Jane Austen’s Letters are an absolute must-have in your collection. There is nothing like reading these late at night, Jane Austen hovering over your shoulder. Considered rather mundane by the scholarly world when they first appeared – filled as they are with local gossip, fashion and food news, the periodic snide comment about friends and neighbors, and very little about her reading and writing – they have in succeeding years been picked over, and picked over again, to find the minutest insight into Austen and her world.
I find them a pure delight – seeing Austen as she was, mostly in missives to her sister, but also to her brothers, her friends, and publishers – it is like being inside her head at any given moment as she shares her thoughts, observations, and very caustic wit about the goings-on around her – a participant, but always the objective, sometimes judgmental, observer…
One-hundred and sixty letters remain from what has been surmised to have been thousands Austen likely wrote. Cassandra’s “great conflagration” before her own death in 1845 saw the destruction of who knows what else Austen had to say about her own life – the gaps in dates give the reader such a sense of loss – what happened in those intervening days and years?? – and thus the fabric of novels is made. Of these 160 extant letters, most are scattered around various institutions or remain in private hands – location of each is noted in Le Faye’s exhaustive work.
Well, a true collector should have them all – you can find a good list in Gilson at G, a mere 8 pages (1982 ed.) with an additional three pages in the revised edition of 1997. While having them all would be a collector’s dream, you at least must have the 4th ed. by Le Faye if you are to understand anything at all about Jane Austen. But here is my list of the basic should-haves:
1. 1817: Henry Austen’s “Biographical Notice” postscript dated 20 December 1817 – Henry included a few extracts from her letters in this notice that appeared in the first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (London: John Murray, 1818).
2. 1870: James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen(London: Bentley, 1870) – includes extracts and some letters in their entirety.
3. 1884: The Letters of Jane Austen, edited with an introduction and critical remarks by Edward, Lord Brabourne (London: Bentley, 1884). Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen, son of Austen’s niece Fanny Knight, published 96 of the letters left to him by his mother – mostly includes letters to Cassandra, but also to Fanny, Anna Lefroy, and the two letters written by Cassandra on Austen’s death.
4. 1906: Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers, by John Henry Hubback and Edith Charlotte Hubback (London: John Lane, 1906) – this biography of Francis and Charles Austen includes for the first time Jane’s letters to her sailor brothers.
5. 1913: Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (London: Smith-Elder, 1913) – quoted from all the letters known at that time.
6. 1924: Five Letters from Jane Austen to her Niece Fanny Knight, printed in facsimile (Oxford: Clarendon, 1924) – the full text of the letters from Austen to her niece (they were incompletely printed in Brabourne’s collection.
7. 1925: The Letters of Jane Austen, selected with an introduction by R. Brimley Johnson (London: John Lane, 1925) – a selection of 44 letters from the Brabourne Letters, The Sailor Brothers, and the Austen-Leigh Life.
8. 1932: Jane Austen’s Letters to Her Sister Cassandra, collected and edited by R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1932) – the first definitive edition, printed from the actual manuscripts where possible with those letters not accessible taken from Brabourne. There was a 2nd ed. published in 1952 with the addition of 6 more letters but few other changes. Chapman also published a selection of the letters (about one-third) in 1955, and again in 1985 with an introduction by Marilyn Butler.
9. 1981: Five Letters from Jane Austen to Her Sister Cassandra, 1813, with an introduction by David Gilson (Brisbane: Lock’s Press, 1981) – a limited edition of 60 copies.
10. 1990: Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, edited by Jo Modert (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990 – a reproduction of all letters that could be located – the introduction is invaluable and seeing each letter in its original state is fascinating.
11. 1990: My Dear Cassandra…a collection of Jane Austen’s Lettersselected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett (London: Collins and Brown, 1990) – letters selected from the Brabourne Letters, not complete, but it does include many fabulous contemporary illustrations.
12. 1992: “Seven letters from Austen to Francis and Charles” published as a keepsake for those at the JASNA AGM (Alto Loma: Bookhaven Press, 1992) – a miniature booklet limited to 300 copies, these were given to attendees of the 1992 AGM in Santa Monica, CA – the theme was “The Letters, Focusing on Travel and the Sea.”
13. 1995: Jane Austen’s Letters, New Edition, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995) – a 3rd edition of the Chapman Letters but with Le Faye’s ceaseless and energetic scholarship into those not fully identified by Chapman as well as the addition of 12 more letters – Le Faye’s notes are mine of information on provenance, current location of each letter (if known), every detail on people and places and allusions are noted; includes biographical and topographical indexes. The lacking full subject indexes found in Chapman were added into the 4th edition (see below)…
There is also a fine publication of this 1995 edition by the Folio Society:
14. 2004: Selected Letters [of Jane Austen], selected with an introduction and notes by Vivien Jones (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004) – based on the 3rd ed. of the letters by Deirdre Le Faye from 1995. You need these paperback editions so you have something to write-in and underline (!).
14. 2011: Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed., collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011; paperback ed. 2014) – no new letters have been discovered since the 1995 ed, but much additional information has been added regarding Austen’s life and her endless references in the letters. Indexes and notes have been updated, as well as the addition of the all-important Subject Index.
There are other editions out there – I also have the small Oxford World Classics blue hardcover of Chapman Letters with the dust jacket, not often seen – if you should find this, buy it immediately…
[Please note: Our house is being renovated and all my books are packed up – so while some of these images are mine, I had to also mine the internet for others!]
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.
“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”
“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”
“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”
“I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united.”
[Pride & Prejudice, Vol. 1, Ch. 8]
And so, to truly understand what Mr. Darcy is driving at, to understand anything about Jane Austen’s world, you need to study this quite formidable lady, if indeed such a one existed! – and there is no better book on the subject than Noël Riley’s The Accomplished Lady: A History of Genteel Pursuits c.1660-1860(Oblong, 2017).
“This is a study of the skills and pastimes of upper-class women and the works they produced during a 200-year period. These activities included watercolours, printmaking and embroidery, shell work, rolled and cut paper work, sand painting, wax flower modelling, painting on fabrics and china, leather work, japanning, silhouettes, photography and many other activities, some familiar and others little known.
The context for these activities sets the scene: the general position of women in society and the constraints on their lives, their virtues and values, marriage, domestic life and education. This background is amplified with chapters on other aspects of women’s experience, such as sport, reading, music, dancing and card-playing.”[from the book jacket].
Table of Contents:
1. A Woman’s Lot 2. Educating a Lady 3. Reading and Literary Pursuits [my favorite chapter] 4. Cards, Indoor Games and Theatricals 5. The Sporting Lady 6. Dancing and Public Entertainment 7. Music 8. Embroidery 9. Threads and Ribbons 10. Beadwork 11. Shellwork 12. Nature into Art 13. Paperwork 14. Drawing and Painting 15. Creativity with Paints and Prints 16. Japanning 17. Penwork 18. Silhouettes 19. Photography and the Victorian Lady 20. Sculpture, Carving, Turning and Metalwork 21. Toys and Trifles.
