a somewhat different text, one which may look strange, but at the same time be closer to Austen’s original manuscript and hold some new interest. The reader who buys the new Penguin can then compare it to the usual modernized 1813 texts.
  • From Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, edd. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980):104.
  • For Pride and Prejudice I own Jane Austen, Orgueil et prejuges, trans. V. Leconte and Ch. Pressoir, note biographique de Jacques Roubaud. Paris: Christian Bourgeois 1979, with preface by Virginia Woolf translated into Frenchy by Denise Getzler; and Orgoglio e pregiudizio, trans. Elena Grillo, introd. Pietro Meneghelli, in Jane Austen: Tutti e romanzi, ed. Ornella de Zordo (Rome: Grandi Tascabili Economici Newton 1997).
  • Q. D. Leavis, A Critical Theory of Jane Austen’s Writings, Scrutiny, 10 (1941-42), pp. 114-142, 272-294; 12 (1944-45), pp. 104-119.
  • It’s heartening to think women are at least not made ashamed of liking archetypal women’s books, and will cite Austen’s works, GWTW, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre—though they can be ridiculed and shamed out of going to a womens’ film or made to think it’s bad because they don’t think about who wrote the review or that it’s the product of masculinist values. Statistically white readers outnumber those polled, so we should note most of these lists don’t reflect at all what non-white readers say they favor or read.
  • Other half-way house editions which begin at the right place frankly, the popularity of P&P and its status as an ultimate romance, include the recent 2008 reprint of the Signet edition of Pride and Prejudice with Margaret Drabble’s perceptive and candid introduction (first printed as part of this edition since 1950). Nowadays there’s an afterword by a popular romance writer (swashbucklers and bodice-rippers are part of her trade), Eloisa James whose reading of the novel makes visible just how such a lover of romance understands the book. Ms James waxes indignant over Elizabeth’s hypocrisy. It seems Austen’s heroine is a hypocrite because she doesn’t admit how much she longs to marry, see Afterword, pp. 377-79. My choice for my students in a general education literature course is this little Signet.
  • The feminist critique of Pride and Prejudice is well-argued by Claudia Johnson in Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1988):73-75, 80-84, 87-89; also Susan Fraiman, The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (NY: Columbia UP, 1993):69-87. A really intelligent defense and explanation of women’s novels may be found in Chick-lit: The New Women’s Ficiton, edd. Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young (NY: Routledge, 2006).


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Pride and Prejudice: An Overview

I hope you received my little parcel by J. Bond on Wednesday evening, my dear Cassandra, and that you will be ready to hear from me again on Sunday, for I feel that I must write to you today…I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London. On Wednesday I received one copy sent down by Falkener, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles and sent a third by the coach to Godmersham. […] The advertisement is in our paper to-day for the first time: 18s. He shall ask 1l. 1s. for my two next, and 1l. 8s. for my stupidest of all. Miss B. dined with us on the very day of the book’s coming and in the evening we fairly set at it, and read half the first vol. to her, prefacing that, having intelligence from Henry that such a work would soon appear, we had desired him to send it whenever it came out, and I believe it passed with her unsuspected. She was amused, poor soul! That she could not help, you know, with two such people to lead the way, but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know. There are a few typical errors; and a “said he,” or a “said she,” would sometimes make the dialogue more immediately clear; but “I do not write for such dull elves, as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.” The second volume is shorter than I could wish, but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of narrative in that part. I have lop’t and crop’t so successfully, however, that I imagine it must be rather shorter than “Sense and Sensibility” altogether. Now I will try to write of something else…
Jane Austen to Cassandra
January 29, 1813

Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen. First published on 28 January 1813, it was her second published novel. Its manuscript was initially written between 1796 and 1797 in Steventon, Hampshire, where Austen lived in the rectory. The novel was originally titled First Impressions, and was written between October 1796 and August 1797. On November 1, 1797, Austen’s father gave the draft to London bookseller Thomas Cadell in hopes of it being published, but it was rejected. The unpublished manuscript was returned to Austen and it stayed with her.

Austen revised the manuscript for First Impressions, with significant revisions between 1811–1812. She later renamed the story Pride and Prejudice. In renaming the novel, Austen probably had in mind the “sufferings and oppositions” summarized in the final chapter of Fanny Burney’s Cecilia, called “Pride and Prejudice”, where the phrase appears three times in block capitals. It is possible that the novel’s original title was altered to avoid confusion with other works. In the years between the completion of First Impressions and its revision into Pride and Prejudice, two other works had been published under that name: a novel by Margaret Holford and a comedy by Horace Smith.

Austen sold the copyright for the novel to Thomas Egerton of Whitehall in exchange for £110 (Austen had asked for £150). This proved a costly decision. Austen had published Sense and Sensibility on a commission basis, whereby she indemnified the publisher against any losses and received any profits, less costs and the publisher’s commission. Unaware that Sense and Sensibility would sell out its edition, making her £140, she passed the copyright to Egerton for a one-off payment, meaning that all the risk (and all the profits) would be his. Jan Fergus has calculated that Egerton subsequently made around £450 from just the first two editions of the book. Egerton published the first edition of Pride and Prejudice in three hardcover volumes in January 1813, priced at 18s, with a second edition published in November that year. A third edition was published in 1817.

The novel was well received, with three favourable reviews in the first months following publication. Jan Fergus calls it “her most popular novel, both with the public and with her family and friends”, and quotes David Gilson’s A Bibliography of Jane Austen (Clarendon, 1982), where it is stated that Pride and Prejudice was referred to as “the fashionable novel” by Anne Isabella Milbanke, later to be the wife of Lord Byron. However, others did not agree. Charlotte Brontë wrote to noted critic and reviewer George Henry Lewes after reading a review of his published in Fraser’s Magazine in 1847. He had praised Jane Austen’s work and declared that he, “…would rather have written Pride and Prejudice, or Tom Jones, than any of the Waverley Novels“. Miss Brontë, though, found Pride and Prejudice a disappointment, “…a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but… no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.”

Foreign language translations first appeared in 1813 in French; subsequent translations were published in German, Danish and Swedish. Pride and Prejudice was first published in the United States in August 1832 as Elizabeth Bennet or, Pride and Prejudice. The novel was also included in Richard Bentley’s Standard Novel series in 1833. R. W. Chapman’s scholarly edition of Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1923, has become the standard edition from which many modern publications of the novel are based.

