Blog Tour for “The Bride of Northanger” ~ Interview with Diana Birchall

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation,
by Diana Birchall

Interview with Deb Barnum at Jane Austen in Vermont, November 6, 2019

Dear Readers: Today, I welcome friend (and same-birthday Sagittarian!) Diana Birchall to discuss her new book The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation. It is a charming read, a sequel to Austen’s Northanger Abbey (one of a select few), wherein we find Henry Tilney and his betrothed Catherine the evening before their nuptials – it is delightful to see them again, happy in their life at Woodston Parsonage, yet, as you will see, troubled by a number of very real Gothic goings-on – I won’t tell you anymore – just buy it and find out for yourself…!

[I use JAIV for my questions and “DIANA” for the answers, as DB are also my initials and could complicate matters!]

JAIV: Before we launch into a chat about your new book The Bride of Northanger, tell us something about yourself: How and when you discovered Jane Austen; other books you have written, etc.

DIANA: Hi Deb! Thanks for reading my book, and for coming up with such interesting questions. I will try my best to answer them all, “see if I don’t,” as Louisa May Alcott used to say. To start at the beginning, fifty years ago Jane Austen was not as universally popular as she is today; the only known movie was the 1940 Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier and Garson (in dead wrong period costuming), and fan fiction had not yet been invented. Austen was not encountered in school, even for a reading girl in New York City. I had a literary aunt (blessings on you, Miriam Finkelstein!) who recommended Austen, Bronte and Colette, and I adored Charlotte Bronte at 10, Colette at 15 (seeing myself as Claudine in Paris), but did not fall into Austen until age 20. I think the staid title of Pride and Prejudice put me off, but what a delicious revelation it was when I finally opened the covers and fell in!

My first attempt in writing in the Austenesque (long before the term came into existence) was in 1984 when I won a contest in Persuasions, the journal of JASNA, with a jolly Miss Bates monologue. At that exact moment I discovered how much I loved writing pastiche, and I have never stopped doing it since. I churned out sketches and skits, stories and semi-scholarly sundries. My “day job” was as a story analyst, reading novels and screenplays for Warner Bros, and I was also accumulating a formidable pile of my own unpublished novel manuscripts. The first really viable one of these was Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which I wrote in 1992. Obviously I wasn’t the first person to write a Jane Austen sequel – as you know Jane Austen herself would playfully tell her family what happened to her characters, and nieces and others wrote various completions after her death. However, there were only a handful of these efforts over two centuries, and I believe the most recent had been Pemberley Shades by one Dorothy Bonavia-Hunt in 1949.  So to write a Pride and Prejudice sequel was definitely an idea whose time had come. I was thrilled to find a New York literary agent who was very excited about this “gem,” and predicated a bidding war. Unfortunately, two other authors came up with similar ideas simultaneously, and when I read an item in the London Times in my Los Angeles boho coffeehouse that Emma Tennant was rushing out a P & P sequel, Pemberley, to “beat all the competition” (meaning Julia Barrett’s Presumption, and my debut offering), I lay down on the floor in despair and howled.

It got worse. With Tennant and Barrett established authors coming out with their sequels, no publisher was willing to publish “a third P & P sequel.” You heard that right. Three was too many, when there are hundreds today!  My agent said “I don’t know what happened, but put it away and it will be published in a few years.” And it was. A small English press published Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, and eventually, after the Austen boom was well underway, Sourcebooks picked it up for national U.S. publication (2008). Meanwhile I pressed on. My first actual book acceptance was a scholarly biography of my grandmother, the first Asian American novelist (and Hollywood screenwriter), Onoto Watanna, for the University of Illinois Press (2001). This was very well received, nominated for an MLA Independent Scholar Award, and I found myself lecturing at universities across the country and Canada including Yale, Columbia, NYU, Vancouver and Montreal. I was so elated that simultaneously I wrote the first Jane Austen internet series, for the Janeites list, “In Defense of Mrs. Elton.” This was published by JASNA as the conference gift of the 1999 Colorado Springs AGM, with glorious illustrations by Juliet McMaster, and Sourcebooks later published my “Mrs. Elton in America” as well.

Since then I’ve written hundreds of Austenesque stories, and branched out into playwriting, co-writing two plays for JASNA AGMs with Syrie

Diana Birchall and Syrie James (SyrieJames.com)

James (“The Austen Assizes,” for the Brooklyn AGM of 2012 and “A Dangerous Intimacy: Behind the Scenes in Mansfield Park” in Montreal in 2014) as well as two plays of my own, a “Mrs. Elton in Vancouver” one in 2007, and “You Are Passionate, Jane,” a dialogue in Heaven between Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (Jane is the literary guardian who decides which writers will enter and she is not fond of Bronte). This was performed at Chawton House Library in 2016, with Syrie as Jane and myself as Bronte, as well as at the Huntington Beach JASNA AGM in 2017 and several other performances. It was almost put on by the Morgan Library in New York, but I was disappointed!

After my retirement from Warner Bros my husband became ill and my life took a detour into caretaking; miribile dictu, he recovered, and words can’t express how rejoiced I have been to resume novel writing, and this year bring The Bride of Northanger “home” to the JASNA conference on Northanger Abbey in Williamsburg!  It was the very place of all that I had most longed to be, signing my pretty book for so many friends old and new, and also was honored to speak on a panel on JASNA’s fabulous and friend-filled forty year history (“The Company of Clever, Well-Informed People,” with Conrad Harper, Juliet McMaster, and Mary Gaither Marshall).

JAIV: You are, of course, the true voice of Mrs. Elton – you have captured her to a T – so why her? Why not Miss Bates, or Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Bennet, or Mary Crawford?

DIANA:  Well, I did do Miss Bates, see above, and played Mrs. Norris in the Montreal play (wearing a Gone With the Wind/Carol Burnett outfit of green baize curtains. Mrs. Bennet had a cat-fight with Lady Catherine in Syrie’s and my “Austen Assizes.” However, Mrs. Elton was first among my gallery of Austen grotesques, for I confess to a peculiar fascination with Jane Austen’s villains (note what happens to General Tilney in The Bride of Northanger). I suppose this is because people are drawn to very different things in Austen – some love the romance, others the style, the period – and my greatest love is for her amazing humor. To this day, after thousands (literally) of re-readings, I still find new humor and beauty in seemingly quiet turns of phrase that I never noticed before.

As for why Mrs. Elton particularly, I think it’s that she was an outsider, a transplant. As a New Yorker who found herself a fish out of water moving to Los Angeles, something in me could relate. Austen had always been my classroom in learning how to behave, but I was initially baffled by the response of Emma and the other Highbury denizens to the horrors of Mrs. Elton. To me, her behavior wasn’t horrible; what do you do when you’re a new bride in an unknown place? Why not invite people to form a musical society? I think it’s understandable that you might try to impress, when feeling new and insecure. But clearly Jane Austen didn’t think so, and I realized I had a lot to learn and had better delve harder into Emma and examine Mrs. Elton more carefully!