Includes extensive notes, an invaluable bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and an index.
I have mentioned before that in collecting Jane Austen, you will often go off into necessary tangents to learn about her Life and Times – this can take you in any number of directions, but understanding the Domestic Arts of the Regency period is an absolute must – and there are MANY books on the subject, cookery alone could fill shelves. But here in this one book we find a lavishly illustrated, impeccably researched study of all the possible activities a lady of leisure [no cookery for My Lady] can get herself caught up in….whether she becomes accomplished or not is beyond our knowing, but certainly Mr. Darcy would find at least ONE lady in these pages who might meet his strict requirements, despite Elizabeth’s doubting rant.
It is always a worthwhile effort to check the index of every book you pick up to see if Jane Austen gets a mention. And here we are not disappointed – Austen shows up on many pages, and five of her six novels are cited in the bibliography – all but Persuasion for some odd reason – one would think Anne Elliot’s skills at the pianoforte would have merited a mention?
This image of page 165 quotes Austen about patchwork when she writes to Cassandra on 31 May 1811:“Have you remembered to collect peices for the Patchwork?”
So, let’s stop to think about the varied accomplishments of Austen’s many female characters…anyone want to comment and give a shout out to your own favorite and her accomplishments / or lack thereof? Is anyone up to Mr. Darcy’s standards?
Of all the Jane Austen sets, this Dent publication is probably the most well-known because of the Brock brothers illustrations – they have continued to be published over and over again, and the ones we think of when we think of “Jane Austen illustrated.”
The Novels of Jane Austen, J. M. Dent, 1898 [Molland’s]
1892 was a watershed year for Austen and the beginning of the many Dents – but today we will focus on this set published by J. M. Dent in 1898 in 10 volumes and edited by R. Brimley Johnson – it was the first to offer Jane Austen in color. You can find all the interesting information in Gilson at E90. But a quick summary and a few pictures will surely entice you to want this on your shelves – and if the set is hard to come by or beyond your price range, a fine adventure is trying to put a set together yourself, as individual volumes are often available.
Dent had originally published Austen’s novels in 1892, also edited by Johnson, but with sepia-toned illustrations by William C. Cooke [more on this set in another post]. But in 1898, Dent used the same text plates but deep-sixed the Cooke illustrations and took on the Brock brothers to render Austen in livelier watercolors reproduced by 6-color lithography with each volume having 6 illustrations. Charles Edmund Brock did Sense & Sensibility (vols. 1 and 2), Emma (vols. 7 and 8), and Persuasion (vol. 10). Henry Matthew Brock did Pride & Prejudice (vol. 3 and 4), Mansfield Park (vols. 5 and 6), and Northanger Abbey (vol. 9).
[You can read about the Brocks here at Molland’s with an excellent essay by Cinthia García Soria here: http://www.mollands.net/etexts/other/brocks.html ] You can also google their names and many of the Jane Austen blogs have posts on the Brocks and other illustrators.
The Brocks owned a number of Regency era furnishings and decorative arts, as well as a large collection of fashion prints – they had many costumes made, having family and friends model for them and perhaps why their illustrations seem so very authentic! Laura Carroll and John Wilshire call these Brock-illustrated editions “Chocolate-box” – gift-book quality, beautiful inside with delicate pen or brush drawings, and outside with gilt embossing and Arts and Crafts inspired design; another critic refers to the Brocks’ work as “delicate teacup and saucer primness”! [See their essay “Jane Austen, Illustrated” in A Companion to Jane Austen, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, pp. 62-77.]
C. E. Brock had previously illustrated Pride and Prejudice with black and white line drawings – this was published by Macmillan in 1895. He would go on in the years 1907-09 to illustrate all the novels for another Dent publication, their Series of English Idylls (with 24 watercolor illustrations in each volume; they were all later published as a set with fewer illustrations in each volume.) To compare CE Brock’s two very different styles in these two editions is an interesting way to spend at least an afternoon! Here is one example from Emma, the infamous romance-inducing umbrella scene:
To follow all the wild publishing of Austen at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th requires a degree in bibliography, or at least a great deal of patience – and certainly you must have Gilson by your side. There were many, many reprints with many variations as to the number of illustrations, the quality of the reproductions, and binding types – it is great mess for the book buyer / collector – and all I can say is do your homework and buyer beware…!
American printings are another great mess, various publishers over a span of years, with varying number of illustrations, and in many cases a poorer reproduction quality. The most important thing to remember is that the earliest edition will have the higher price but also better quality printing and illustrations. As an example, compare these HM Brock 1898 and 1907 printings of Darcy giving Elizabeth his letter in Pride & Prejudice:
[this doesn’t show up very well in the scan – but there is a huge difference in the detail, color, and quality of the print]
Here are a few illustrations: I have various volumes and parts of the green cloth 1898 set, but also this 1898 set bound in leather – this one my favorite, but alas! it is missing something very important!
Dent 1898 – red leather – my set, lacking the all-important what? P&P!
CE Brock, Persuasion, 1898: The Fall! / The Letter!
One of my favorite scenes in Pride & Prejudice is Elizabeth “in earnest contemplation” – here we can see CE Brock’s line drawing for Macmillan in 1895 and HM Brock’s in 1898, and CE Brock’s in 1907 [are you sufficiently confused yet??]
CE Brock, Macmillan, 1895 / HM Brock, Dent, 1898
CE Brock, Dent, 1907 [though this is not exactly the same quote you get the idea…]
The Brocks are most often compared with Hugh Thomson: there are various critical interpretations of these two most popular Austen artists, some more approving of Thomson’s humor and his almost caricatured characters, while others preferring the more effective facial expressions and body language of the Brocks that seem more realistic despite the rather overdrawn borders and settings – do notice the detail in the fashion, the furnishings, and landscape, and what scenes are chosen – we can compare these to Thomson in future posts. The point is, you need them both…
I shall take a little side road today with this discussion of must-haves in your Jane Austen collection – here an example of a book Jane Austen had read, referred to, satirized, and which then became the most interesting thing about Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice.
Part of collecting Jane Austen is to learn about and possibly add to your collection those books known to have been read by her, a fascinating list compiled from the many allusions in her novels and her letters. You can start with R. W. Chapman’s “Index of Literary Allusions, which you can find online.
Chapman’s list first appeared in the NA and P volume of the Oxford edition we looked at last week – more has been added to this – but this is a good start – you could spend the rest of your life just collecting “allusion” books and you will completely forget what you were collecting in the first place.
But Fordyce is one you must have, should read, for if nothing else it will give you a better idea of where Mr. Collins is coming from and what Austen has to say about both he AND Fordyce.
Sermons to Young Women, by Dr. James Fordyce, is certainly one the most well-known of all the various conduct manuals Austen would have had access to, published in London in 1766, “and by 1814, the year after Pride and Prejudice appeared, it had gone though 14 editions published in London alone.” [Ford, intro, i].