Pride and Prejudice has engendered numerous adaptations. Some of the notable film versions include that of 1940 starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, that of 2003 starring Kam Heskin and Orlando Seale, and that of 2005 starring Keira Knightley (in an Oscar-nominated performance) and Matthew Macfadyen. Notable television versions include two by the BBC: the 1995 version starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and a 1980 version starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. A 1936 stage version was created by Helen Jerome played at the St. James’s Theatre in London, starring Celia Johnson and Hugh Williams. First Impressions was a 1959 Broadway musical version starring Polly Bergen, Farley Granger, and Hermione Gingold. In 1995, a musical concept album was written by Bernard J. Taylor, with Peter Karrie in the role of Mr. Darcy and Claire Moore in the role of Elizabeth Bennet. A new stage show, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The New Musical, opened to Broadway on October 21, 2008 with Colin Donnell as Darcy.

Many critics take the novel’s title as a starting point when analysing the major themes of Pride and Prejudice; however, Robert Fox cautions against reading too much into the title since commercial factors may have played a role in its selection. “After the success of Sense and Sensibility, nothing would have seemed more natural than to bring out another novel of the same author using again the formula of antithesis and alliteration for the title. It should be pointed out that the qualities of the title are not exclusively assigned to one or the other of the protagonists; both Elizabeth and Darcy display pride and prejudice.”

A major theme in much of Austen’s work is the importance of environment and upbringing on the development of young people’s character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world, and a further theme common to Jane Austen’s work is ineffectual parents. In Pride and Prejudice, the failure of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (particularly the latter) as parents is blamed for Lydia’s lack of moral judgment; Darcy, on the other hand, has been taught to be principled and scrupulously honourable, but is also proud and overbearing. Kitty, rescued from Lydia’s bad influence and spending more time with her older sisters after they marry, is said to improve greatly in their superior society.

Pride and Prejudice, like most of Jane Austen’s works, employs the narrative technique of free indirect speech. This has been defined as “the free representation of a character’s speech, by which one means, not words actually spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character’s thoughts, or the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke”. By using narrative which adopts the tone and vocabulary of a particular character (in this case, that of Elizabeth), Austen invites the reader to follow events from Elizabeth’s viewpoint, sharing her prejudices and misapprehensions. “The learning curve, while undergone by both protagonists, is disclosed to us solely through Elizabeth’s point of view and her free indirect speech is essential… for it is through it that we remain caught, if not stuck, within Elizabeth’s misprisions.”

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Bennet, one of the five daughters of a country gentleman in 19th Century Hertfordshire England, faces a dilemma in her future — as their father’s property is entailed to a male heir upon his death, they will be turned out of their house and left to fend for themselves unless she and her sisters can find advantageous husbands, something which consumes her mother. An opportunity arrives in the form of Mr. Bingley, a young gentleman of London who takes a country estate near to the Bennet’s home, accompanied by his sister and his good friend Fitzwilliam Darcy. Whereas Bingley is well-liked in the community, Darcy begins his acquaintance with Elizabeth, her family, and their neighbors with smug condescension and proud distaste for the all of the country people; despite Mrs. Bennet’s embarrassing interference Mr. Bingley and Jane begin to grow closer. Elizabeth, stung by Darcy’s haughty rejection of her at a local dance, makes it a point to match his coldness with her own venom. When the militia arrive in the town, earning the admiration of Elizabeth’s flighty and immature younger sisters, Elizabeth begins a friendship with Mr. Wickham, a charming soldier with a prior acquaintance with Darcy. Upon hearing Wickham’s story that Darcy broke a promise to his father (a friend of Wickham’s father) to provide Wickham with a living after his death. Without thinking through the story, Elizabeth immediately seizes upon it as another, more concrete reason to hate Mr. Darcy. Darcy, for his part, finds himself gradually drawn to Elizabeth.

When Bingley leaves the countryside suddenly and makes no attempts to contact Jane anymore, the young woman is heartbroken. Elizabeth, having previously thought well of Bingley, believes that there is something amiss in the way that he abandoned Jane and suspects Darcy’s involvement. She is also approached by her cousin, the foolish and pompous clergyman Mr. Collins, who offers marriage to her; despite the fact that Collins is the male heir who will inherit her father’s property upon his death, Elizabeth is unwilling to subject herself to a union that she knows will be unhappy for her and refuses him, much to her mother’s distress. Collins subsequently marries Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas, who invites Elizabeth to stay with them. Collins’ parish is adjacent to Rosings Park, the grand manor of Darcy’s aunt Lady Catherine de Burgh, whom Collins is greatly obsequious towards; as a result, Elizabeth is frequently invited to Rosings, where she is again forced into contact with Darcy, who is visiting his aunt at the time. During this time, Elizabeth learns that Darcy indeed played a part in separating Bingley and Jane.

Elizabeth is shocked when Darcy admits his love for her and proposes marriage. Insulted by his high-handed and insulting manner of proposal, Elizabeth refuses him, confronting him with his sabotage of Bingley’s relationship with Jane and Wickham’s account of their dealings. Shocked by Elizabeth’s vehemence towards him, Darcy writes her a letter justifying his actions and revealing that Wickham in fact cheated him, and attempted to seduce his younger sister Georgiana in the process. He also justifies his actions towards Bingley and Jane with the defense that Jane did not visibly show any interest in his friend, whom he was attempting to protect from both heartache and a disadvantageous association with Elizabeth’s embarrassing and uncouth mother and younger sisters; Elizabeth is prompted to question both her family’s behaviour and Wickham’s credibility, and comes to the conclusion that Wickham is not as trustworthy as his easy manners would indicate and her early impressions of Darcy may not have been accurate. During a tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth visits Pemberley, Darcy’s grand estate, and presented with a more flattering, benevolent impression of his character from the locals who know him. When the party encounters Darcy when touring the grounds of Pemberley, he makes an effort to behave in a gracious and welcoming manner towards them, thus strengthening Elizabeth’s improved attitude.