JAIV: You have many stories and non-fiction writings on your own blog and on the Jane Austen Variations blog [https://austenvariations.com/]. For your non-fiction, what is your favorite topic to research in the Regency Period? And which do you find the most difficult to achieve authenticity in your own fictional writings? As an example, you obviously have read about the dissolution of the monasteries for The Bride of Northanger.

DIANA:  Hm, well, I don’t research anything in the Regency or any period for its own sake, only as how it relates to whatever story I’m writing. For instance, in a recent serial story I wrote about the Darcys going to Venice and meeting Lord Byron. It became imperative to learn a good deal about the continental travels of those days, and Byron’s Italian life and circumstances. I must say, never was research more fun! (Venice is probably my favorite place on earth, after England). And you are correct, I certainly did read about the dissolution of the monasteries for The Bride of Northanger. Your contributing writer and friend Tony Grant was a great inspiration in this direction, and I absolutely loved his wonderful piece on Netley Abbey. Imagine growing up near there, as he did! (John Constable’s painting of Netley is used on my book’s cover, you’ll notice). For most of my working life I visited England on my annual vacations, amounting to “as many trips as would always be called forty.” Yet I never, to my great regret, have visited Netley Abbey. I know now how it must have inspired Jane Austen, and it is my firm intention to visit it next trip!

Netley Abbey by Moonlight c.1833 John Constable 1776-1837 Purchased 1969 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01147

[JAIV: You can read Tony Grant’s blog post on Netley Abbey via Jane Austen’s World here:  http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/2018/01/netley-abbey-and-gothic.html – I had the privilege of visiting Netley with Tony a few years ago – it was a rainy overcast day, and I could well envision Jane Austen lurking about finding inspiration for her abbey at Northanger!]

DIANA: As for the other part of your question, achieving authenticity in my own fictional writings – as Jane Austen had Elizabeth Bennet say, “I must not decide on my own performance.” However, those thousands of re-readings have installed the novels pretty thoroughly in my head, and I slip into my Austenesque voice rather as Norma Jeane Baker switched on Marilyn in front of the cameras. Not, I hasten to add, with similar effect! I only mean that I make the transition with ease. Whether it really works or not, I have the fond illusion it does, which is necessary.

JAIV: Of the many sequels, continuations, variations, etc, Northanger Abbey has been sadly neglected; P&P takes the lead, but even Mansfield Park has its fair share of an afterlife. Why do you think this is? And, is this the main reason for choosing Northanger Abbey for your latest book?

DIANA:  Northanger Abbey does get rather overlooked, but to me it has such charm, as we follow Catherine on her adventures into the world of Bath, her beguiling romantic encounters with Henry Tilney, and the Gothic amusements and literary commentary Jane Austen lays out for the reader. It may be the Gothic aspects, the parody of “horrid novels” make it seem like a one-trick pony compared with her more mature works, but I do love it and think it contains many pleasures and much wisdom. But its afterlife or lack of it has nothing to do with why I chose it for my latest book. I fell in love with it (rather belatedly) at the time of the last NA-themed JASNA conference (Portland, 2010), and always meant to write a novel about it. I did make a beginning and an outline, but life intervened, and it was only when I realized that the next NA AGM was coming up, I decided I’d better get cracking!  So I did. Perhaps you are starting to get the idea of what role JASNA in general has played in my creative writing life!

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney, 2007

JAIV: Which leads us to: So why Henry Tilney? He has become a favorite of mine, but it took several readings to get past what first appears to boorish, condescending, and manipulative behavior (he is his father’s son after all!) – tell us YOUR history with Henry!

DIANA: Oh, I’ve always loved Henry, he’s pretty much my favorite Austen hero, yes, better even than Mr. Darcy. I love me a witty man, my husband Peter even identifies with him, and with Mr. Bennet too, a bit. I never saw Henry as boorish or manipulative, we’ll have to differ on that, and I think he got over his condescension as his respect for Catherine increased. I did question why such a clever man would fall for a girl who was a bit of a goose as Catherine was in NA, and so I set about to try to understand how this could happen. Jane Austen’s explanation, “his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought,” is not that satisfying. So I explored the father-son dynamic between General Tilney and Henry, writing about it in an essay for Sarah Emsley’s Northanger Abbey blog celebration, “The Ogre of Northanger Abbey” (https://sarahemsley.com/2018/06/11/general-tilney-the-ogre-of-northanger-abbey/). This helped me come to the conclusion that after being bullied by his dictatorial father all his life, the simple and pellucid Catherine was a balm to Henry: she represented the very opposite of his father’s qualities. As he said, “Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise,” to which his sister Eleanor answered with a smile, “Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in.”

JAIV: Can you give a short summary of the plot without giving too much away?

DIANA:  Can try. The story opens the night before Henry and Catherine’s wedding, a year after the ending of Northanger Abbey. During the year of their engagement, they have corresponded, and under Henry’s tutelage Catherine, in growing from 17 to 18, has read some very wise books and has grown more nearly his equal, in fact she bids fair to mature into a remarkably sensible woman. Horrid stories are a thing of the past – until Henry reluctantly announces that there is a curse on the family of Northanger Abbey. If in the original novel Catherine found that a real life villain might do more damage than any Gothic imaginings, here she learns that Gothic horrors are not entirely things of the imagination after all!

JAIV: You DO capture Austen’s difficult language – is that from years of reading and writing about her and does it come easily, flowing from your pen? Or did you have much editing to get it just right?

DIANA: Thank you! Yes, certainly, decades of rereading and imitating Austen’s style and dialogue do give one a facility (as Mrs. Morland says about Catherine being a heedless housekeeper, there’s “Nothing like practice”). The characters start to talk to me and I write it down as they do – but that said, I then do several editing drafts. First draft is usually getting it all down, second draft I reread and see what it needs to make it work, final draft is polish, polish, polish.

HM Brock, NA, 1898

JAIV: Your epigraph is from Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up they soul.”

This is a perfect introduction to your tale – it sounds like Henry teasing Catherine on the way to the Abbey which prompts her fantastical imaginings – but this is funny in NA, and foreshadows what happens when Catherine is finally settled at the Abbey. Your choice of this Shakespeare quote lends a serious, sinister, heavy hand take to your story, and indeed, we are immediately told of a long-in-effect Curse on the Tilney family (no more spoilers!) – so why this quote?

DIANA: Where the Gothic was imaginary, and parodied, in Northanger Abbey, it turned out to be much more alarmingly real in my novel!  Catherine enters a dark world, a family with a dark history, for sure. Her maturing good sense makes her evolve into a true heroine, and her love and happy marriage with Henry gets them both through the worst of times. However, in spite of my loving Austen’s humor more than nearly any other quality of hers, and obediently trying to imitate it as often and as best I can, The Bride of Northanger is by no means entirely light and funny. Henry and Eleanor did have a truly Gothic childhood, thanks to that ogre father of theirs, and worse things happen because of this than merely Catherine being sent home alone. I have tried to investigate the nature of what really is a family curse, and how it might be dissipated. Heritage is what is handed down for generations – but sometimes an evil cycle needs to be broken.

JAIV: The problem with a Mystery tale is that we don’t want to present too many spoilers in an interview – yet many questions could be asked (your reading public wants to know!) why you deal with certain characters as you do – some get their just desserts we could say (without saying who!) Are you concerned with reactions to this? – it IS a bit shocking! Did you toy with other options for your ending, or was this clear from the get-go as how the story had to end?