We all recall that in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins chooses to read Fordyce’s Sermons aloud to the Bennet sisters, Lydia especially unimpressed:
By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:
“Do you know, mama, that my uncle Philips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town.”
Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:
“I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin.” [P&P, Ch. XIV]
Collins, done with such young and frivolous young ladies, heads off for a game of backgammon with Mr. Bennet…
Illustrators of Pride and Prejudice have turned this scene into a visual treat:
Hugh Thomson, P&P (George Allen, 1894)
Chris Hammond, P&P, Gresham, 1900
Fordyce (1720-1796) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and a poet, but is most known for his Sermons. He also published Addresses to Young Men in 1777. But would we even be talking about him today if it weren’t for Jane Austen??!
Much has been written about Austen and Fordyce – the point being, you need a copy. You can find it in one of its original editions on used bookstore sites for not over the top prices – or there are many, many reprints out there.
One of the best of these is the facsimile reprint of the 10th ed. of 1786 and published by Chawton House Press in 2012. Susan Allen Ford wrote the valuable introduction and it also includes a fine bibliography. This edition is unfortunately out-of-print and I am hoping that they will republish it in the near future. It was a best-seller in its time and again today! Who knew!
Here is how David Gilson annotated this edition in his Bibliography under the year1923:
E150. The Novels of Jane Austen: the text based on collation of the early editions by R. W. Chapman. With notes, indexes and illustrations from contemporary sources. 5 volumes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923. 1000 sets …
And then goes on for 5 pages [p. 296-300].
Gilson notes an undated memorandum in the files of the Clarendon Press: “The publishers are bitterly opposed to any imaginative illustrations, and would cheerfully have no illustrations at all. But they would be in favor of a few objective illustrations.”
“They” were perhaps responding to Henry James who had famously complained that the public’s enthusiasm for Jane Austen was being aided and abetted “by a body of publishers, editors and illustrators who find their dear, our dear, everybody’s dear, Jane, so infinitely to their material purpose, so amenable to pretty reproduction in every variety of what is called tasteful, … and what proves to be saleable form.”
Chapman did choose “objective” illustrations – from contemporary sources that Jane Austen would have been familiar with: the landscape, art, architecture, fashion, carriages, etc. of the time period. The lists of appendices (essays on the times, Austen’s language, chronologies and Index of Characters, etc.) and the illustrations found in all 5 volumes are repeated in each volume.
Here is the list of all the illustrations:
Only 1000 sets were printed, 950 for sale – the value of this 1st edition set is about $1,500 and is described as the “Large Paper Edition” by booksellers. The set pictured above included the 1934 2-volumes Letters and sold for $5,500 a few years ago [not to me unfortunately!]
Some of the contemporary illustrations that Chapman chose we are all now quite familiar with – here are just 3 examples:
There are various re-printings of this Oxford set and buyer beware as to what you are getting – here’s a quick analysis:
The set was reissued in 1926 and though called a “Second edition,” it was really just a reprint on cheaper paper and less elaborate illustrations. A note to this edition and some additional notes by Chapman are included.
In 1933, the 5 volumes were re-printed again as a “Third edition” but the text was printed from the same plates, so not officially a 3rd ed at all.
After various re-printings [see Gilson’s notes on these], the Oxford set was issued in 1965-66, now called the official 3rd edition – same text but with alterations to notes etc. by Mary Lascelles based on Chapman’s notes. Chapman had issued the Minor Works volume in 1954, and the set has been the 6 volumes ever since.
Just to give you an idea of the confusing publishing history and the possible printings out there, here is the copyright notice in one of my sets, the 1988 printing you see above:
This Chapman set was the first to offer complete scholarly notes and textual analysis for an English author and has been the source for citation ever since. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, with Janet Todd as General Editor and each of the novels edited by a different Austen scholar, began publishing in 2005 [it is now complete in 8 volumes with Juvenilia and Later Manuscripts included.] This has begun to supersede the Oxford set for citation purposes. You really need them both, as daunting as that might be! More on this Cambridge set in another post.
How Jane Austen revolutionized the way the world viewed women
by Jasmine A. Stirling
Author of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice
Readers looking for a little escapism might pick up a Jane Austen novel in search of light romantic comedy, not realizing how iconoclastic the beloved author’s books truly were.
This is in fact, by design. First of all, Austen’s work is above all, great art. It’s manifold purposes are intentionally disguised in delightfully fun and witty prose, designed to propel us through the story and entertain while also educating readers.
Secondly, Austen was writing at a time when women’s roles were strictly circumscribed. She knew that any overt critique of the patriarchal culture in which she and her characters lived would likely prevent her from being published, reviewed, and/or widely read. The trick was never to be too explicit about anything, so as not to alert the powers that be (wealthy men) that she might be poking holes in the system from which they derived their many privileges. Austen found a way to do just that in her novels—without transgressing the bounds of decorum, of good taste, of sound judgment, and equanimity.
But Austen’s critiques are there, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Let’s explore how Austen’s six beloved novels revolutionized the way the world viewed women.
Jane Austen’s heroines challenged the prevailing notion of the ideal woman as decorative, passive, emotional, and morally perfect.
When reading Austen, it is important to keep in mind that the ideal Regency lady was about as different from Lizzie Bennet as you can imagine. As one author wrote of the Regency ideal:
“The feminine ideal . . . may best be deﬁned as an interesting compound of moral perfection and intellectual deficiency . . . She was required to be before all things a “womanly woman” meek, timid, trustful, clinging, yielding, unselfish, helpless and dependent, robust in neither body nor mind, but rather “fine by defect and amiably weak.” [She has not] laid aside the poetry of languor and the seductive debility that invested her with the allurement of a convalescent flower.”
Or, as Scottish moralist John Gregory instructed his daughters in the 1770s: “Wit is the most dangerous talent you can possess . . . if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men.”
In addition to being morally perfect and intellectually deficient, the ideal Regency bride was very young, and came with a large fortune—which her husband would take possession of immediately after the wedding.
It is not surprising, then, that in this time period (as in our own), female characters—written overwhelmingly by male authors—were often portrayed in one dimension. After all, as Anne Elliot wryly observed, “The pen has been in their hands.” In most novels and plays, women were caricatures: morally loose and wicked; virginal, demure, and sweet; saintly and motherly; scheming and power-hungry.
Not so Jane Austen’s heroines. Seen in this light, Lizzy Bennet is not only an incredibly charming, lovable leading lady filled with quirks and flaws; she is downright subversive. “When Austen allows Elizabeth to express critical attitudes,” scholar Judith Lowder Newton writes, “to act upon them without penalty, when she endows Elizabeth with the power to alter her lot, Austen is moving against traditional notions of feminine behavior and feminine fate.”
