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About this book

Northanger Abbey was one of Jane Austen's earliest manuscripts; Persuasion was her last. Published together in a single volume after her death, the two books differ widely. Northanger Abbey is a spirited, Gothic parody, while Persuasion has increasingly been seen as a new direction for the Austen canon. The two texts have been widely analysed and debated since publication, and continue to be so today.

In this Readers' Guide, Enit Karafili Steiner:

• delineates a clear trajectory through the books' many interpretations over two centuries, mapping these out thematically and chronologically

• contextualises and brings into dialogue influential approaches such as psychoanalytical criticism, structuralism, deconstruction, Marxism, New Historicism, and feminism

• discusses film adaptations of the novels and their relation to literary criticism

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In a letter to her sister in 1809, Jane Austen complained of a lack of inspiration, writing: ‘I am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration, a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my Ideas flow as fast as the rain in the Storecloset [sic], it would be charming.’1 This confessed dearth of ideas by a novelist of Austen’s stature offers solace to any writer familiar with the ebbs and flows of creativity. However, it is hardly descriptive of Austen’s career and even less so of the last decade of her life, in which she published the six novels that would make her one of the world’s most enduring and beloved novelists: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), North-anger Abbey (1818) and Persuasion (1818). Three of these novels grew from earlier drafts, while the other three were entirely fresh material. Austen saw the first four through the press but did not live to welcome the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which, although different in gestation, shared the fate of a posthumous publication. As in the case of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, a long hiatus separated the drafting and publishing of Northanger Abbey, whereas Persuasion was completed within a year (August 1815–August 1816).2
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter One. From Pen to Print

Abstract
Five months before Northanger Abbey and Persuasion saw the light of print, Jane Austen passed away. She had prepared both novels for publication, but first physical weakness and then terminal illness prevented her from approaching potential publishers. Her brother Henry and her sister Cassandra, confidante and heiress to Austen’s literary property, undertook to publish them. They approached John Murray, publisher of Emma and of the second edition of Mansfield Park. Murray duly accepted their proposal, announcing the publication of the new novels on 20 December 1817 (1818 on the title page).1 Thus, had Austen been alive, on the day of her 42nd birthday on 16 December 1817, she could have boasted herself the author of six published novels.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Two. Contemporary Reception, 1818–1840s

Abstract
In the first year of their publication, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were reviewed in The British Critic, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and The Gentleman’s Magazine. The last of these dwelled principally on Henry Austen’s biographical note, but the first two offered discussions of Austen’s style within the larger context of prose fiction, with frequent references to the vexed novel-romance relationship and the moral value of these literary forms. The most sustained analysis was Archbishop Richard Whately’s lengthy article that appeared in The Quarterly Review three years later. Austen’s passing prompted all reviewers to retrospectively assess her artistic contribution with the result that less attention was paid to the novels. Whately’s analysis of Persuasion, which he preferred to Northanger Abbey, was an exception; it would be the second half of the nineteenth century before comparable assessments of the novels would be made.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Three. Victorian Readers, 1850s–1900s

Abstract
The second half of the nineteenth century saw the publication of the first biography of Jane Austen, A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870) by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, alongside new editions of the novels in 1857, 1870 and 1897. Despite renewed interest in Austen’s work and life, there is little critical engagement with Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, whereas Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Mansfield Park seem to be favourites with readers for whom Austen is uncontestably one of the greatest novelists. On the other hand, there is more sustained analysis of key features of her art.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Four. The ‘Cult of Jane’ and the Rise of the Novel, 1900s–1950s

Abstract
In 1905, Henry James writes that the public recognition that Jane Austen’s well-wishers had fervently awaited and predicted had arrived with the inevitability and force of a high tide. However, James, although himself an admirer, fears the tide has risen above the mark of Austen’s artistic merit, blown beyond the critic’s objective judgement by the commercial wind of strategic bookselling, the ‘publishers, editors, illustrators, producers of the pleasant twaddle of magazines’ who promote their ‘“dear”, our dear, everybody’s dear Jane so infinitely to their material purpose’.1 What had happened in the last years of the nineteenth century to explain Austen’s becoming a household name and an incomparable favourite with whom the reader was on a first-person basis?
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Five. The Text, the Unconscious and Commodity, 1950s–1990s