DIANA:  Oh, I know who and what you mean! It is a bit shocking, but by then I was well immersed in Gothic literature in which things like that are rife!  And then my son Paul (he is the librarian on Catalina island, and another very funny Henry Tilneyesque man) had his influence, and it is a mischievous one…

Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

JAIV: You include all the many tropes of the Gothic genre – you give us a REAL Gothic tale!: Fainting and Trembling Heroines, Poisonings and Mysterious Deaths, Scary Creatures in the night, Family Curses, Ghosts and Hauntings, Hidden Subterraneous Passages, Locked Doors, Secret Messages, Long-Locked Chests, Shimmering Candles, Spies and Political Ravings, and the like – but like Ann Radcliffe, all is eventually explained (well almost…). What other Gothic novels and authors have you read to prepare you for this? Have you read any of the Horrid Northanger Novels made famous by Isabella Thorpe?? Do you have a favorite?

DIANA:  A very well put summation, Deb!  Of course, the Horrid novels were exactly what I read for my research. You can’t do a Gothic plot without some familiarity. It’s not my favorite genre, nor really natural to me, but to my surprise I quite enjoyed some of them. Real page-turners, and I actually believe that my own writing benefited from a dose of page-turning, “what will happen next?  My favorite was Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, which just like Henry Tilney, I read “with my hair standing on end the whole time.”

I was also inspired by my good friend Janet Todd’s novel A Man of Genius. It’s an historical novel set in the 18th century, which no one knows better than she, and she uses Ann Radcliffe references brilliantly. My book is dedicated to Janet, friend and companion of many adventures, both real and literary.

JAIV: What do you think Jane Austen would say about your “meddling” with her story? [I do love that Catherine finally gets a proper sheaf of papers from a long-locked chest – so much better than a laundry list!]

DIANA: Well, as Jane Austen did continue talking about her characters to her family after publication, and indulged in a variety of writing discussions with her niece Anna, both playful and helpful, I don’t know that she’d have minded “meddling” 200 years after the fact, but hope she might have been pleased by the degree of admiration! (And thanks, it was fun imagining what those papers might be! Each generation might have told a different story.)

JAIV: One could make a reading list from all the authors you mention Catherine reading under the tutelage of Henry: Homer, Cowper, Crabbe, Scott, Wordsworth, Milton, Johnson, Maria Edgeworth, Darwin, Locke, etc! You have made her a wise woman and certainly an equal to Henry – has it bothered you that many readers take from NA that Henry will continue in their married life to tease and belittle Catherine for her innocence and lack of education?

DIANA: I don’t think I realized that some readers see it that way. Since he’s going to live with her for a long lifetime, is quite a bit older and more educated than she is, and is a man of good will, would it not be likelier that he would try to educate her than spend a lifetime belittling her? That’s the regrettable way Mr. Bennet dealt with his wife, but even at 17 Catherine is a far more sensible woman than Mrs. Bennet, with a great deal more potential!

JAIV:  What would you most like your readers to take away from your Northanger story?

DIANA: Just to enjoy it, I hope; and perhaps reread Northanger Abbey, and think about Jane Austen!

JAIV: Why do you think that Jane Austen continues to be the “Darling” of academia as well as popular culture?

DIANA: Well, she is a genius, but at the same time a wholly accessible genius. You can read her and analyze her forever, but also enjoy her forever. She appeals to high minded analytical critics who find endless qualities in her to debate and speculate on, but she can also be thoroughly relished for a thumping good love story. She’s got it all. When I had read her works a few times over I looked around to see who could be the next fabulous author at whose feet I could worship and from whose mind and style I could learn for the rest of my life. There wasn’t one.

JAIV: Do you have a favorite Austen movie? Which do you think got it most right? Most wrong?

DIANA: No, I would by no means suspend any pleasure of others (as Mr. Darcy said) but I don’t watch the movies.  Saw a few, but they kind of disturbed my own readings of Austen, so I just left it there.

JAIV: What is your writing process? Your best advice to aspiring writers?

DIANA: My writing process is so narrow and specialized (as I said in the AGM talk, “not six inches on ivory but two inches on foolscap”), I would not advise aspiring writers of anything. Could I say, “Spend the rest of your life reading Jane Austen and write pastiche about her?” Not really. Perhaps I might say, “Find something you really feel passionately about and write about it.” That might do.

JAIV: What are the five most important books in your Austen library?

DIANA: The Letters, that’s what I refer to most. Haven’t really consulted any others in years.

JAIV: I hate to point out mistakes that I find in reading – how one covers all the bases in their research I don’t know, but I have to comment on two:

– I know you are a committed Cat Person, so I understand that you may have not been paying full attention to Henry’s Dogs: you write: “Oh! How the little terrier puppies are grown!” (p 16) when Catherine arrives at Woodson after her marriage: but in NA when Catherine visits Henry’s parsonage for the first time, she finds the “friends of his solitude, a large Newfoundland puppy and two or three terriers.” I forgive you this slip because of the Cat Thing…but if there is to be a  sequel or the like, I’d like to see a Newfoundland in the plot somewhere!

Camilla, by Frances Burney, 5 vols. (abebooks)

– You write that Henry is reading Frances Burney’s Camilla to Catherine and her sister Sarah, and he comments that John Thorpe “would [not] have patience for three volumes entire.” (p 152). While most books during Austen’s time were published in 3-volumes, Camilla, like Burney’s Cecilia, were published in five volumes. I hate to quibble, but alas! the eyes of a bookseller had that jump off the page – please forgive me! (and someone else is bound to point it out…you will now be prepared for an answer!)

DIANA:  Well, I don’t know that my Dog Mistake is all that bad – after all, there are terriers in NA, and (putting on a dark Gothic tone) who knows what became of the Newfoundland puppy? As for Camilla being in five volumes instead of three, I have perfect faith that no reader but yourself will know this fact, but as you say, if anyone does, I will be prepared! (Grin)

JAIV: The cover of The Bride of Northanger is wonderful, perfect (it looks like Felicity Jones of 2008 Northanger fame!) – this is I believe a real portrait but it is not credited anywhere. Can you tell us about it?

Corisande de Gramont, Countess of Tankerville – pastel on paper (wikipedia)

DIANA: Now, Deb, that IS a mistake. A real, true error, and I am heartily sorry for it. I should definitely have put an explanation of the cover painting in the book’s acknowledgements. I have written about it in several blogs, but a reader admiring the cover (and many people have been very taken with that painting already!) may not have seen those explanations. In short, the portrait is by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun [see Diana’s post on the artist here at English Historical Fiction Authors]. I was searching among her paintings for “my” Catherine, and I knew her the minute I saw her. The young lady subject was exactly Catherine’s age, eighteen when the portrait was made in 1800, though she was no naïve English girl. She was a French aristocrat, Corisande de Gramont (1783 – 1865). Corisande was a granddaughter of the Duchesse de Polignac, the favorite of Marie Antoinette, and she married Charles Augustus Bennet (you can’t make this stuff up!), 5th Earl of Tankerville, and settled in England.  I added the painting of Netley Abbey by John Constable to the cover [see above], and it was designed and put together so beautifully by Rebecca Young, my book designer.