In fact, in one way or another, all of Austen’s heroines buck gender norms or fall far short of the Regency ideal. Yet are all rewarded handsomely at the end—with love and riches. Lizzy is cheeky and opinionated, Emma is insensitive and meddlesome. Elinor and Marianne are frightfully poor, while Fanny is both poor and low-born. Catherine is obsessed with novels, and Anne Elliot is old and no longer pretty. Most of Austen’s heroines (Emma being an exception) are intellectual and well-read.
Furthermore, it is taken absolutely for granted by Austen that each of her heroines is, or can become, able to make her own life decisions—without any reference to men, her parents, or her social betters. This alone is a radical assumption, coming from a culture in which gender, family honor, and class dictated nearly everything a woman was permitted to say, do, and think.
But Austen didn’t stop there. She also used humor to challenge notions of ideal femininity. In Mansfield Park, Lady Bertram is so passive that she is unable to rise from the sofa, let alone form her own thoughts. Entertaining, frivolous characters like Lydia Bennet and Mary Crawford are viciously satirized. Traditional Georgian accomplishments such as “netting a purse” are ridiculed. Furthermore, Austen’s most desirable male suitors have no interest in the ideal Regency woman. Mr. Darcy, for example, requires that his mate possess “the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
In fact, I am hard pressed to point to heroines in today’s novels, films and TV shows that shine quite as brightly or depict women quite as realistically as Jane Austen’s did more than 200 years ago.
By raising up complicated, unique, bright, obstinate, and flawed women, then showing us their struggles and journeys of transformation, and finally rewarding them with love and happiness, Jane Austen obliterated unrealistic (and frankly, disturbing) notions of perfect, monolithic femininity, forever upending the way the world viewed women.
Jane Austen’s heroines helped readers experience first-hand the shockingly precarious and brutally inhumane status of women in Regency England.
During the Regency period, marriage required a woman to give up everything to her husband—her money, her freedom, her body, and her legal existence. Husbands were legally permitted to beat their wives, rape them, imprison them, and take their children away without their consent.
Divorce in the Regency era could only be achieved by a private act of Parliament, and was exceedingly rare. Lower classes could sell their wives in the marketplace, which functioned as a form of divorce. The woman was led to market with a halter tied around her neck and sold to the highest bidder.
The laws of primogeniture and entailed property dictated that, upon his death, the bulk of a man’s inheritance typically be handed down to his eldest son or closest living male relative. If a woman inherited anything after her husband died, it was arranged at the time of the marriage and based on the assets she brought to the union. Often she got little or nothing at all.
Opting out of marriage was not a viable option for most women. Because most people believed that females were vastly intellectually inferior to males, there were no universities for women, and nearly all professions were reserved exclusively for men. A spinster often faced a life of poverty, ridicule, and dependence on the charity of her male relatives.
As a result, for Austen, “a story about love and marriage wasn’t ever a light and frothy confection.” Hidden in all that effervescent prose are subtle but seething critiques of Regency society, laws, and gender norms. Austen used romantic comedy to expose the incredibly high stakes of the marriage game for women who had no other options. She helped readers see the precariousness, anxiety and vulnerability of real women—showing the brutality of their situation more poignantly, entertainingly, and intimately than any political treatise could have achieved.
In Sense and Sensibility, we feel the injustice of inheritance laws when Henry Dashwood dies and his wife and children are forced to leave their home and live at the mercy of the heir, Mrs. Dashwood’s stepson, John. John chooses to give them little help, and overnight, Mrs. Dashwood goes from living in splendor to barely scraping by.
In Pride and Prejudice, the key context for the story is that the Bennet family home, Longborne, is entailed to the insufferable Mr. Collins. If his daughters do not marry before their father dies, they will be left to depend on the charity of their male relatives (a situation Austen knew well, as it was hers after her father died).
Although Austen’s heroines find both love and riches, unhappy and loveless marriages far outnumber happy ones in her novels. Wickham is bribed into marrying Lydia; she will have to endure a lifetime of his womanizing ways. Willoughby rejects Marianne, opting for Miss Grey’s £50,000. Charlotte Lucas, twenty-seven years old and superior in character, temperament, and intellect, to the pompous and revolting Mr. Collins, accepts his offer of marriage because “it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune,” thereby relieving her brothers of the burden of providing for her as an old maid. In fact, Charlotte “felt all the good luck of it.”
In these and many other examples, the reality of women’s narrow options, their shocking lack of personal freedom, and their extreme financial vulnerability ring loud and clear. For the first time in history, Austen’s novels humanized and personalized women’s issues in a revolutionary way, adding fuel to the fire for radical new ideas that were just beginning to circulate about women’s rights, education, and opportunities.
Jane Austen championed the radical idea of the ideal marriage as a match between two rational and emotional equals.
While the bleak fates of many of Austen’s female characters illustrate the limited options facing women in the Regency era, happy endings await her heroines. These happy endings also challenged mainstream Regency notions of marriage, which typically looked very unlike that of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
A middle or upper class Regency marriage was often a male-dominated exchange, dictated by two families coming together to consolidate their fortunes. When she married, a woman passed from the control of her father to that of her husband. She might have the opportunity to reject a suitor, or choose from a number of suitors; or she might be a passive participant in this exchange, depending on her circumstances and family culture. In either case, her submissiveness after the wedding was considered crucial to its success. Austen rejected this model of marriage as ideal in her novels and in her life, writing to her niece that “nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without Love.”
Notions of marriage were changing rapidly in Austen’s era, inspired primarily by the Romantics—poets, authors and philosophers who believed that marriage should be fueled exclusively by romantic love—but Austen also rejected this ideal.
While the Romantics insisted that choosing a partner should be about unleashing one’s most passionate feelings, Austen championed the classical, Aristotelian philosophy of balance between emotion and reason when choosing a partner for life. The successful coming of age of an Austen heroine hinges on her learning to discern the true nature of a suitor, not simply the appearance he projects. It also often requires that she look beyond her emotional impulses and fall in love with a man’s character and temperament—as in the case of Marianne Dashwood and Elizabeth Bennet, who are initially attracted to handsome, romantic rakes.
Indeed, flashy romantic suitors like Mr. Wickham and John Willoughby often prove to be wicked, scheming, and insincere. By contrast, more subdued men like Colonel Brandon and Captain Wentworth attempt to restrain their emotions in order to preserve the honor of the women they admire, and wait to betray their feelings until they are certain they are ready to propose.
Furthermore, Austen’s heroines, although driven by love, do not neglect to consider the practical implications of marrying well. After all, it is only after seeing Pemberley with her own eyes that Lizzie finally relents and accepts Mr. Darcy’s proposal, famously thinking as she looks across the valley at his vast estate: “To be mistress of Pemberley might be something!”
In all of these respects, Austen was, and still is, a fresh voice on the topic of marriage. Our own era is still firmly in the grip of the Romantic frenzy—emotional love songs, extravagant courtships and proposals, an emphasis on being swept away in one’s feelings, and fairy tales with happy endings dominate popular culture.
