Harvard University Press has done it again and wowed us with a superb annotation of a Jane Austen novel! Persuasion: An Annotated Edition, edited by Robert Morrison is slated to be released in November. This large edition hardback is a mouthwateringly scrumptious book that contains 102 color illustrations (some of which are included in this review), notes on the original text, a 21-page introduction by Dr. Morrison, the text of Persuasion and annotations placed in the far margins, the original ending of Persuasion, (which Jane Austen abandoned), biographical notice of the author by her brother Henry Austen (written shortly after her death), and further recommended reading. Annotator, Dr. Morrison, describes the book as the most profound novel that Jane Austen has written, containing “her most compelling and adult love story.”
I found every part of this book worthy of reading. In his foreword, Dr. Morrison sets up the novel in context of the Napoleonic Wars and Jane Austen’s experience with her sailor brothers and knowledge of how the wars changed the British class system, allowing self-made men like Admiral Croft and Captain Wentworth to rise in the world, while those who clung to traditional conventions, like Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters Elizabeth and Mary, to become increasingly anachronisistic. Dr Morrison explains in an interview for Harvard Press:
“Austen, on the other hand, is a novelist, and the emphasis when editing her is frequently on her immensely insightful views on social structures, sexual politics, economic pressures, and individual obligations and aspirations. Editing her means developing a very clear sense of the difference between riding in a barouche and riding in a curricle, of what it means to command a frigate as opposed to a sloop.“ – Interview with Robert Morrison, Harvard Press
The star attractions of this book are the annotations, which are liberally sprinkled in the sidebars of each page. Dr. Morrison chose information that would appeal to seasoned readers of the novel as well as those who are reading it for the first time. He discusses naval rank, the various reasons why Anne’s family pressured her to not marry Wentworth, descriptions of the duties of apothecaries and surgeons, inheritance laws, the streets and buildings in Bath, descriptions of Lyme Regis, letter writing, and more. He explained in an interview for Harvard Press:
“Knowing my prose was going to appear right beside Austen’s really did change the way I approached writing my commentary. I have tried to use the commentary to illuminate the text as often as I can, and from as many different angles as I can, and to emphasize both what I believe to be central in Persuasion, and what the finest critics from Austen’s day to ours have written about it. I have attempted to produce a commentary that is in immediate and active dialogue with her text, rather than in a relationship that is more distant and intermittent.” – Interview, Harvard Press
I find it hard to read a novel smoothly while referring to the annotations, which I regard as interruptions, so I generally read the annotations alone. I then refer to the sections of the novel that are described. After going through the annotations, I will sit down and read the novel again. That second reading is much enriched because of the additional information. (I am curious to know how others tackle reading an annotated book!)
Professor Morrison ends his interview with Harvard Press by comparing the radical change in Anne from a faded to a blooming woman to the transformation in Jane Austen’s novels: “[Persuasion] signals a radical change from what she has written in the past, and throws searching light on the world that is to come.”
Persuasion, an annotated edition will sit proudly on my bookshelf next to last year’s edition of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks, also from Harvard University Press. I give this book five out of five Regency teacups.
About the author: Robert Morrison, is an English professor and world-class scholar of Romantic and Victorian literature at Queen’s University, Ontario, Cananda. He is the author of the acclaimed biography of Thomas de Quincey entitled The English Opium Eater.
Hardcover: 360 pages, 102 ills.
Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Annotated edition