JAIV: Did you learn anything new at the JASNA AGM on Northanger Abbey just held in Williamsburg?

DIANA: Oh, yes! Professor Roger E. Moore of Vanderbilt University gave the most astonishing, mind-opening, revelatory plenary talk. “Northanger Before the Tilneys: Austen’s Abbey and the Religious Past” was so good that I promptly bought his book [Jane Austen and the Reformation]. Of course the subject was very in keeping with my novel, with monks and curses, depredations and “real solemn history.” Yet I noted that people who had no previous special interest in the subject were just as enthralled with Professor Moore’s talk as I was! It was one of the highlights of the conference for me – in addition to the excitement of being on that JASNA panel, the glorious fun of the author book signing, and my trip to Jamestown and the James River plantations. It really was a spectacular conference!

[I completely agree Diana – Professor Moore’s talk was riveting!]

JAIV: What’s up next??

DIANA: Doing a sequel to Little Women. It’s called Jo on the March.

JAIV: Sounds terrific (we should ALL be re-reading Little Women – a new movie is coming out on December 25!) – Anything else you want to share with your / my readers?

DIANA: Don’t you think, as Mr. Bennet told Mary, that I have delighted you long enough?

****************

Thank you Diana! Very much appreciate your insights on your latest book – it is a terrific read, I have to say – I read it TWICE in order to come up with questions – lots to see there the second time around!

DIANA: Thank YOU, Deb!

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About the Author:

Diana Birchall worked for many years at Warner Bros studios as a story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading manuscripts went side by side with a restorative and sanity-preserving life in Jane Austen studies and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and attempted investigation of the secrets of Jane Austen’s style. She is the author of In Defense of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Elton in America, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, and the new The Bride of Northanger. She has written hundreds of Austenesque short stories and plays, as well as a biography of her novelist grandmother, and has lectured on her books and staged play readings at places as diverse as Hollywood, Brooklyn, Montreal, Chawton House Library, Alaska, and Yale.

You can visit Diana in all these places:

You can follow the blog tour, hosted by Austenprose, October 28 – November 15, 2019 – all the locations are listed here: https://austenprose.com/2019/10/18/the-teamtilney-blog-tour-of-the-bride-of-northanger-begins-on-october-28th/

You can buy The Bride of Northanger here:

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen and the Reformation by Roger E. Moore: Review and Highlights

A must-read review! A must-read book! Professor Moore spoke at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, an insightful, eye-opening talk on Jane Austen’s knowledge of the dissolution of the monasteries and how she weaves this into her novels:

via Jane Austen and the Reformation by Roger E. Moore: Review and Highlights

“…a something ready for publication…” ~ The Publishing Journey of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’

I begin with my own prejudice – Persuasion has long been my favorite Austen novel. One cannot dispute the joy of reading Pride and Prejudice; or the laughter at the pure innocence and brilliance of Northanger Abbey; we can sympathize with the moral steadfastness of Fanny in Mansfield Park, savor the (im)perfections of Emma (both the book and heroine!), and revel in that dawning realization that Sense and Sensibility is so much better than at first thought. But it is Persuasion that holds my abiding affection – a novel of second chances, a novel that seems closest in some inexplicable way to Jane Austen herself, a romance where she actually plays out the agony of lost and found love, and so unlike her, a profession of love that she actually doesn’t back off from and leave the reader to their own imaginings!

But here today, I am only going to talk of how it all came to be. I’ve already written about the interesting publishing journey of Northanger Abbey here – and Persuasion, because it was published along with NA in a 4-volume set after Austen’s death, is bound up (literally) in that publishing story, Northanger Abbey, her earliest completed work, and Persuasion, her last – and why Sarah Emsley on her blog has called her celebration of these two works as “Youth and Experience.”

But other than being bound together in late December 1817, the journey of Persuasion’s composition and publication is quite different, as we shall see.

How it came to be:

NA / P – 1st ed – Peter Harrington

Cassandra’s “Memorandum” (see Minor Works, facing p 242), where she wrote the dates of the composition of each of the novels, tells us that Austen began Persuasion on August 8, 1815 and wrote “Finis” at the end of the manuscript on July 18, 1816.

We know from her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh’s 1871 Memoir that Austen was dissatisfied with the ending, she thought it “tame and flat:” she rewrote chapter 10 (i.e.chapter 10 of volume 2), added chapter 11, and retained chapter 12 (which had been the final chapter 11). This final version was finished on August 6, 1816.

These handwritten original two chapters are the only extant manuscripts of Austen’s novels.  These were first printed in the 1871 second edition of the Memoir, and this was the accepted text until the actual MS became available on December 12, 1925 and was edited and published by R. W. by Chapman under the title Two Chapters of Persuasion (Oxford, 1926). The manuscripts are now housed in the British Library, and you can see the transcribed text beside the facsimile online at Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts: http://www.janeausten.ac.uk/manuscripts/blpers/1.html

Cancelled Chapter 10 – JAFM

As these cancelled chapters are included in most modern scholarly editions of the novel, I shall assume you have read them and will only summarize here: Austen has Anne meeting Admiral Croft on her way home from Mrs. Smith’s (and where she has just learned of the true character of William Elliot) – she is invited to visit Mrs. Croft, and assured of her being alone, she accepts, and to her consternation finds Capt. Wentworth at home. Admiral Croft has asked Wentworth to find out from Anne if the rumors are true she is to marry her cousin and thus might want to move into Kellynch Hall.  Wentworth is quite beside himself but does as asked, “irresolute & embarrassed;” with Anne’s adamant assurance that nothing is farther from the truth, they have

a silent, but very powerful Dialogue;- on his side, Supplication, on hers acceptance. – Still, a little nearer- and a hand taken and pressed – and “Anne, my own dear Anne!” – bursting forth in the fullness of exquisite feeling – and all Suspense & Indecision were over. – They were reunited. They were restored to all that had been lost.

Etc. etc… explaining all their past feelings and misunderstandings and a final chapter of future plans, they are left “with little to distress them beyond the want of Graciousness and Warmth” once their news was spread to family and friends, ex-potential lovers and a scheming Mrs. Clay.

A discussion of why Austen made these changes is beyond the topic here at hand – but we can agree with Austen’s own assessment that it was too “tame and flat:” she needed to pull all the characters together – the Musgroves, Benwick and Harville, the Crofts, and the obtuse Elliots; she needed to increase the tension and suspense between Anne and Wentworth; she wanted to give Anne a strong voice in her conversation with Harville, all overheard by Wentworth; and of course she needed the Letter – what would Persuasion be without “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…”? !

Photo by Sony/Everett / Rex Features 
PERSUASION, Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, 1995

I will note that in the movie version (Amanda Root – Ciaran Hinds, Sony/BBC 1995) – and I think the most perfect of all the Austen adaptations – a part of this scene with Wentworth and Anne is added to the plot, Wentworth confronting Anne in the Assembly Room at Admiral Croft’s request, Wentworth sure of her impending engagement to Elliot, and Anne, unable to answer in her confusion and hurt, runs off. This leads to the scene as written at the Inn – Wentworth listening and composing, the remainder of the film following the book. – This is all worthy of further conversation!