For Austen, a classical reverence for balance—equal parts reason and emotion—reigned supreme, especially on the part of the woman, who had far more to lose in marriage than her male counterpart. Too much reason, and you have Elinor Dashwood, a woman who is initially a little too selfless and withdrawn. Too much emotion, and you have her sister Marianne, a woman who follows her feelings straight into the arms of a charlatan. To grow, each sister must learn a little bit from the other.
In this way, Austen again challenged the way the world viewed both marriage and a woman’s journey of self-discovery on her path towards finding love.
Jane Austen often compared herself to a miniature painter. In her work every situation, character name, snippet of dialogue, and location—matters. It is in these mundane details that Austen’s revolutionary ideas are expressed; it is here that we find the clues to the world Austen dreamed that women would one day occupy.
Viewed in this manner, Austen’s novels become much more than a parade of clever stories about romance and balls. They become, instead, a series of novels in which a brilliant, snarky woman unmasks the culture in which she lives—in ways that were, and still are, revolutionary.
In the end, Austen manages to write both about the real world—a world filled with greed, injustice, deceit, and hypocrisy—in which women’s roles are suffocatingly and terrifyingly limited—and a world of her own making—in which right prevails, and the smart, sassy, headstrong woman gets everything she could ever dream of, and more.
About Jasmine A. Stirling
Jasmine A. Stirling is the debut author of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, a picture book biography of Jane Austen about persistence and creative mastery. Jasmine lives on a cheerful street in San Francisco with her husband, two daughters, and their dog. From a young age, she loved to write poems and stories and worked her way through nearly every children’s book (and quite a few for grownups, too) in her local library. When she’s not writing, Jasmine can be found hiking in the fog, singing songs from old musicals, and fiddling with her camera.
Jasmine first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where she read her favorite of Jane’s six masterful novels, Persuasion. A Most Clever Girl is her dream project, done with her dream team—award-winning illustrator Vesper Stamper and Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing. Jasmine also has a YA/New Adult history of the women’s suffrage movement out soon, titled We Demand An Equal Voice.
Visit www.jasmineastirling.com to get a free Jane Austen paper doll kit with the purchase of A Most Clever Girl. While you’re there, enter to win a Regency tea party gift basket!
I am cheating this week by copying and expanding an old post, but as it fits nicely into the “collecting Jane Austen” theme, I shall hopefully be pardoned [plus the original post is 11 years old!]
This post began back in February of 2009 when Laurel Ann at Austenprose asked about the illustration by Paul Hardy in my post on Henry Tilney. This illustration was the frontispiece in an undated Blackie & Son [London] edition from the late 19th – early 20th century. There is a bookseller ticket for “R. F. Hunger, Stationer & Printer.”
And there is an inscription dated February 1902 that reads – “Florrie Steggles, for excellent work. E. Pollard 1902.” [this is why I love inscriptions!] … what a gift for a young lady to receive! [Notice the inscriber first wrote 8 rather than 9 in 1902 – over a year later and still not used to the 1900s!)
I bought this book for its cover alone [alas! the pages are quite browned and there is only one illustration], but the Art Nouveau unsigned decorative binding is just lovely, the spine also decorated – it is a welcome sight on my book shelves:
You can also see this rather unfortunate stain on the rear board – a damp stain that faded the navy cloth to this beautiful blue!
There are 8 pages of advertisements for Blackie & Son’s in the rear: here the first page and page 7 with Austen’s Northanger Abbey listed under “Library of Famous Books for Boys and Girls.”
The one and only illustration is by Paul Hardy:
Paul Hardy (1862-1942) was an English illustrator, known for his illustrations in The Strand Magazine and his painting of Canterbury Pilgrims. Austen is listed as one of the novelists he illustrated, but I find only this Northanger Abbey. You can read about Hardy and see a good number of his illustrations here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Paul_Hardy_(illustrator)
Hardy’s efforts to get the Regency right are a tad off – he seems to have a confused fashion sense! – your thoughts??
As for collecting, scouting out the decorated covers of Austen’s works is a worthy endeavor. Both Janine Barchas’s The Lost Books of Jane Austen (Johns Hopkins, 2019), and Margaret Sullivan’s Jane Austen Cover to Cover (Quirk, 2014) are excellent references to aid in your search.
Do you have any favorite covers in your Austen collection?
The Novels of Jane Austen. London: Chatto & Windus, 1908-09 [Source: Jonkers Rare Books]
At number E117 in the Gilson Bibliography we find this 10-volume set listed with the following description:
“Printed by Arden Press, Letchworth. Olive green cloth gilt, with small oval colour illustration pasted down on each front board, endpapers [same in all volumes] reproducing a watercolour drawing by A. Wallis Mills, green dustwrappers printed in black. A general introduction and introductory notes by R. Brimley Johnson, title pages printed in blue and black, each volume has a frontispiece and nine other colour plates also by Mills [they plates do not always face the page specified in the illustration].
The volumes were available separately, or as a set bound in whole green parchment. Reissued in 1925 by George C. Harrap, London, bound in mid brown diagonal fine-ribbed cloth, otherwise identical with the original issue.”
So, I don’t actually have this full set, just the Persuasion volume, the one novel I focus my collecting energies on. I was doing a talk on illustrating Persuasion and wanted to have my own copy, and I broke all the rules of collecting to get it – I found it online, knew it was in terrible condition, but bought it anyway – it didn’t cost much and I wanted it for the illustrations and the endpapers. Alas!, it smells – so it is kept in its own place and not on the shelves with my other Persuasion copies – but, no regrets.
I am posting on this for a few reasons – because it is often the illustrated editions that are the most interesting and therefore the most collectible. And while we know our Brock and Thomson and Hammond editions, this set is not as well known.
A[rthur] Wallis Mills [1878-1940] was a British artist of mostly humorous subjects – he is famous for his cartoons and illustrations for Punch and The Strand magazines, and he illustrated more P. G. Wodehouse stories than any other artist.
“Suffragettes at Home” for Punch Magazine, published 14 April 1909.
He: I say, that lady over there looks rather out of it’. She: Yes, you see, most of us here have been in prison two or three times, and she, poor dear, has only been bound over!’
We might wonder why Chatto chose a political cartoonist to illustrate Austen – but at least we can give them credit for acknowledging her satirical wit.
Here is a composite of a number of the illustrations across all the volumes:
A review of the two Sense and Sensibility volumes in the set appeared in The Literary Digest of October 1908, page 561, published by Duffield & Co., New York: the reviewer wrote:
“These two volumes in the new ten-volume set of Jane Austen’s writings, illustrated in colors by A. Wallis Mills, follow closely upon the publication of the first two, which contained “Pride and Prejudice.” Mr. Mills has caught the spirit of the original rather better in these volumes than he did in the other. His Mr. Darcey [sic] was not quite convincing, nor were his Miss Bennets, altho he was more successful with Mrs. Bennet—quite successful, in fact. In the present volume his Sir John is entirely satisfying and so are Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Ferriar. We like immensely, also, his Dashwood girls. His picture of Mrs. John Dashwood’s arrival in her new home is entirely adequate. A more satisfying edition of Jane Austen is not known to us.”