Elizabeth and Darcy’s renewed acquaintance is threatened when news arrives that Wickham and Elizabeth’s reckless younger sister Lydia have eloped, thus threatening the family’s reputation and the Bennet sisters with ruin. Lydia and Wickham are soon found and married, delighting Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth is surprised to learn from Lydia that Mr. Darcy was secretly responsible for both finding the couple and arranging their marriage at great expense to himself. Soon after, Bingley and Darcy return to the area; Bingley proposes marriage to Jane, and this news prompts rumours that Darcy will propose to Elizabeth, prompting Lady Catherine confront Elizabeth and imperiously demand that she never accept such a proposal. Elizabeth’s refusal to bow to Lady Catherine’s demands convinces Darcy that her opinion towards him has changed, and he once again proposes marriage; Elizabeth, who is now in love with Mr. Darcy as well; accepts, and the two are married.

You can purchase Pride and Prejudice in several different editions at our Jane Austen Giftshop. Click here.

Le Faye, Deidre (2002). Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-3285-7.

Rogers, Pat (ed.) (2006). The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-82514-6.

Pinion, F B (1973). A Jane Austen. Companion. Macmillan. ISBN 333-12489-8.

Stafford, Fiona (2004). “Notes on the Text”. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford World’s Classics (ed. James Kinley). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280238-0.

Fergus, Jan (1997). “The professional woman writer”. in E Copeland & J McMaster. The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-49867-8.

Miles, Robert (2003). Jane Austen. Writers and Their Work. Northcote House. ISBN 0-7463-0876-0.

Fox, Robert C. (September 1962). “Elizabeth Bennet: Prejudice or Vanity?”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction (University of California Press) 17 (2): 185–187. doi:10.1525/ncl.1962.17.2.99p0134x.

Valérie Cossy and Diego Saglia. “Translations”. Jane Austen in Context. Ed. Janet Todd. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-82644-6.

Southam, B. C. (ed) (1995). Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage. 1. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-13456-9.

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Oxford World’s Classics: Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

By Jane Austen
Introduction by Margaret Anne Doody
Review by Ellen Moody

I was delighted when Laurel of Austenprose asked me to join her in writing reviews of the recent reprint of the Oxford standard editions of Austen’s novels. I’d get to gaze at the different covers, read introductions, notes, appendices, and if any were included, illustrations. As you might have guessed, I’m one of those who partly chooses to buy a book based on its cover. I enjoy introductions (occasionally more than the story they introduce), get a kick out of background maps and illustrations, and especially ironic notes.

Looking into the matter I discovered I’d have to sleuth what if anything was the difference between these new reprints and the earlier reprints of James Kinsley’s 1970-71 edition, from which all the subsequent Oxford texts have been taken. Why after examining the early texts did Kinsley made the choice to reprint R. W. Chapman’s 1923 edition of Austen’s novels with some emendations? Hmm. My curiosity made me unable to resist checking the Oxfords against the other editions of Austen’s novels I own. In the case of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a novel I first read when I was 13 and the one closest to my heart, I own 14 different editions and reprints, and French and Italian translations.

The more cynical and less devoted reader of Austen may well say, wait a minute here. What would be the point or interest, since probably the differences in the texts themselves would be miniscule, the paratexts just the sort of thing Catherine Morland would have skipped, and this upsurge of proliferating books simply the result of a highly competitive marketplace. But that’s the point. We can ask why provide all this if the goal is to produce an inexpensive handy text and the motive profit? The answer comes back that Austen’s novels are at once high status, beloved, and best-selling texts which keep selling because they’re best-selling books. They have highly diverse and conflicting groups of (let us call them) consumers. So in order not to offend and to persuade as many readers as possible to buy at least once or yet again, publishers are driven to produce books which are informative and pleasing, accurate and accessible—and up-to-date. Since the reprints cover more than a quarter of a century, we may watch different introducers struggling to present their respective agendas, which, like the changes in the covers of the books, reflect the ever-changing climate of a surprizingly stormy Austenland.

We also had more than the famous six books because since 1980 Oxford had chosen to accompany Northanger Abbey with Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon, Austen’s lesser-known novels (the first epistolary, the last two unfinished). Laurel and I had an intriguing journey ahead of us. We agreed we would form sister reviews, each one a counterpart to the other. A reading of Laurel’s review will give a good overview to the book.

I agree with Laurel that the 2008 reissue of the Oxford’s 2004 edition of Kinsley’s Sense and Sensibility is a good buy. It avoids extremes, or is a half-way house between series which just reproduce an unannotated text, only sometimes with a brief “Afterword” essay2; and series which may overload readers with an apparatus in the back of contemporary documents, recent critical essays (some the result of this year’s fashions in academia), and contain aggressive overly abstract introductions by writers who seem to take a downright hostile stance to the texts and most of its readers3.

The introductory essay by Margaret Anne Doody is brilliant, eloquent, and comprehensive; since 2004 the Oxford has included two appendices by Vivien Jones who wisely chose to explain two kinds of pivotal concerns and happenings in all Austen’s novels: Appendix One explains the rank and social status of the characters, and Appendix Two, the different dances included in her novels and how they can function. Claire Lamont has mostly improved on and rewritten the explanatory notes from the previous edition: the new ones are fuller, and more contemporary texts are cited. The method is to give the reference by page number and use an asterisk; this makes for a speedy flip back and forth4.

So much for complementarity. Laurel has summarized the topics of Doody’s introduction and interesting items cited in the bibliography, discussed the all- too-short life, and the role of chaperon in a young genteel woman’s life (as suggested by the appendix on dancing), and left to me the not unimportant business about exactly what is presented to us as Jane Austen’s written extant novel. To this I’ll add a little on the covers, and brief information on the 5 available film adaptations of the novel.

To wit, we do not have in whole or part any manuscript version by Austen of Sense and Sensibility so we cannot know for sure what her text of this novel was like. As they do today, printing houses then had styles of their own, and no text was at all sancro-sanct from changes in punctuation, grammar, paragraphing and the like. Of the versions of S&S published in Austen’s lifetime, the first published in 1811 was sold out. Austen rejoiced, and in 1813 there was a second. Austen was actively involved in the production of both; she proof-read the first, but, alas, apparently not the second, and errors of all sorts have been found in the 1813 text. On the other hand, Austen made small revisions of this 1813 text so those are her last emendations in print. Here we have to remember the painful truth that Jane Austen died young and didn’t have much chance to have second thoughts for her book: she was producing the final copies for all 4 she saw into print and writing all six (plus perhaps a seventh, Sanditon). A very busy lady indeed and then mortally ill.