But one of Austen’s classic lines is not in the final novel – the first draft is a bit more comic in nature, and perhaps she thought it not fitting the more somber nature of this work:

It was necessary to sit up half the Night & lie awake the remainder to comprehend with composure her present state, & pay for the overplus of Bliss, by Headake & Fatigue.

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That Austen made these changes is a gift to later generations, as it is in this manuscript that we are given a rare glimpse into how meticulous she was in her writing and editing methods, crossing out and rewriting, looking for the exactly correct word or phrase.

We know little about Persuasion from Austen herself:  it is only mentioned in her Letters twice, though not by name:

On March 13, 1817 she wrote to her niece Fanny Knight:

I will answer your kind questions more than you expect. – Miss Catherine (meaning Northanger Abbey) is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know if she will ever come out; – but I have a something ready for Publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence.  It is short, about the length of Catherine – This is for yourself alone… [Letter 153, Le Faye]

And again on March 23, 1817:

Do not be surprised at finding Uncle Henry acquainted with my having another ready for publication. I could not say No when he asked me, but he knows nothing more of it. – You will not like it, so you need not be impatient.  You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me. [Letter 155, Le Faye]

The working title for Persuasion was “The Elliots” – as there is no evidence that Austen chose the titles for either Northanger Abbey or Persuasion, it is generally accepted that her brother Henry titled both; and we might agree with him: interesting to note that “persuasion” in one form or another in mentioned in the novel at least 29 times – you can go to this hyper-concordance to Jane Austen to search for all the occurrences: http://victorian-studies.net/concordance/austen/

Henry must have delivered the manuscripts of both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion to John Murray very soon after Austen’s death on July 17, 1817. Murray wrote to Byron, whose works Murray also published, in early September 1817 telling him that of the new books he was about to publish included “two new novels left by Jane Austen, the ingenious author of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ who, I am sorry to say, died six weeks ago.” (Gilson, xxx.)

So, one question to ask is if Austen “finished” Persuasion in August 1816, why write seven months later that it “may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence” ??? What kept her from sending it along to Murray upon completion if she was happy with it in March of 2017?

Austen’s life when she was writing Persuasion:

Scene from P&P – Isabel Bishop – Morgan Library

If we look at the writing of Persuasion on a blank canvas – she started it in August 1815, finished August 1816 – we do not get a complete sense of Austen the woman, the sister, the friend, the author. I find it most fascinating to look at her life in that year and ask what else was going on while she used her spare quiet moments to write this her last novel:

– She visits London and is staying with Henry in October 1815 and stays until mid-December. She is working on the proof sheets of Emma, Henry negotiating with Murray to publish Emma and a 2nd edition of Mansfield Park – she is also working on the corrections for this 2nd edition.  

– Henry falls dangerously ill, and Austen takes on writing letters to Murray herself while nursing Henry; she requests all family members to come as there is growing concern he will not survive.

– It is conjectured that one of Henry’s doctors, Matthew Baillie, learned of his sister being the author of Pride & Prejudice, etc. and passed this word on to the Prince Regent. On the 13th of November, Austen visits Carlton House at the request of the Prince Regent’s Librarian James Stanier Clarke – she is also asked to dedicate her soon-to-be-published Emma to his “Royal Highness” – and though she hated this prospect, it likely sped up the printing process. (One aside: she had to pay for the Prince’s 3 vol. beautifully bound copy of Emma…)

Emma, 1st ed. Windsor Castle – Le Faye

– In late November, the Alton bank fails and bankruptcy looms over Henry and his partners.

– Austen leaves London on her birthday 16 December 1815 once Henry is fully recovered and the initial fear of bankruptcy seems allayed; Emma is published on 23 December 1815 (title page says 1816).

– In early 1816, Henry buys back “Susan / Catherine / Northanger Abbey” from Crosby for the £10 originally paid to Austen in 1803 and she begins to make a few edits, writes her “Advertisement” and by March it is “put upon the Shelve at present.” (Crosby went bankrupt shortly thereafter).

– In February, her brother Charles, commanding the HMS Phoenix, is caught in a storm off the Greek Archipelago and runs aground. He is brought up for a court-martial in April for his responsibility in the action but is completely acquitted.

– There is the ongoing lawsuit that threatens Edward Austen Knight’s properties – and this is not resolved until after Jane’s death (see Ltr. 122, October 17-18, 1815 for one reference to Edward’s “Cause”).

– And sometime in here she writes her very funny “Plan of a Novel” – inspired without question by her correspondence with Clarke which lasted from November 1815 to April 1816. [You can read this as well online here: http://www.janeausten.ac.uk/manuscripts/pmplan/1.html ].

Henry Austen

– By mid-March, Henry is declared bankrupt and his life as a banker, and Austen’s chief financial support in her publishing endeavors, is over. This is a dreadful blow to the entire family – he can no longer offer any support to his mother and sisters; Edward has lost a good deal of money and will be responsible for many of the debts; and James is at risk of losing his inheritance in the Leigh-Perrot estate. The bankruptcy is resolved by June – but Henry has had to sell off everything (for a fine accounting of the details of Henry’s home furnishings, see Clery, 268).

– Emma is published in late December and initially does very well, but sales begin to slack off after the March 1818 Quarterly Review essay by Walter Scott. Appearing to offer praise to Austen’s narrative voice and abilities to portray her few families with wit and precision, Clery finds that the negative tone of the review, the emphasis on what Austen leaves out of her works and his failure to mention Mansfield Park at all, greatly influenced Austen’s writing of Persuasion.

She is writing this work during these many crises of health and possible death and financial losses. No wonder she writes of an extravagant family on the brink of ruin and characters with various health issues. Clery makes another point I confess to never thinking of before – could her Sir Walter be some sort of slam at Walter Scott?? (Clery, 272) – You can compare Austen’s Emma sales (1409 copies sold early on) with Scott’s own sales for his Rob Roy, also published in late December 1817 and which sold 10,000 copies in two weeks. 

 

– In the context of the wider world, there was the ever-expanding and more competitive market for publishing novels in Austen’s time. In 1775, the year she was born, 31 new novels were published; in 1811, when Sense & Sensibility appeared, 80 new fiction works appeared; for the year 1818, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published along with 61 other novels.  Altogether, 2,503 new novels were published in the years between 1775 and 1818. (Raven, 195-6)

So to answer my own question: why did Austen not publish Persuasion after she finished it? Her brother was no longer able to cover the costs of publication and loss if sales should fail; and, the signs of her own declining health were beginning in mid-1816, that summer, “the year without a summer” due to the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. It is a wonder she was able to write anything at all, much less go on with working on her brilliant Sanditon, put aside on 18 March 1817…

 What did the book look like?

NA / 1st ed. title page – P. Harrington

– It was published posthumously in December 1817 [though the title page says 1818] with Northanger Abbey

– Title page states: “By the Author of ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ ‘Mansfield Park,’ etc.”; With a “Biographical Notice of the Author,” (dated Dec. 20, 1817, by Henry Austen, thus identifying his sister as the author to the public for the first time)

– Published by John Murray, London; 1818; in four volumes: the two Northanger Abbey volumes printed by C. Roworth; the two Persuasion volumes by T. Davison of Lombard St.