[One can only assume the reviewer never saw a single Brock, Thomson, or Hammond!]
Here’s a larger image of the scene of Elizabeth in “earnest contemplation” of Mr. Darcy’s portrait – I cannot help but agree with the above reviewer’s opinion of Mr. Darcy:
Though I find him a far better Darcy here:
What most interests me about these Mills illustrations is that the Austen illustrator Joan Hassall found them so distasteful, she did the unpardonable [in my view] with regard to a book: She writes, “Unfortunately, I could not like these pictures and spent a long time perseveringly tearing out about 50 coloured plates.” [JAS Report, 1973] – which means she left 50 intact – I wonder which ones! David Gilson calls them insipid! – these are very strong responses to poor Mr. Mills, and sure proof that the illustrations in a Jane Austen novel can either make or break the story for you.
Here are some examples from the set:
From Persuasion – here is the frontispiece, which makes no sense at all – it is the frontispiece, which should be a grand introduction to the book, and here we have Benwick and Mary Musgrove walking the beach at Lyme Regis – can you recall they even did this together?? Certainly no poetry conversation between them…
And this also from Persuasion of Charles Musgrove and Benwick “rat-hunting”: Musgrove a dead ringer for Prince Charles [and again, a rather odd scene to illustrate…]:
We must see Captain Wentworth or you shall never forgive me…he’s on the left looking rather disturbed… cramped “on the same sofa… divided only by Mrs. Musgrove, no insignificant barrier indeed…” and perhaps wondering why he ever left his ship…
I don’t find Mr. Mills’ attempts at giving us Austen’s humor in watercolor as awful as some – I do think they are a tad wishy-washy and far too-cute, but he is spot-on with the fashions and his humorous side is apparent, just maybe not as effective as Hugh Thomson? I do think you need to see all the illustrations from each volume to get the full effect, his comedy more subtle. They in some ways remind me of the 2013 Royal Mail postage stamps by Angela Barrett, where you can see the Persuasion scene is that of Mr. Elliot first spotting Anne on the Cobb:
You find these volumes often sold separately, and often in not great conidtion [be sure to check for those 10 illustrations in each volume!] – full sets appear infrequently and might run to $1000 or more depending upon condition.
Thoughts anyone? Would you cut these illustrations out of your set [thereby making it worthless], or call them insipid??
Gentle Readers: In an effort to offer weekly posts on collecting Jane Austen, I shall start with the basics of book collecting – this a general summary of things to consider with a few examples specific to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular. This will be followed by weekly posts on randomly chosen books in the various categories I list here that I think are essential to a Jane Austen collection.
Let’s start in the pages of Pride and Prejudice in the library at Netherfield where we find Elizabeth, Miss Bingley, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy:
[Elizabeth] walked towards a table where a few books were lying. He [Bingley] immediately offered to fetch her others; all that his library afforded.
“And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into.”
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.
“I am astonished,” said Miss Bingley, “that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”
“It ought to be good,” he replied; “it has been the work of many generations.”
“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.” [my emphasis]
“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
And so, here we have the permission of Mr. Darcy himself to buy as many books as we would like!
II. The Collecting of Books:
Terry Belanger, a veteran book collector and rare book librarian once famously said “you are a collector if you have more than one copy of a single title” –
So, I ask you, how many of you have more than one copy of any of Jane Austen’s novels? And how many of you already realize that to collect all copies of books by and about Jane Austen is surely an impossible task? Even focusing on one title, say Pride and Prejudice, we would find it an impossible undertaking!
So where to start?
1. The first rule of book collecting is Collect what you Love – so I can assume that any of you reading this alllove Jane Austen, and so that will be our focus… and not only the books but also the myriad objects and ephemera. You can collect anything – my son collects Sneakers, only Nike Jordans, which leads to books about sneakers, etc…!
An amusing tale about collecting one title: In a used bookshop in England a few years ago I hit the mother-load of A Child’s Garden of Verses – a title I collect –
I brought five different editions to the register, manned by a young man obviously neither the owner nor all that well-versed in the vagaries of collecting – he hesitated for a moment, looked thoughtful, and finally blurted out “Do you know that all these books are the same?” [epilogue: I bought them all…]
2. Try to find the 1st edition (and by “first edition” I mean “first printing”), and how do we do that?
1st edition Pride and Prejudice [National Library of Scotland]
For most of us, Jane Austen first editions are beyond our pocketbooks – but you will need to know the basics of book collecting to understand why some books are harder to find, and why, when you find them, they can often be expensive.
It is here you will need to decide if you want the first edition in pristine condition or if you only need a reading copy, or not even a first edition at all – this is a question to ask at every purchase.
The most difficult aspect of book collecting is how to identify a first edition – every publisher did it differently and often changed their indicators over time. There are many guides to help with this.
This Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride is the best starting point for a general understanding of the practices of various publishers. You can also find this information online at Quill & Brush Books: https://www.qbbooks.com/first_ed_pub.php
Then you will need more specific detail on the author/subject you are collecting, and thankfully for us Jane Austen enthusiasts, David Gilson, and Keynes and Chapman before him, have largely done this work for us…
4. Determining value: supply and demand – Desirability+Scarcity=Value
Is the book still in print?
How many copies were printed?
Is this the author’s first book? – Sense and Sensibility is the most valuable
How did the book first appear? – binding, dust jacket? [value greatly reduced if lacking jacket: 75% – fiction, 20% – non-fiction]. Eg. S&S first published in boards is more valuable than the finest leather binding
S&S 1st ed in boards and leather bound]: estimated value: $200,000 / $50,000.
Illustrations present? are they all there?
Condition, Condition, Condition! – most important factor! [see more below]
Where do you find values? There are many guides to consult:
Allen and Patricia Ahearn. Collected Books: A Guide to Identification and Values. 4th ed. (2011); see also their author guides – one on JA from 2007
American Book Prices Current: auction sales, so actual value
Bookseller catalogues: what titles are selling for
Author and subject bibliographies
Internet: bookselling sites: be wary – prices all over the place
5. CONDITION is the most important issue: prices will vary depending upon condition – even if you have the 1st edition – if it is in deplorable condition that will affect the value.
Booksellers grade a book’s condition using the terms below, from “As New” down to “Poor”: for instance VG [for the book ] / VG [for the jacket] – anything less than a VG is really not collectible:
VERY FINE/NEW [VF / NEW]: As new, unread.
FINE: Close to new, showing slight signs of age but without any defects.
VERY GOOD [VG]: A used book that shows some sign of wear but still has no defects.
GOOD [G]: A book that shows normal wear and aging, still complete and with no major defects.
FAIR: A worn and used copy, probably with cover tears and other defects.
POOR: a mess really, but might have some redeeming qualities
READING COPY: any book less than VG
An interesting tale to demonstrate this: The rare bookseller Stuart Bennett [no relation to our esteemed Bennet family!] writes in his book Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles 1660-1800.