Over the 19th century errors crept into the many reprints of Austen’s books; and in 1923 R.W. Chapman sat down to produce scrupulously accurate scholarly texts which were the equivalent of what were printed for very high status male authors; he followed the standards of his time, which included discreet corrections of grammar, punctuation and paragraphing. For Sense and Sensibility he chose the 1813 edition after correcting it, and it’s Chapman’s text that Kinsley studied, emended somewhat and is the basis for all Oxfords afterwards. Recently though it’s been asserted that Chapman over-corrected and so polished Austen’s text that we lose flavor, tone, and something of the colloquial voice of Austen; and in the 2003 new Penguin edition, Kathryn Sutherland has taken the rare step of using the 1811 text as her basis. Did Chapman really alter the spirit of Austen’s books? Yes and no. Sutherland’s edition gives us a less polished, more sparsely punctuated text.

It should be admitted, as with introductions to texts, this is something of an agenda fight. Kathryn Sutherland, Claudia Johnson (editor of the recent Norton edition), and others feel the perceived picturesqueness & tea-and-crumpets quaint feel of Chapman’s original Oxfords helped sustain a kitsch and elitist view of Austen. It’s also a turf fight: the publishers of these texts need their choices to be respected to gain the full Austen readership.

But there’s something more here too. Austen did change some actual wording in the 1813 edition. Now it’s sometimes true the author’s first text was the superior one; sometimes the last corrected one is. It’s a matter of judgement and taste. What’s important is the text be not bowdlerized. In 1813 Austen cut a second sentence that appears in the 1811 text: in 1811 at the Delaford Abbey picnic, the narrator repeats the rumor that Colonel Brandon has a “natural daughter” that Mrs Jennings’s brief mention made public. We are told Mrs Jenning’s statement so

“shocked the delicacy of Lady Middleton that in order to banish so improper a subject as the mention of a natural daughter, she actually took the trouble of saying something herself about the weather” (I:3).

Strangely, for all Sutherland complaints about Chapman, he did include the 1811 sentence in his reprint of the 1813 text. He simply intelligently made a judgement call and put it back. Alas, somewhere along the line this offending sentence was omitted from all editions strictly based on the 1813 text, and now appears only in the footnotes to all, including this latest 2008 Oxford! What bothers me is in the notes most scholars repeatedly refuse to recognize the obvious, that Austen deleted the sentence because it was too frank. Instead we get supersubtle interpretations that Austen removed the passage because she didn’t want the situation to be tactfully covered up. But how could it be, since Mrs Jennings has let the cat out of the bag, and this is one of those many secrets Austen’s Mr Knightley tells us is just the sort of thing everyone knows.

On to the covers. There is a long custom of picking pictures of two upper class women (often sisters) standing or sitting close together for the cover of S&S. This began in the first popular editions of the 19th century, Bentley’s 1833 volume where we see Lucy and Elinor walking together. It’s seen in James Kinsley’s choice of a Hugh Thomson illustration of the very moment Marianne sees Willoughby at Lady Middleton’s assembly. Entirely typical of just every choice I’ve seen is how Thomson’s psychological depiction is wholly inadequate. Pair after pair of women are chosen whose faces are expressionless, but whose credentials, as visibly upper class, fleshly (this once having been a sign of high rank), white, elegant dressers, are unassailable.

For example, Sara Coleridge with Edith May Warner by Edward Nash [1820], the 1980 Oxford cover; Ellen & Mary McIlvane by Thomas Sully [1834], the 2003 New Penguin cover. These latest Oxfords differ only in preferring to focus on an enlarged detail of the two women, something Laurel tells me is fashionable in covers. An earlier version may be found in a 1983 Bantam, Charlotte and Sarah Hardy by Thomas Lawrence (1801)

No one disputes the centrality of a pair of sisters as central to the novel (and primal to Austen as in all her novels we find them), but I am heterodox enough to declare that as a reader of Austen, I’m of the party who feels if we are to have two women, let us have either genuinely effective images, or one of the many effective stills from the recent movies, as in covers of the 1995 Signet and 1996 Everyman.

Even a landscape redolent of picturesqueness or some pivotal point in the story of the Dashwoods would suffice. This latter choice is uncommon, although the 2002 Norton appropriatetly chose Devonshire Landscape by William Payne (c. 1780).

What I particularly liked about Margaret Doody’s essay in this new Oxford is she demonstrates the plot-design, climaxes, and much of the text of the novel is as much about social life, women’s relationship with other women, economic injustice, and aesthetic hypocrisies and affectation as it is a love story.

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; Rev. Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)

Language:  English

ISBN-10: 0199535574

ISBN-13: 978-0199535576

RRP: £4.99

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.

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Sense and Sensibility: An Overview

No, indeed, I am never too busy to think of S. and S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child; and I am much obliged to you for your inquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby’s first appearance. Mrs. K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the printer, and says he will see him again to-day. It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. I am very much gratified by Mrs. K’s interest in it; and whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on anything else.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
April 25, 1811

Sense and Sensibility is a novel by the English novelist Jane Austen. Published in 1811, it was the first of Austen’s novels to be published, under the pseudonym “A Lady”.

The story revolves around Elinor and Marianne, two daughters of Mr. Dashwood by his second wife. They have a younger sister, Margaret, and an older half-brother named John. When their father dies, the family estate passes to John, and the Dashwood women are left in reduced circumstances. The novel follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, a cottage on a distant relative’s property, where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the sisters’ characters is eventually resolved as they each find love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the book’s title describes how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love.

Austen wrote the first draft of Elinor and Marianne (later retitled Sense and Sensibility) c. 1795, when she was about 19 years old, in epistolary form. While she had written a great deal of short fiction in her teens, Elinor and Marianne was her first full-length novel. The plot revolves around a contrast between Elinor’s sense and Marianne’s emotionalism; the two sisters may have been loosely based on the author and her beloved elder sister, Cassandra, with Austen casting Cassandra as the restrained and well-judging sister and herself as the emotional one.