– Included is the “Advertisement by the Authoress to Northanger Abbey” where Austen “apologizes” for the datedness of the story and zings the dastardly publisher for withholding the book for 10 years…

– Advertised first in The Courier 17 December 1817 as to be published on 20 December in 4 volumes, 24s.: “Northanger Abbey, a Romance; and Persuasion, a Novel.” The advertisement in The Morning Chronicle appeared on the 19th (“Tomorrow will be published”) and the 20th of December 1817 (“Books published this day”).

Physical description:

  • 12mo or about 7.5″ tall, with text on pages not crowded but about 5-8 words / line and about 21 lines / page in vol. 3; 22 lines / page in vol. 4 – and interesting to note that unlike the Northanger volumes there are no catchwords used in the Persuasion volumes
  • blue-grey paper boards, off-white or grey-brown backstrips, white paper labels (there are a number of variants) –

NA / P – 1st ed – Sotheby’s, 2010

Size of run: @ 1750 copies [various opinions on this; some say 2500 copies] – 1409 copies sold very quickly, the majority to circulating libraries

Cost: 24 shillings for the 4 volumes

Profit: @£515 – like Austen’s other works, Persuasion was published on commission:  Austen paid for costs of production and advertising and retained the copyright; the publisher paid a commission on each book sold – the exception was Pride & Prejudice for which she sold the copyright to Thomas Egerton

What is it worth today?

Price Guides (estimates in 2007): Original binding: $75,000 / Rebound copy: $20,000

An online search on Abebooks, March 15, 2018 brings up five copies of the 4-volume 1st edition, none in original boards, and range from $11,000 to $25,000

In 2010, a 1st edition in original boards sold at Sotheby’s for £43,250 ($68,396) with an estimate of 31,628 — 47,442   USD)

Where can you find a copy?

I love this tidbit (from Gilson): Queen Elizabeth has in her personal library at Windsor Castle Sir Walter Scott’s copy of the 1st edition.

Gilson notes where copies of the 1st edition can be found (other than the Queen’s and therefore more accessible to all, and certainly at least one of these will be close to you!), at all the usual suspects in various bindings: Goucher, the Bodleian, Boston Athenaeum, Boston Public Library, British Library, Cambridge, Jane Austen’s House Museum, Columbia, Library of Congress, U of Edinburgh, U of Glasgow, Harvard, London Library, National Library of Scotland, the Morgan Library, New York Public Library, U of Toronto, Yale, Williams, etc. See the rest of Gilson’s list on pg 88-91.

When was the First American edition published?

Persuasion – 1st Am ed, 1832 – James Cummins

Persuasion was published in America by Carey & Lea of Philadelphia in two volumes in 1832, separate from Northanger Abbey which was published in two volumes in 1833. The title page states “by Miss Austen, Author of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Emma,’ ‘Mansfield-Park,’ etc.” Bound in drab paper boards with purple cloth spines with white spine labels, the spine reads: “Persuasion, by Miss Austen / Author of Pride and Prejudice.” 1250 copies were printed, and advertised on November 8, 1832 as “Persuasion, a novel, by Miss Austin [sic]” as being published that day. (And people have been getting it wrong ever since!) Gilson points out the various modifications to language typical of all the American editions of Austen’s novels, mostly those having to do with the Deity, for instance “Lord bless me!” is changed to just “Bless me!”

Estimated value: Original binding: $10,000 / Rebound copy: $5,000

You can find two copies available online at Abebooks: $10,000 and $15,000 – both in original boards.

Persuasion – 1st Am ed, 1832 -title page – J. Cummins

Parlez-vous francais? Persuasion in French:


La Famille Elliot ou “L’Ancienne Inclination” [ “the old or former inclination”] translated by Isabelle de Montolieu, was published in Paris in 1821 by Arthus Bertrand. This is the first published novel to have Austen’s full name on the title page and to include illustrations: an engraved frontispiece in each volume (Delvaux after Charles Abraham Chasselat). In volume I we find Capt. Wentworth removing two-year old Walter Musgrove from Anne’s back; and in volume II, here we see Wentworth placing his heart-wrenching letter before Anne.

You can read the full text (in French) here: https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/La_Famille_Elliot

The French texts of Austen’s novels, what Southam calls “travesties not translations,” (26) were modified to fit the tastes of the sentimental French reading public. In Persuasion, Montolieu changes the ending by restoring Anne to Kellynch rather than leaving the future of Capt. Wentworth and Anne dependent upon a lasting peace. (See Cossy, 176) One notable change (and why we might ask!), is that Anne’s name is changed to Alice! 

The First Illustrated Edition in England:

NA / P – Bentley, 1833

Richard Bentley purchased the copyrights of Austen’s novels from Henry and Cassandra in 1832 (and the copyright of P&P from Thomas Egerton) and in 1832-33 he published all the novels in his Standard Novels series. These were the first English editions to carry illustrations – steel-engraved frontispieces and title page vignettes by William Greatbatch after George Pickering. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published in 1833 in a single volume together with the frontispiece from Northanger Abbey (Henry coming up the stairs surprising Catherine) and the title vignette from Persuasion showing a seated Anne overhearing Capt. Wentworth talking to Louisa Musgrove. All very Victorian!

The Timeframe of Persuasion:

Though Austen is often been criticized for creating an insular world with little commentary on outside real-life events, such thinking is belied with a close study of Persuasion, where one finds a very specific chronology easily linked to the historical reality of the time depicted.

– The first paragraph of Persuasion sets us into this timeframe with quoting the “Elliot of Kellynch Hall” entry from the Baronetage, the only work Sir Walter seems capable of reading, and where we learn the birth and death dates of everyone in the family – we learn that Anne was born on August 9, 1787 and a still-born son in 1789, and that Anne’s mother died in 1801.

– In chapter 4, we are given the very specific time that Capt.Wentworth stayed with his brother at Monkford for six months over the summer of 1806. This is the backstory of Persuasion, the current story often called a sequel to this original tale of love, all now told in four pages…

– The exact time of the action is set a few pages on in chapter 1: “…at the present time, (the summer of 1814)…,” and in chapter 3, a direct reference to the peace: “This peace will be turning all our rich Naval Officers ashore.” The Peace of Paris was signed on May 30, 1814, Napoleon abdicating and off to Elba. There were celebrations in London that Austen refers to in her letters:

Allied Sovereigns Attending a Review in Hyde Park June 1814
Duke of Wellington, King of Prussia, Prince Regent (later George IV), and Emperor of Russia

Austen writes Cassandra who is in London with Henry:

Take care of yourself, & do not be trampled to death in running after the Emperor. The report in Alton yesterday was that they certainly would certainly travel this road either to, or from Portsmouth. – I long to know what this Bow of the Prince’s will produce.- [Ltr 101, 14 June 1814]

– The Elliots travel to Bath sometime in mid-September, Anne goes to Uppercross Cottage, and on Michaelmas, September 29, the Crofts take over Kellynch.