Alas! pre-Austen, but we find her in a NOTE: [an aside – always check indexes for Jane Austen – you will be pleasantly surprised to see how often she turns up and in the most amazing places!]
Bennett writes in a footnote on the issue of publishing in boards vs. the wealthy having their favorite books bound in leather:
What is certain is that wrappered and boarded popular literature was not part of the visual landscape of country house libraries. In my experience these books, when kept, found their way into cupboards underneath the display bookcases, or into passages or rooms used by servants. In my days at Christie’s I once spent hours in the pantry cupboards of a Scottish country house, searching through stacks of these wrappered and boarded books among which I found, virtually as new, Volume III of the first edition of Sense and Sensibility. When I found the other two volumes I remarked to the aristocratic owners that this was one of the most valuable books in the house, as exceptional survival in original condition, and doubtless so because one of their ancestors had bought Jane Austen’s first novel, read it, and hadn’t cared enough to send it to for rebinding, and never bought another. My ebullience was arrested by an icy stare from the Countess, who replied, “I am sure, Mr. Bennett, that our ancestors would never have felt that way about Jane Austen.” 
Stuart tells me: this S&S set the then-record auction price in 1977 or 1978 (he was the auctioneer!), and turned up about twenty or maybe 25 years later offered by a London bookseller for, as he recalls, $200,000. Then it disappeared again.
Question: Should you buy a less collectible book because you cannot afford the higher price? – do you just want a reading copy or need to fill a gap in your collection? – you can decide this on a case-by-case basis – what becomes available and when and how much you can spend…
6. Where to find Books:
“Beauty in Search of Knowledge” – Thomas Rowlandson
– Local bookstores: sadly less of them, but still the best resource of Jane Austen books – a bookseller who will know your likes, will buy with you in mind, someone to trust… – Specific booksellers: those who specialize in Jane Austen and other women writers – shops, catalogues – you can find at book-fairs, being on their catalogue mailing list, and on the internet. For eg. Jane Austen Bookshttps://www.janeaustenbooks.net/ – Auctions / auction catalogues – The Internet: major used bookselling sites: you need to be an informed consumer!
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Internet: I could write a very lengthy post just on this – so I will only emphasize the biggest positive – you have at your fingertips a Global marketplace – no longer dependent on a brick & mortar shop around the corner [sad as this is to me!]
Biggest negative: be in be-wary mode – who are you buying from? – how to decide which is the best copy with so many price and condition discrepancies? – my best advice? – choose a bookseller who knows what they are about: valid and complete descriptions and a price that seems reasonable in light of other copies on offer.
A word about EBAY: a Gigantic auction house always open! – an amazing resource but also the biggest potential for getting a bad deal – you need to be an informed consumer!
Best use of the internet: Want Lists – most book sites do this and auction houses offer “alerts” – you will be notified when an item becomes available…
7. Caring for your collection: lots of information here to consider…just not today.
II. What to Collect:
Now comes the hard part – with so much out there on Jane Austen, where do you even begin? The need to focus on one particular aspect [say just collecting copies of Pride and Prejudice], or by zeroing in on a certain illustrator you like [the Brock brothers], or only books with fine decorative bindings [so many] – this list covers the gamut of possibilities – you just need to choose what you are most interested in. You must however start with a core collection:
A. A Jane Austen Core Collection
1. The Works: the Oxford edition, ed. by Chapman (1923); the Cambridge edition, general editor Janet Todd, with each volume edited by a a different scholar; a set of reading copies of each novel – ones you can markup, underline, and make notes
2. The Letters – all editions [Brabourne, Chapman, Le Faye, Modert]
3. R. W. Chapman’s books on Jane Austen
4. Biography: the Memoir and everything since!
5. A Chronology of Jane Austen, Deirdre Le Faye (Cambridge, 2006)
6. The Bibliographies: Keynes, Chapman, Gilson, Barry Roth’s 3 volumes, and those continued annually in Persuasions; the Cambridge Bibliographies, etc…
7. Brian Southam. The Critical Heritage. Vol I. 1811-1870. Routledge, 1979; The Critical Heritage, Vol. II. 1870-1940. Routledge, 1987. – now available as digital reprints, 2009
8. Critical works: starting off point to further study – where to start?? The bibliographies; “Companions” – “Handbooks” – “Casebooks”
9. The World of Jane Austen: [endless material!]
The Arts: Music, Art, Architecture; Interior Design and Decorative Arts; Landscape
Georgian and Regency History: Political, Economic, Social, Religious
Social life and customs: Etiquette; Gender / Class issues; Dancing; Costume and Fashion
Domestic Arts: Cookery, Needlework, Women’s work, Family life, Home-life, Servants
Military History: the Royal Navy, the Militia, The French Revolution, the American Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, War of 1812
Geographical History and Maps
Travel and Transportation: Carriages, Roads, Guidebooks, etc…
Literary Theory, History of the Novel, Narrative Theory, Language
B. Collecting a specific Jane Austen novel: as an example Pride & Prejudice
Specific Publishers: Bentley, Macmillan, Dent, Oxford, Folio Society, LLC, Penguin, etc.
Illustrators: also single illustrations
Decorative bindings / cover art – to include paperbacks
Critical editions: with scholarly editing and introductions
Books where P&P shows up
Association copies: e.g. Sarah Harriet Burney’s copy
Books that influenced Austen: e.g. Frances Burney’s Cecilia
Adaptations: Editions for young readers; Dramatizations; Films, Audiobooks
Sequels! – endless potential!
History / Social Life and Customs of the times, specific to P&P – fill your bookshelves!
Ephemera and Physical Objects – P&P merchandise in popular culture, many to do with Colin Firth…(!)
Ok, now you know everything to know about Book Collecting – you can begin this lifelong fun-filled endeavor! Join me next week for the first of many [I hope] Jane Austen-related titles you must have on your shelves…all with Mr. Darcy’s approval. Any questions or suggestions, please comment.
My plan: to post each week a book by or about Jane Austen that a collector should have in their growing library. The post that follows was first posted in August 2010, but I must start with this Gilson Bibliography because if your plan is to actively collect Jane Austen, this book is your starting point, an absolute must-have. I hope each week to give short snippets on the various books in my own collection, as well as books that never made it to my shelves but should be there…I welcome your comments on what your favorite books are, the essentials in your collection, or any questions you might have about how to go about starting such a collection. It’s a lifetime endeavor!
Gilson, David. A Bibliography of Jane Austen. New Introduction and Corrections by the Author. Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies / New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1997.
I am often asked what I would consider the most important book to add to ones own “Jane Austen Library.” Primary sources of course, the Chapman Oxford set of all the novels, minor works, juvenilia, etc – these volumes remain the source for citation in any scholarly work. The new Cambridge edition is lovely [and now thankfully in paperback and more affordable], and this edition of the works has begun to supplant the Chapman for citation purposes – so, you really need both…[more on this in a future post].