Austen clearly intended to vindicate Elinor’s sense and self-restraint, and on the simplest level, the novel may be read as a parody of the full-blown romanticism and sensibility that was fashionable around the 1790s. Yet Austen’s treatment of the two sisters is complex and multi-faceted. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin argues that Sense and Sensibility has a “wobble in its approach”, which developed because Austen, in the course of writing the novel, gradually became less certain about whether sense or sensibility should triumph. She endows Marianne with every attractive quality: intelligence, musical talent, frankness, and the capacity to love deeply. She also acknowledges that Willoughby, with all his faults, continues to love and, in some measure, appreciate Marianne. For these reasons, some readers find Marianne’s ultimate marriage to Colonel Brandon an unsatisfactory ending. The ending does, however, neatly join the themes of sense and sensibility by having the sensible sister marry her true love after long, romantic obstacles to their union, while the emotional sister finds happiness with a man whom she did not initially love, but who was an eminently sensible and satisfying choice of a husband.

The novel displays Austen’s subtle irony at its best, with many outstanding comic passages about the Middletons, the Palmers, Mrs. Jennings, and Lucy Steele.

In 1811, Thomas Egerton of the Military Library publishing house in London accepted the manuscript for publication, in three volumes. Austen paid for the book to be published and paid the publisher a commission on sales. The cost of publication was more than a third of Austen’s annual household income of £460 (about US$46,000 in today’s money). She made a profit of £140 (US$14,000) on the first edition, which sold all 750 printed copies by July 1813. A second edition was advertised in October 1813.

The book has been adapted for film and television a number of times, including a 1981 serial for TV directed by Rodney Bennett; a 1995 movie adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee; a version in Tamil called Kandukondain Kandukondain released in 2000; and a 2008 TV series on BBC adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by John Alexander.

Plot Overview:
When Mr. Dashwood dies, his estate – Norland Park – passes to John, his only son, and child of his first wife. Mrs. Dashwood, his second wife, and their daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, are left only a small income.

On his deathbed, Mr. Dashwood had asked John to promise to take care of his half-sisters but John’s selfish wife, Fanny, soon persuades her weak-willed husband that he has no real obligation in the matter, and he gives the girls nothing. John and Fanny move into Norland as its new owners and the Dashwood women, now treated as guests in what was their home, begin looking for another place to live.

Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars, a pleasant, unassuming, intelligent but reserved young man, comes to Norland for a visit. He and Elinor are clearly attracted to each other and Mrs. Dashwood hopes they will marry. Fanny makes it clear that their mother, a wealthy widow, wants her son to marry a woman of high rank or great estate, if not both. Although Edward is attentive to Elinor, his reserved behaviour makes it hard to guess his intentions. Elinor does not encourage her relatives to hope for the marriage, although she secretly does.

One of Mrs. Dashwood’s cousins, the wealthy Sir John Middleton, offers her a cottage on his estate, Barton Park, in Devonshire, and Mrs. Dashwood decides to accept. She and the girls find it tiny and dark compared to Norland, but try to make the best of it. They are warmly received by Sir John, who insists that they dine with him frequently at the great house of Barton Park and join the social life of his family. Also staying with Sir John is his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings, a rich widow who is full of kindness and good humour and who immediately assigns herself the project of finding husbands for the Dashwood girls.

While visiting Sir John, the Dashwoods meet his old friend Colonel Brandon. It soon becomes apparent that Brandon is attracted to Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings teases them about it. Marianne is not pleased as she considers Colonel Brandon, at age 35, to be an old bachelor incapable of falling in love or inspiring love in anyone else.

Marianne, out for a stroll, gets caught in the rain, slips, and sprains her ankle. The dashing, handsome John Willoughby, who is visiting his wealthy aunt, Mrs. Smith, in the area, happens to be out with his gun and dogs nearby and sees the accident. He carries her home and soon wins her admiration with his good looks and outgoing personality, the opposite of the quiet and solemn Brandon. He visits her every day, and Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood begin to suspect that the couple are secretly engaged. After a picnic outing, during which Willoughby and Marianne are alone together for some time, Willoughby tells Mrs. Dashwood that he will have something important to say on his next visit. Mrs. Dashwood assumes he means to propose to Marianne and seek her blessing for the match. But when the day comes, she and Marianne are devastated to hear Willoughby announce that his aunt is sending him to London on business and that he may not return to their area for as long as a year.

Edward Ferrars visits the Dashwoods at Barton Cottage but seems unhappy. Elinor fears that he no longer has feelings for her. However, unlike Marianne, she does not allow anyone to see her wallow in her sadness, feeling it her duty to be outwardly calm for the sake of her mother and sisters, who dote on Edward and have firm faith in his love for Elinor.

Anne and Lucy Steele, cousins of Lady Middleton, come to stay at Barton Park. Sir John tells Lucy that Elinor is attached to Edward, prompting Lucy to inform Elinor that she (Lucy) has been secretly engaged to Edward for 4 years. Although Elinor initially blames Edward for engaging her affections when he was not free to do so, she realizes he became engaged to Lucy while he was young and naïve and perhaps has made a mistake. She thinks (hopes) that Edward does not love Lucy, but he will not hurt or dishonour her by breaking their engagement. Elinor hides her disappointment and works to convince Lucy she feels nothing for Edward. This is particularly hard as she sees Lucy may not be sincerely in love with Edward and may only make him unhappy.

Elinor and Marianne spend the winter at Mrs. Jennings’ home in London. Marianne’s letters to Willoughby go unanswered, and he treats her coldly when he sees her at a party. He later writes to Marianne, enclosing their former correspondence and love tokens, including a lock of her hair and informing her he is engaged to a Miss Grey, a high-born, wealthy woman with fifty thousand pounds (equivalent to about five million pounds today). Marianne admits to Elinor that she and Willoughby were never engaged, but she loved him and he led her to believe he loved her.

Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that Willoughby had seduced Brandon’s ward, fifteen-year-old Eliza Williams, and abandoned her when she became pregnant. Brandon was once in love with Miss Williams’ mother, a woman who resembled Marianne and whose life was destroyed by an unhappy arranged marriage to the Colonel’s brother.

Because Fanny Dashwood does not like her sisters-in-law, she declines her husband’s offer to let them stay with her. Instead, she invites the Miss Steeles. Lucy Steele becomes very arrogant and brags to Elinor that the old dowager Mrs. Ferrars favours her. Indeed Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars were fond of Lucy so Lucy’s sister, Anne, decides it would not be improper to tell them of Lucy’s engagement to Edward. When Mrs. Ferrars discovers Edward’s and Lucy’s engagement, she is infuriated, and demands he end the engagement instantly. However, he refuses so she disinherits him, in immediate favour of his brother, Robert. Elinor and Marianne feel sorry for Edward, and think him honourable for remaining engaged to a woman with whom he isn’t in love.