– Captain Wentworth arrives in October; they all visit Lyme Regis in November (this is 17 miles from Uppercross). In January Lady Russell takes Anne to Bath (Mary’s letter to Anne in Bath is dated February 1815, this carried by the Crofts when they come to Bath for the Admiral’s health). Captain Wentworth follows not far behind, all is beautifully settled with Anne, and the novel ends in March of 1815.

– In the real world, Napoleon escapes Elba and returns to Paris by March 20, 1815 – this is after Persuasion ends, before Waterloo in June 1815, and why Austen ends the novel with the unknown state of the peace leaving Anne and her Captain in limbo. In truth, the Navy was not mobilized in the spring of 1815, and so we might rest comfortably in that reality of Wentworth not being returned to a Ship and War – and contemporary readers in late 1817 would have known that… but Austen chooses to emphasize that any such “peace” is likely not long-lasting, as we know all too well even today…

Austen’s personal knowledge of Bath, Lyme Regis and the Navy is paramount in Persuasion, but it is interesting to note regarding the Navy and pointed out by Brian Southam in his Jane Austen and the Navy, that not a single critic or commentator addresses her sailors and officers as a social class until Richard Simpson’s review of James Edward Austen Leigh’s 1870 Memoir in the North British Review of April 1870.

And one date in this novel that has always made me wonder: why does Austen have Charles and Mary Musgrove marry in 1810 on her very own birthday of December 16?? Any thoughts?? There is a long gap in the letters here: from July 26, 1809 to April 20, 1811, so we have no idea what was going on in Austen’s own life on that date in 1810 – we can only wonder that it was not some sort of code to her family of readers…

(For a complete calendar to the events in Persuasion see Ellen Moody’s post here: http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/persuasion.calendar.html

What did the earliest reviewers have to say?

The early reviews of the two-novel publication all make reference to the sadness of her death and, now finally identified to the public in Henry’s “Biographical Notice,” a general lament that no other works will come from her pen. I will give a quick summary here of the four earliest reviews as this is really a topic for another blog post entirely:

  1. British Critic, December 1817, an unsigned review: After commenting on the talents of Jane Austen, where “some of the best qualities of the best sort of novels display a degree of excellence that has not been often surpassed,” the writer goes on to summarize and highly praise Northanger Abbey. Persuasion is given short shrift with a concluding paragraph I quote in its entirety:

With respect to the second of the novels, it will be necessary to say but little. It is in every respect a much less fortunate performance than that which we have just been considering. It is manifestly the work of the same mind, and contains parts of very great merit; among them, however, we certainly should not number its moral, which seems to be, that young people should always marry according to their own inclinations and upon their own judgment; for that in consequence of listening to grave counsels, they defer their marriage, til they have wherewith to live upon, they will be laying the foundation for years of misery, such as only the heroes and heroines of novels can reasonably hope ever to see the end of. (quoted in Southam, Critical Heritage, v.1, 84)

  1. Edinburgh Magazine & Literary Miscellany, May 1818, an unsigned notice (Mary Waldron corrects the common error that this was in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine). The writer calls Austen an “amiable and agreeable authoress,” that she…

will be one of the most popular of English novelists” and “within a certain limited range, has attained the highest perfection of the art of novel writing…We think we are reading the history of people whom we have seen thousands of times – with much observation, much fine sense, much delicate humour, many pathetic touches, and throughout all her works, a most charitable view of human nature, and a tone of gentleness and purity.”

All ends with my favorite line of any critic: “…novels as they are, and filled with accounts of balls and plays, and such adbominations…” !

  1. Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1818, notice / obituary. Southam quotes these words on NA and P:

The two Novels now published have no connection with each other. The characters in both are principally taken from the middle ranks of lie, and are well supported. Northanger Abbey, however is decidedly preferable to the second Novel, not only in the incidents, but even in its moral tendency. (16)

  1. Quarterly Review, January 1821, unsigned review but attributed to Richard Whately, the Archbishop of Dublin.

Whately reviews all the novels, Austin [sic] for him a serious writer whose “moral lessons, though clearly and impressively conveyed, are not offensively put forward, but spring incidentally from the circumstances of the story…that unpretending kind of instruction which is furnished by real life…her fables nearly faultless.” After a humorous take on John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey as “the Bang-up Oxonian,” Whately concludes with an analysis of romantic love as portrayed in Persuasion, and calling it her most superior work, “one of the most elegant fictions of common life we ever remember to have met with.”

As Southam points out, none of these early critics and readers “were ready to accept her disconcerting account of the ways and values of their own society” and therefore failed to “identify the force and point of her satire.” (Southam, Critical Heritage, 18) Such was left to future generations!

And this great bulk of modern criticism and commentary continues to enlighten us – and does so right here on Sarah Emsley’s blog with an array of writers who will offer interesting and insightful ways to approach Persuasion – the journey starts this week – Check back and join the conversation! 

Sources:

  1. Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters. 4th ed. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye. Oxford UP, 2011.
  2. _____. The Novels of Jane Austen: the Text Based on Collation of the Early Editions. 3rd ed. Ed. R. W. Chapman. Vol. V, Northanger Abbey & Persuasion, Oxford, 1933. [with revisions]  Introductory material
  3. _____. Persuasion. Ed. James Kinsley. Introd. Deidre Shauna Lynch. Oxford UP, 2008.
  4. Clery, E. J. Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister. Biteback, 2017.
  5. Cossy, Valerie, and Diego Saglia. “Translations.” In Todd, 169-81.
  6. Gilson, David. A Bibliography of Jane Austen. Oak Knoll, 1997.
  7. Johnson, Claudia L., and Clara Tuite, ed. A Companion to Jane Austen. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
  8. Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of her Novels. Frances Lincoln, 2002.
  9. Raven, James. “Book Production.” In Todd. 194-203.
  10. Southam, Brian. Jane Austen and the Navy. 2nd ed. National Maritime Museum, 2005.
  11. _____, ed. Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, Vol. I, 1811-1870. Routledge, 1979.
  12. Sutherland, Kathryn. “Chronology of Composition and Publication.” In Todd, 12-22. (See also Sutherland’s Jane Austen’s Textual Lives. Oxford, 2005)
  13. Todd, Janet, ed. Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge, 2007. See essays cited separately.
  14. Waldron, Mary. “Critical Responses, Early.” In Todd, 83-91.
c2018, Jane Austen in Vermont

Netley Abbey and the Gothic by Tony Grant

Please read this terrific in-depth post by Tony Grant over at ‘Jane Austen’s World’ on Netley Abbey and Austen’s ties to it and possible influence on her ‘Northanger Abbey.’ I visited Netley Abbey with Tony a few years ago – pouring rain, but also more atmospheric as a result!

Sitting on the base of a pillar

 

Jane Austen's World

Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade, has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!

My Memories of Netley Abbey

When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)

Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within…

View original post 3,474 more words

Pump Rooms and Gothic Terrors: How “Northanger Abbey” Came to Be

Today is Jane Austen’s birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to begin Sarah Emsley’s blog series on “ Youth and Experience: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – a collection of essays by various scholars and Austen bloggers to be posted over the next several months – today starting here with a post on the very bumpy convoluted journey of Northanger Abbey into print. Austen would be 242; her Northanger Abbey and Persuasion joint publication will be 200 on December 2oth. Lots of reasons to celebrate!

