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The Annotated Northanger Abbey    by Jane Austen & David M. Shapard order for
Annotated Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

During her too-short life, Jane Austen wrote six novels, and the first one to be completed and accepted by a publisher was Northanger Abbey. In the Advertisement, by the Authoress, Jane explains what happened next. 'This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn.'

In 1809 she wrote to the publisher in an attempt to learn its fate or retrieve it, and she was told that she could buy it back for the same amount she had received in the first place. Not until 1816, after she had successfully published four other novels, did her brother Henry succeed in buying back the manuscript and copyright for ten pounds. It was finally published in 1817 with her last book, Persuasion, after Austen died.

David M. Shapard (a historian specializing in eighteenth century European history, who has completed annotated versions of four other Austen novels) has written a brief biography of Austen in his introduction to this annotated version of the novel. He adds in his notes to the reader that the book 'has been designed so it can be used as a reference,' which explains repetitions. In addition to differences in meaning from the present usage of words, he has given his own literary interpretations, which he hopes might 'provide useful food for thought' even among readers who might disagree with him.

The story is a parody of Gothic horror and sentimental novels which were popular in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Catherine Morland is described in the novel as being an unusual sort of heroine, since she came from a respectable close-knit family with a comfortable living, and as a young girl she was plain, with a 'thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features.' She wasn't particularly intelligent as 'she shirked her lessons,' and she had no talent for either music or drawing. She was quite ordinary, although her looks did improve by the time she grew to be a young woman, and when the story begins she has been invited to travel with friends to Bath, where she meets several other young people and falls in love.

During her adventures in Bath, Catherine grows from an innocent country girl to someone who is far from sophisticated but who comes to understand that all people are not as honest or forthright as she is. Her life lessons continue during a subsequent visit to the estate which is the abbey of the title and which is the home of one of her new friends, Miss Tilney. She is excited about this visit, not only because she really likes Miss Tilney, but also because she expects Northanger Abbey to be a gothic horror such as she has been reading about in novels.

While reading Jane Austen's novels without explanation has been one of the delights of my life, I did enjoy learning more of the background information about the times during which this novel takes place and seeing illustrations in this annotated version. After reading all six novels the first time, I was hungry for more information about the author, her life, and her works, and I would have truly appreciated having this great resource then. Although I have read many books about Austen since then, this still taught me much about Northanger Abbey.

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