Edward plans to take holy orders to earn his living, and Colonel Brandon, knowing how lives can be ruined when love is denied, expresses his commiseration to Edward for the deplorable circumstance and offers Edward a parsonage on Delaford, the Colonel’s estate, with two hundred pounds a year. Colonel Brandon did not intend the parsonage to be assistance for Edward to marry Lucy as it would be insufficient to house a wife but intends it to provide Edward some sustenance. Elinor meets Edward’s boorish brother Robert and is shocked he has no qualms about claiming his brother’s inheritance.

The sisters end their winter stay in London and begin their return trip to Barton via Cleveland, the country estate of Mrs.Jennings’ son-in-law, Mr. Palmer. There, miserable over Willoughby, Marianne neglects her health and becomes dangerously ill. Hearing of her serious illness, Willoughby arrives suddenly and reveals to Elinor that he truly loved Marianne, but since he was disinherited when his benefactress discovered his seduction of Miss Williams, he decided to marry the wealthy Miss Grey.

Elinor tells Marianne about Willoughby’s visit. Marianne admits that although she loved Willoughby, she could not have been happy with the libertine father of an illegitimate child, even if he had stood by her. Marianne also realizes her illness was brought on by her wallowing in her grief, by her excessive sensibility, and had she died, it would have been morally equivalent to suicide. She now resolves to model herself after Elinor’s courage and good sense.

The family learns Lucy has married Mr. Ferrars. When Mrs. Dashwood sees how upset Elinor is, she finally realizes how strong Elinor’s feelings are for Edward and is sorry she did not pay more attention to her daughter’s unhappiness. However, the next day Edward arrives and reveals it was his brother, Robert Ferrars, who married Lucy. He says he was trapped in his engagement to Lucy, “a woman he had long since ceased to love”, and she broke the engagement to marry the now-wealthy Robert. Edward asks Elinor to marry him, and she agrees. Edward eventually becomes reconciled with his mother, who gives him ten thousand pounds. He also reconciles with his sister Fanny. Edward and Elinor marry and move into the parsonage at Delaford. Still, Mrs. Ferrars tends to favour Robert and Lucy over Edward and Elinor.

Mr. Willoughby’s patroness eventually gives him his inheritance, seeing his marriage to a woman of good character has redeemed him. Willoughby realizes marrying Marianne would have produced the same effect; had he behaved honourably, he could have had love and money.

Over the next two years, Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne, and Margaret spend most of their time at Delaford. Marianne matures and, at the age of nineteen, decides to marry the 37-year-old Colonel. We are told that it is not in her nature to do anything by halves, and the gratitude and respect she has come to feel for him develop into a very deep love. The Colonel’s house is near the parsonage where Elinor and Edward live, so the sisters and their husbands can visit each other often.

1. Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage, 1997)

2. According to a combined analysis of changing currency values over time and contemporary exchange rates, one 1811 pound is worth roughly one hundred 2007 dollars today. (For example, see

Reprinted from

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Sanditon: A Completion


By Jane Austen and Another Lady

“When Charlotte Heywood accepts an invitation to visit the newly fashionable resort of Sanditon, she is introduced to a full range of polite society, from the local reigning dowager Lady Denham and her impoverished ward Clara, to the handsome, feckless Sidney Parker and his amusing, if hypochondriacal, sisters. A heroine whose clearsighted common sense is often at war with romance, Charlotte cannot help observing around her both folly and passion in many guises. But can the levelheaded Charlotte herself resist the attractions of the heart?”*

Jane Austen died in 1817, leaving two unfinished novels. One of these, only 11 chapters long, was nicknamed Sanditon. It was completed in 1975 by “Another Lady” who, though a previously published author herself, chose to follow Jane’s own example of anonymity. Out of print for over 20 years, this gem is finally available in paperback form.

Sanditon may be the best of all the Austen novel completions and sequels (there are over 80 at present.) The story moves smoothly from the middle of chapter 11, where Austen left Charlotte to the mercy of Lady Denham, through it’s sometimes bizarre (but always entertaining) plot twists to a final, satisfying conclusion. Yes, this “other lady” takes liberties with Austen’s characters, but who’s to know how she would have finished the story if given time.

The important thing to remember is that it is NOT Jane Austen you are reading, nor is the author attempting to fool you into thinking she is. An apology at the end of the book states

“What was there left to worry about in completing Jane Austen’s last manuscript? Only the way she wrote it. Her language, her integrity and her painstaking methods of work– that terrifyingly accurate and meticulous technique– combine to give us the same sense of serenity and assurance in the six novels in which she brought her world to life and made it real for us. None of these things can be faithfully copied. And for their deficiencies in this seventh novel, I do apologize.”

Keeping that in mind, Sanditon, as completed by Another Lady, is a delightful read. It is laugh-out-loud funny in some places- and definately worth the effort of obtaining. Though it lacks Austen’s delicate touch and refinement- it more than makes up for it with a delightful heroine, a hero whose likes have not been seen since Henry Tilney and a host of other characters who are a credit to the Austen collection.

The full text of Sanditon, Jane Austen’s Last Novel Completed, can be found at our Jane Austen Giftshop here.

An entertaining review of Julia Barret’s sequel to Sanditon (Charlotte) can be found at the New York Times’ site.

Softcover – 336 pages (August 1997)
List Price: $13.00
Scribner; ISBN: 0684843420

Antipodes Jane : A Novel of Jane Austen in Australia

by Barbara Ker Wilson

Being a Jane Austen Fan, I thought this novel might prove interesting. After Jane Austen’s death, her sister, Cassandra, burned most of her letters leaving a large proportion of her life unaccounted for. In 1799, Jane Austen’s aunt Jane Leigh Perrot, a rather snobbish and upper class woman, was prosecuted for shoplifting a length of lace. Though found innocent, she could, if proved guilty, have been sent to a penal colony in Australia.

What if, the author asks, the prosecution had been successful?? What if Aunt Leigh Perrot had been transported? What if Jane had accompanied her? As there are no letters of Jane’s dating from this time, Barbara Ker Wilson has written a novel exploring the possibility that Jane went to Australia.