But after that, what? I would choose and most highly recommend David Gilson’s Bibliography of Jane Austen. Originally published in 1982, Gilson had set out to revise and update the Sir Geoffrey Keynes’ 1929 Nonesuch Press Austen bibliography, after discovering the lack of information in the Keynes relating to the early American editions of Austen’s works. Gilson wrote about these and other discoveries of the various early translations in his articles for The Book Collector. At Keynes’ suggestion, Gilson began a second edition but found it best to present a whole new work based on Keynes but with much additional information and to include the work of Chapman in his 1955 Austen bibliography. The 1997 edition is not a revision of the 1982 work but does include a new introduction, corrections, some additions, and a brief bibliographic essay on material published since 1978. It is less physically attractive and lacks the frontispiece illustrations of the 1st edition, but I consider this very comprehensive work [at 877 pages!] the starting point for all Austen research. Gilson writes a very informative essay prefacing each of the twelve chapters, includes a chronological listing of editions and reprints and an exhaustive index that links back to all the entries.
I offer here a brief capsule of each of these chapters, essentially a list of what to collect:
A. The Original Editions: Gilson follows the principles set down by Philip Gaskell in his New Introduction to Bibliography  and the entry for each original edition is exhaustive: full bibliographical details of the physical book [title; collation; contents; technical notes on the paper, printing, headlines, chapter headings and endings, binding; etc]; its publishing history; reviews and contemporary comments; later publishing history; auction records [fascinating!]; listing of copies examined; and other copies known to exist. [I LOVE this stuff!]
B. First American Editions: as Austen mentions nothing about foreign editions of her work, Gilson assumes she knew nothing about the Emma that was published by Matthew Carey in 1816, a very rare edition, and unknown of by the earlier bibliographers – [Gilson B1]. Gilson again gives full bibliographical data as for the original editions, noting the textual variations in punctuation and spelling.
C. Translations: as Gilson states, despite that “JA’s opinion of the French seems not to have been high [citing her letter of Sept 8, 1816]…the French first paid her the compliment of translating her novels in 1813 and 1815.” [Gilson, p. 135] Same full bibliographic details here for the various translations.
D. Editions Published by Richard Bentley: no reissue of Austen’s novels is known after 1818 until 1832 when Richard Bentley decided to include them in his series of Standard Novels [quoting Chapman]. The copyrights had been sold to him by Cassandra for £210 and the P&P copyright was purchased from Egerton for £40. [Gilson, p. 211] Covers all the Bentley editions through 1882, with bibliographical details.
E. Later Editions and Selections: lists “as far as it has been practicable” all other later editions of the novels from the 1830s onwards, with cursory bibliographical details and a focus on the statistical details for these editions, excepting the “textually significant edition edited by Chapman (E150)” [Gilson, p. 238] – there are 425 entries in this section.
F. Minor Works: great literary history here! – with complete bibliographical details for Lady Susan, The Watsons, Charades, Love & Freindship, Sanditon, “Plan of a Novel”, Persuasion chapters, Prayers, the Juvenilia, etc.
G. Letters: Brabourne, Bodley Head, Chapman editions, Le Faye coming later [the 3rd edition, in 1995, 4th ed. in 2011]
H. Dramatisations: Gilson states that in 1929 Keynes could only find three dramatic adaptations, but fifty are listed here, and only those that are published works, and surprise of surprises, P&P being the most popular. [Gilson, p. 405]
J. Continuations and Completions [there is no “I” section]: Gilson lists 14, adds a good number in his 1997 update, but since then the world has been inundated with all manner of sequels, prequels, and mash-ups – this chapter is a good starting point for some of the less known early sequels that have gotten lost in the back room library stacks – some are quite good [Brinton and Bonavia-Hunt for example]
K. Books Owned by Jane Austen: there is much evidence of what Austen actually read – in Chapman’s indexes and other studies on literary influences on her – but as Gilson states, “the actual copies prove more elusive” [p. 431], so these twenty entries listed are noted in some way to have been subscribed to by her or inscribed in some way – the essay here is very informative and great to learn of the provenance of some of these titles Austen owned and read. [Note: I have set up a page in the Bibliography section on this blog titled Jane Austen’s Reading ~ a Bibliography – a list of all the books that Austen owned or is known to have read, compiled from various sources – it makes a great reading list! ]
L. Miscellaneous: the ever-needed catch-all and quite a little find, as Gilson says “unclassifiable miscellanea (with yet a curious fascination of their own!) [p. 449] – for example, an Elizabeth Goudge short story “Escape for Jane”, a romanticized re-telling of the Harris Bigg-Wither episode (L24), a number of works adapted for children, and a few works on the Leigh-Perrot trial.
M. Biography and Criticism: everything from 1813 on, to include books, journal articles, reviews, etc, chronologically arranged and annotated [though not consistently], 1814 items in total, with a bibliographical essay in the updated version to touch on recent resources, ALL examined by Gilson personally. No words here to adequately explain this section – just an amazing piece of scholarship –
Appendix: a chronological listing of all editions, reprints and and adaptations of JA’s works recorded in the bibliography
Index: pp. 753-877 – exhaustive!
… but here of course is where any printed book falls short – before it hits the stands, it is outdated. Recent efforts to keep Austen bibliography current have been largely produced by Barry Roth in his three works:
Roth, Barry and Joel Clyde Weinsheimer. An Annotated Bibliography of Jane Austen Studies, 1952-1972. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1973.
Roth, Barry. An Annotated Bibliography of Jane Austen Studies, 1973-1983. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1985.
__________. An Annotated Bibliography of Jane Austen Studies, 1984-1994. Ohio University Press, 1996.
The annual “Jane Austen Bibliography” in the JASNA journals Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line began in 1993, first by Patricia Latkin, then by Latkin and Barry Roth, then by Roth alone, followed by yours truly from 2007-2018, and since by Carol Grigas, Lise Snyder, and Claire Bellanti. Starting with the 2020 bibliography, Eileen Horansky has joined the team.
The Internet gives us such immediate access to journals and books, tons of bibliographies, etc. – this has made all of us capable of being completely on top of everything every minute of the day – but for me, there is nothing quite like going to my Gilson to get back to those earlier days of bibliography, when a scholar such as he lovingly handled each work and made the effort to describe with such fullness each edition so it may become present before you and thus we are brought a little bit closer to the Austen we all love and admire – indeed, we can feel as excited as she did upon receipt of her own first copy of Pride & Prejudice as she exclaimed to Cassandra “ I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London “ [Le Faye, Letter 79, p. 201]
If you don’t have this book, get it – it makes for fascinating reading! [I confess to being a librarian and I know we are all a little bit weird about this bibliography and classification thing, but this book will give you much to ponder, trust me…]
Chapman, R.W. Jane Austen: A Critical Bibliography. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Keynes, Geoffrey. Jane Austen: A Bibliography. NY: Burt Franklin, 1968 [originally published in London, 1929]