As we begin this bicentennial celebration of the publication of Northanger Abbey (along with its companion Persuasion) we must first give full voice to how this publication came to be. And what we find are lots of questions, much scholarly debate on when Austen wrote it, when and how much she revised it, and why it sat around for so long before seeing the light of day. This publishing journey of NA is a fascinating story, pieced together by scholars from Austen’s letters, extant publisher records, and a good deal of speculation. And we still have a host of unanswered questions…

But first, I’d like to tell the story of my first reading what has been labeled the least-liked of Austen’s novels:

I did not read it until about 27 years ago; it was the one Austen book I had sought to avoid (all that bad PR)…when I first read it I was sorely disappointed and thought it silly, and Henry a condescending boor; I read it exactly one year later for a seminar, and found it quite funny, almost laugh-out-loud funny, and Henry quite charming. I read it again several years later and just enjoyed it thoroughly, finding more humor and more depth in every sentence; and now, after reading it a good number of times more, very close readings, even Underlining (I NEVER do this!), and re-reading sentences, looking up all references, etc., I have to say that I LOVE this book, there is so much in it, so very funny, so very serious in its lessons, and Henry is quite to die for!  So many people I talked to about this book have said that they either have not read it, or didn’t like it when they did (I tell everyone that you must read it at least three times)…. and then there are the few that have read it and re-read it and find that this novel, really Austen’s tribute to the Novel and Reading (one must note that in addition to the nine “horrid” novels discussed by Isabella and Catherine, there are a total of twenty-two references to books:  novels, histories, landscape sources, philosophy, Shakespeare, etc. ….!), is quite an amazing literary jewel! Indeed, it has four of my all-time favorite quotes:

Continue reading

An Afternoon with Susan Wolfson and her Annotated Northanger Abbey

I welcome JASNA-Vermont member Margaret Harrington, who has written a few words on our last JASNA meeting. As part of the Burlington Book Festival, we were fortunate to have Susan J. Wolfson, Professor of English at Princeton University, speak on her annotated edition of Northanger Abbey (Harvard UP 2014). With many thanks to Champlain College for allowing us their fabulous space in Aiken Hall, to our hospitality team Hope Greenberg and Heather Brothers, and all our generous bakers for the usual delicious fare! We were all very honored for the opportunity to listen to and talk with Dr. Wolfson, who made us all love and appreciate Northanger Abbey all the more.

We at JASNA-Vermont also heartily thank JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America) for graciously offering us a grant so we could bring Dr. Wolfson to Vermont for this Burlington Book Festival event – we could not have done it without them!

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SusanW-NA

Susan J. Wolfson spoke on “Jane Austen before She Became Jane Austen” at our JASNA-Vermont September 27th meeting which was also an event for the Burlington Book Festival.

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Dr. Wolfson gave a multi-layered talk centered on Northanger Abbey, the first book Jane Austen wrote and sold. In an engaging lecture the Princeton professor placed the book into the history of the time so that we, the audience and readers, could understand events behind the episodes of the novel. We gained new insights into what captured the young author’s imagination because we were given a lively narration of the London riots, Sir William Pitt’s system of surveillance, the social circus in Bath, and most of all, the template of the Gothic novel on which Austen based Northanger Abbey.

Wolfson’s talk wrapped the novel in the fabric of the society of the time so that we could understand the characters better, especially the dynamic between Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland. We also were given provocative ideas

Brock-NA-HenryDriving

such as Northanger Abbey is about training the mind of the reader, and that Jane Austen was not really interested in married life yet her first book has a Meta marriage plot. We learned that although this was her first novel it was not published until after the author’s death and there were years when it sat on the publisher’s shelf prompting Jane Austen to sign her complaint to the publisher as Mrs. Ashton Dennis, an acronym for MAD.

book cover-NA-WolfsonAs I write this short report, I have before me on my desk the Jane Austen Northanger Abbey Annotated Edition edited by Susan J. Wolfson. It is a beautiful book to see, to touch, to open, to smell, and soon I will be reading it. This gives a whole new life to the book for me because I had reread it on my eBook before the lecture. How wonderful to look forward to this edition after attending such an insightful, interesting, accessible, engaging talk.

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Some photos from our event:

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Co-Rc Marcia M

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Hope G setting up food

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Heather B, Theresa R, and our youngest JASNA-Vermont member!

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Maryann P with more food

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Susan Wolfson with Champlain College student Kes S.

©2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text and images by Margaret Harrington

JASNA-Vermont September Meeting ~ Susan Wolfson on Northanger Abbey

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s September Meeting

at the Burlington Book Festival 

Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen’s First Novel,
before she was ‘Jane Austen.’”

with

Susan Wolfson,* Professor of English at Princeton University,
and editor of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition**

book cover-NA-Wolfson

Sunday September 27, 2015, 1:00 – 3:00 pm 

Morgan Room, Aiken Hall,
83 Summit Street
Champlain College, Burlington VT***

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Sponsored by JASNA-Vermont and Bygone Books,
funded in part by a grant from the Jane Austen Society of North America.

~ Free & open to the public ~ ~ Light refreshments served ~ 

For more information:   JASNAVTregion [at] gmail [dot] com
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.wordpress.com
Burlington Book Festival website: http://burlingtonbookfestival.com/ 

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S.Wolfson.2015*Susan Wolfson is Professor of English at Princeton University, where she is a specialist in British Romanticism, a field in which she teaches Jane Austen’s novels. She has recently produced the Harvard Annotated Northanger Abbey, a unique edition of the novel’s text that hews, with less intervention than standard editions, to the text of the 1818 publication, and as with other volumes in the Harvard series, includes page-by-page annotations, illustrations, and other supplementary materials. With her husband Ronald Levao, she has also edited Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the same series. And with her colleague Claudia L. Johnson, she edited Pride and Prejudice for Longman Cultural Editions, of which she is the General Editor, and in this capacity has supervised Emma (edited by Frances Ferguson), and Persuasion (edited by William Galperin). Her most recent book is Reading John Keats (Cambridge), about Keats as a reader as well as a writer, and about how this readerly quality shapes and stimulates how he is read (very Austenian in this way!). Susan Wolfson received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught at Rutgers University New Brunswick for 13 years, before her present appointment at Princeton. Widely published in the field of Romantic-era studies, she is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the ACLS, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

**The book will be available for purchase and signing
***Aiken Hall is located at 83 Summit Street [#36 on map]. Park on the street or in any College designated parking during the event: https://www.champlain.edu/Documents/Admissions/Undergraduate%20Admissions/Campus-Map.pdf

book cover-Keats

Hope you can join us!

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Dates for your Diary

December 6, 2015:
Annual Birthday Tea & Ball at the Essex Inn –
Celebrating 20 years of the 1995 Pride & Prejudice mini-series!
– details forthcoming
(Colin Firth is welcome if he is available and happens to be in Vermont…)

c2015, Jane Austen in Vermont