The premise seemed to be a tidy and fascinating bit of history from the start. A look at how one of the world’s most famous novelists survivied and judged Australia at the time of its very early colonialism. It seems material ripe for a piece of witty Jane Austen observation. However Wilson does not have Jane Austen’s eye for detail and witty observation. I found the novel difficult to finish, and not as compelling as I hoped. There is certainly merit in it and many will very much enjoy this book. Unfortunately I think I went into it with too many expectations and felt quite let down.

Worth dipping in to especially if you enjoy other books where authors have ‘finished’ Austen’s novels.

List Price: Out of Print, Available Used
Hardcover – 329 pages (May 1985)
Viking Press; ISBN: 0670805866;

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

* From the back cover

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Oxford’s Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon

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

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 otherwise in Chapman’s Minor Works, Volume VI (1954: rpt. with revisions London: Oxford UP, 1969), last printed in 1988 in hardcover. Its classical scholarly apparatus intimidates, 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, but as of 1980, Oxford printed Northanger Abbey with Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon. Thus in one accessible volume the buyer obtains:

Northanger Abbey, a novel first drafted 1793-94, written 1798-99, whose revisions (1803 as Susan and 1816 as 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;

Lady Susan, a brilliant, sexually-frank epistolary novel, the only one of Austen’s to focus on an amoral adulterous heroine, probably first written in 1793-94, around the time Austen is said to have written the first version of Sense and Sensibility, the epistolary Elinor and Marianne, and rewritten between 1804-5 (possibly once again in 1808-9); Lady Susan takes place partly in Bath; 30 years before The Watsons opened Emma Watson’s aunt danced, a fine woman then, in the “old rooms” at Bath with Mr Edwards (the lower rooms, from the 87 NA);

The Watsons, first written and worked hard on from 1804 to 1807, and while still a fragment, a thoroughly-worked or imagined gem which reads as richly and deeply as any of Austen’s finished novels, the only one of her works first written while in Bath and thus reflecting her something of her perspective while there; like Lady Susan, uncensored (as it never was written up for publication) it anticipates Mansfield Park: the scenes of Fanny’s arrival in Portsmouth (Sylvestre Le Tousel, Eryl Maynard, Alison Fisk, as Fanny, her sister and mother, from the 1983 BBC Mansfield Park) could be shots from a film of The Watsons as Emma Watson arrives and is greeted by her sister with an ailing father upstairs;

Sanditon, her very last (1817) stunningly effective early draft of a novel, astonishingly filled with black humor about traumatic illnesses and death (Austen was herself mortally ill and had to put it down as she was dying), a work which is set uniquely in a contemporary unscrupulously commercialized seashore.

Thus the reader may travel through Austen’s writing career, from 1793 to 1817, in 340 pages.

On the new Oxford edition itself: while I find that Claudia Johnson’s essay is accessible and lively, the part dedicated to the three shorter works is flawed. In the 20 pages devoted to discussing Northanger Abbey itself, she takes the recent (and accurate perspective) that far from simply mocking the gothic and replacing it with diurnal reality, whether you regard this as potentially cruel, mean, and risky (especially in the case of General Tilney), or a light account of a young girl’s entrance into real life, Austen recreates the gothic conventions to make an emotionally effective and sensitively felt novel of female development, one which is also an instance of affirmative and psychologically acute female gothic romance. The chosen cover to the book rightly evokes a ruined abbey:

We have three young heroines who know considerable grief and one absent one, now dead (Mrs Tilney) whose life was, we are told, very hard.

By contrast, though, Johnson’s 7 and 1/3 pages devoted to Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon (and most of these to Sanditon) read like an afterthought. Johnson presents Lady Susan (2 pages) as an early work! She appears not to know or does not mention the recent and numerous studies which date it much later; she does not bring in its actual literary predecessors (e.g., Choderlos de LaClos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and blithely ignores the real anguish in the book: Lady Susan bullies and terrifies her daughter; this novel is not a shallow caricatured sketch. It may not have been published because Austen’s family could not allow her to show herself so casually cognizant of adultery.

Johnson’s two pages on The Watsons reveal more readerly knowledge of Austen’s text. She writes eloquently: “It is unquestionably Austen’s bleakest work, taking on such painful subjects as the care of ageing parents, the shame and desolation of downward social mobility, and the mortifications of familial alienation. Raised in conditions of wealth and refinement under the patronage of a loving aunt [who has married unwisely and given herself a tyrant husband], Emma Watson must return home … [her] family is so impoverished that it borders on the ungenteel; her invalid father is querulous; her sisters are unrefined [desperate, voracious, treacherous]; and her brother, who sees sisters as costs, is high-handed and indelicate about her reappearance” (xxix).

Johnson, though, misleads by repeating as unqualified truth theories from the family about why she didn’t finish it, particularly those which imply Austen didn’t like what she had done. The characters in The Watsons are fully-formed and of real interest; one can foresee what will be the intense psychological development and how Austen drew her story regularly from such textures (so by studying this book you study Austen’s technique). Although much resembles in outward outline parts of Austen’s other novels, they are transpositions into another key, individualized so that we are in different presences once again and can study Austen’s underlying geology at the same time. Austen had apparently worked out her ending, and the piece contains a few of her most moving scenes, and a rare one where a woman rescues a young boy at an assembly from mortification.

People seem to want to forget Austen died young. She first secured a stable place to live from which to publish in 1809; she was dead by 1817 and in between she published 4 books and worked up semi-finished versions of 2 more. She may have intended to come back to The Watsons; it was not as far along as the others, begun later. Henry tells us in his invaluable preface to Northanger Abbey (unfortunately not reprinted in this new Oxford) that “some of her [published] novels” were “the gradual performances” of her “previous life” (i.e., when she lived in Steventon and Bath); there’s

no reason to think she would treat The Watsons any differently. She would put it away and take it out again, revise, and then again put it away, until she felt it was time to revise again.

Henry writes: “For though in composition she was equally rapid and correct, yet an invincible distrust of her own judgement induced her to withhold her works from the public, till time and many perusals had satisfied her.”

Kathryn Sutherland has now demonstrated from the manuscripts the extraordinary quality of her books comes from endless revisions.

For Sanditon (3 and 1/3 pages) Johnson repeats Southam’s argument that it is the most finished of the fragments, which (among others) Sutherland shows just won’t stand up to scrutiny; what we have here is a revealing early draft, startling in its feel of rapidity and wild brilliance of invention.