Abstract
In the second half of the twentieth century, literary studies benefited from a burgeoning range of methodologies that drew attention not only to literature as a field of human experimentation and a reservoir of ideas about our identity, culture and society, but also to the ways these ideas came into being and created meaning in and beyond the literary realm. The investigation of the cultural production and communication of meaning prompted a variety of questions which in turn determined the perspectives from which to approach a text. This chapter discusses interpretations of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that deploy some of the most productive critical approaches, ranging from formalist and deconstructionist to psychoanalytic and Marxist. Feminist interpretations do not appear here because, more often than not, they assimilate other critical approaches for the purpose of exposing the text’s engagement with contemporary aesthetics and conceptions of gender identity. Thus, they contribute more directly to the picture of a historical and political Austen that will be the focus of Chapter 6.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Six. Political and Historical Austen, 1950s–1990s

Abstract
An important achievement of the second half of the twentieth century was the determination to historicize literature, that is, to explore the social, cultural and aesthetic conditions in which literature is produced. This approach does not treat texts in isolation but places them in a historical context, attempting to recover the textual influences, social phenomena and cultural ideas absorbed by literary texts. In this chapter, I have selected from the abundant criticism of the second half of the twentieth-century interpretations that question the image of an ahistorical Austen or unconscious artist. These interpretations examine the novels’ grappling with hotly debated issues such as class, gender and political revolutions, as well as contemporary philosophical and aesthetic influences.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Seven. New Millennium, New Directions

Abstract
It would be fair to say that one of the novelties of twenty-first century criticism resides in a stronger convergence of text-oriented methods with historicizing ones. Historicization holds an unabated fascination in the revisiting of earlier ideas, but, as the following pages demonstrate, the combination of theory with historical perspectives yields fresh insights. The present chapter focuses on interpretations revolving around key concerns such as gender, aesthetics and history. Gender discussions, which continue to feature prominently and penetrate almost every other concern, are enriched by considerations of masculinity, an interest that coincides with the proliferation of theorizing and historicizing approaches in masculinity studies. Aesthetics matter in three distinct ways: in the ideological relationship to contemporary currents like the Gothic or Romantic aesthetics; in the narrative techniques that Austen borrows from these traditions and reinvents; and in the artistic decisions of the novelist at work, revealed in the writing and revising process. Lastly, history links the novels to the political and cultural climate of the long eighteenth century and their impact on the understanding of the role of the individual in human history, and history’s role in the education of the individual. The chapter addresses these concerns by organizing them under six headings: masculinity, history, revisions and narration, the Gothic and professional sublime and romanticism reconsidered.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Chapter Eight. From Words to Image and Sound

Abstract
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed numerous adaptations of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels, to the extent that classical-novel adaptations became a recognizable film genre, which drew connections to the novels as well as to other filmic adaptations. Due to Austen’s popularity, film adaptations of her novels came, by the end of the twentieth century, to epitomize the genre of the classical-novel adaptation.1 Yet despite their iconic status, the adaptations have elicited mixed responses, especially from literary critics, who applaud the central place Austen’s work enjoys within the repertoire of another medium, but often regret the loss that the visual and aural language of film inflicts upon the novel.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell

Conclusion

Abstract
In the course of nearly two hundred years since the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, a critical trajectory has emerged that reveals to readers the value of sustained criticism itself or, even better, the ways criticism enhances the reading experience. As this guide hopes to have shown by structuring the chapters diachronically and thematically, enhancement consists in the deepening of existing aspects and the investigation of new ones.
Enit Karafili Steiner, Nicholas Tredell
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