I recommend supplementing Johnson’s introduction: the wise thing to do is find (if the reader can) a used copy of Margaret Drabble’s edition of these works, especially for Sanditon and read her introduction (sensitive, accurate, insightful throughout): Drabble includes a second preface on social background (helpful for The Watsons and Sanditon) what is so astonishing and refreshing in this rich fragment: “What we have here, in fact, is a dying woman treating the subject of illness with amusement and raillery .. the whole tone of the novel is very different from that of its immediate predecessor, Persuasion … the chief focus … is on Sanditon itself, and the spirit of change it represents .. the chief target of her satire [being] speculation, expansion, change and novelty.”

There is a romance brewing, a dangerous one: the impoverished young cousin, Clara Brereton, taken in by the rich domineering, Lady Denham, has apparently been seduced into a risky relationship with a young, dense and amoral young man, Sir Edward Denham, whose admiration for Richardson’s Lovelace, tells us what he intends for Clara. Another love relationship adumbrated is between the book’s apparent heroine, Charlotte Heywood, and a young man expected home, a genial and respected son and brother to the members of the Parker family who dominate the text as we have it.

We cannot ignore textual problems—as three of these books were never printed in Austen’s lifetime and one printed after her death. All were titled by other people.

The circumstances of the chosen text of the edition’s Northanger Abbey resembles that for Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. Since there was only one edition in Austen’s lifetime, the first printed edition is our sole authority. It’s a problematic one since it was not Austen herself who wrote out or supervised and proofed the final fair copy of Northanger Abbey. Kinsley followed Chapman’s “normalizing” principles and texts: Austen unchapmaned. There is a clean fair copy of Lady Susan, and differently amended (showing corrections and different considered choices) copies of The Watsons and Sanditon (both lack paragraphing), mostly in Austen’s hand. Davie has a brief note where he says he has has modified the Chapman approach towards the manuscripts in order to make visible Austen’s “intentions” when it comes to “substance”; however, no textual notes are provided.

Well, says the reader, why did they not become better known? Why have they remained relatively obscure? Why has no movie been made of at least The Watsons?

Northanger Abbey shows up in sales charts as the least widely-sold of Austen’s novels. When I checked at Library Thing where about 29,430,000 people catalogue their books (I’m rounding off the figures), I discovered (again in round figures), about 20,750 people had at least one copy of P&P, 10,000 had a copy of Emma; 9,400, one copy at least of S&S; 7,100 one of Persuasion, 5,800 one of Mansfield Park and 4,900 one of Northanger Abbey (see precise figures in review of P&P.) Penguin did not keep the Drabble edition of Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon in print, and Oxford has not kept Doody’s edition of the juvenilia in print.

Basically, the three shorter books have been underestimated, ignored, and misleadingly described. The dual character of Northanger Abbey as a realistic and gothic book is often misread because it is still the case female gothic and novels of female development (especially that of a sexually innocent young women) female gothic are treated as an embarrassment.

To alter this in our present backlash era is an uphill fight. Certainly women should not begin to erase feminist and woman-centered perspectives in what they write—if you fear ridicule or non-publication, erasure only further diminishes the numbers of women in print and journalism (in mainstream publications a tiny percentage compared to men). It doesn’t help to make covers from portraits of nubile upper class young women which signalled at the time “wealth,” and now obsolete (foolish) feminine romance.

Fortunately, the custom of putting pictures of Bath or abbeys and the picturesque on the covers of Northanger Abbey seems to be holding its own, e.g. Elisabeth Mahoney’s Everyman edition of NA alone. Mahoney rivals Butler’s Penguin editions and partly supercedes them by her coverage of non-gothic texts and her reading of the novel not as conservative but progressive and protofeminist. Mahoney’s cover alludes to the work of dreams and romance beyond the gothic while keeping before the reader the picturesque (an important matter in NA, think or see of Catherine, Henry and Eleanor’s long conversation on Beechen Cliff at the close of Volume 1):

Among the excellent editions of NA which do justice to the book as a novel of female growing up and reading (explains them, shows as you read along how what books in NA enrich the book), I recommend Longman cultural edition, and the Norton edited by Susan Fraiman with an appropriate cover: Two Girls Reading by Pablo Picasso (2004)—it’s a novel about reading.

And it’s a novel about Bath. While Chawton and Steventon must take precedence in understanding the formation of Austen’s character and how she was enabled to write, Bath’s centrality in Austen’s adult life comes out strongly in a book which includes NA, Lady Susan and The Watsons.

But I need not go into Bath. Beyond the many books on Bath and Austen and Bath, I recommend In search of 18th century Bath. Nowadays we need no longer depend on publishers for our context in reading a book. We can go to the superb blogs and websites on the net centering on Jane Austen.

For myself I’ve loved Northanger Abbey since I read it between the ages of 17 and 19. I like serious and grave books which is what Mansfield Park and The Watsons are both. I can perhaps best account for my love of NA by my love for Radcliffe (wherein I have Henry Tilney as a model) which I read around age 19 —around the same time I first encountered Fanny Burney in her diaries. I’ve read The Mysteries of Udolpho at least three times through in English, once half-way through in French, and love reading sympathetic critical studies of the gothic where it is a central text.

I own 11 copies of Northanger Abbey, some printed by itself, a couple with Persuasion and two of the Oxfords printed with Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, one excellent Italian translation and two French, one of which is often said to be the best translation of Austen into a European foreign language we have: Catherine Morland by Felix Fenelon. I’ve 4 copies of The Watsons and 5 of Sanditon because beyond the 2 Oxford editions and Drabble’s Penguin, I’ve a copy of Chapman’s Minor Works (valuable for the notes and annotations), and the reprint of Sanditon for Chiron Press, transcribed, edited and with an introduction by Mary Gaither Marshall, with Anna Austen Lefroy’s continuation, the very best scholarly edition of Sanditon in print.

Explore our bookshop at

RRP: £4.99
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed. / edition (17 April 2008)
ISBN-10: 019953554X
ISBN-13: 978-0199535545

Ellen Moody, a Lecturer in English at George Mason University, has compiled the most accurate calendars for Jane Austen’s work, to date. She has created timelines for each of the six novels and the three unfinished novel fragments. She is currently working on a book, The Austen Movies. Visit her website for further Austen related articles.