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A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls! – Mrs. Bennet on Mr. Bingley’s income, Pride and Prejudice, Volume One, Chapter One

One of the hardest concepts for today’s readers to grasp in Jane Austen’s novels are the economic realities of the times. What do her numbers mean in modern terms? What was the standard of living during the regency era? When Olivia Williams as Jane Austen blurted to her brother Henry in Miss Austen Regrets, “Sense and Sensibility has brought me £140. May I not be proud of that?” – how can we translate that sentence so that it would hold some meaning for us?

A currency converter provided by the National Archives in the U.K. provides a rough idea of what these 1810 figures mean. Further clarification from experts will round out our understanding. Please keep in mind that the sums in the third column of the chart are merely approximations. At this precise time U.S. citizens should multiply these figures by two to derive a dollar amount. I am not an expert, and I will leave more detailed explanations to economists like Brad de Long.

To put some of these sums into perspective, the average annual income for an English laborer or farmer in 1800 was around 15-20 pounds. To live comfortably, an English gentleman like Mr. Bennet, would require around 300 pounds per year per individual, or over fifteen times the amount for a working man who supported his family. As you can see from the figures, as long as Mr. Bennet lived, his family was comfortably off. But the situation would change drastically the moment he died. After that unhappy event, Mrs. Bennet would be expected to live off the 4% interest of her £5,000 marriage settlement, or £200 per year. No wonder she became shrill every time she thought of her unmarried daughters, for Mr. Bennet’s entire yearly £2,000 income and his house were entailed to Mr. Collins. After Mrs. Bennet’s death, Lizzy would receive just 1/5 of her mother’s marriage portion, and she would bring to her marriage only 40 pounds per year.

Today it is hard to accurately determine the spending power of these sums (see the different estimates of Mr. Bingley’s income in the example below). Factors that influence spending power are war, inflation, cost of goods, housing and the geographic area in which the dwellings were located. In any event, Mr. Darcy’s and Mr. Bingley’s incomes would still be regarded as exceedingly fine. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s 10,000 per year represents only 4% interest of his vast fortune. And Mr. Bingley, though he receives only 4,000 per year, inherited almost 3.4 million pounds from his tradesman father in today’s terms.

…the income would normally come from agricultural profits on land or from other property and investments (in Bingley’s case it turns out the be the latter). It is not easy to translate incomes of the time into today’s money. By some calculations, the effects of inflation mean that a pound in Jane Austen’s time has the same value as almost forty pounds today; if so, Bingley’s income would be the equivalent of 150,000 to 200,000 a year in today’s pounds (or around $250,000-$300,000 in current U.S. money). Altered economic condition, however, make estimates like this tricky: for example, goods tended to be much dearer at that time, in relative terms, while labor tended to be much cheaper. In addition, average incomes in this period, even when adjusted for inflation, were much lower than today, so Bingley’s income represents a far sharper deviation from the prevailing norm than its current equivalent would be.” – Shapard, Annotated Pride and Prejudice, P 5

One can now understand why in Sense and Sensibility Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were forced to economize. When John Dashwood, under his wife’s influence, reneged on his promise to his dying father to contribute substantial sums of money to his step family, the women were forced to live on 500 pounds per year. This paltry sum would have barely covered their living expenses had it not been for Sir John Middleton’s generosity in inviting his cousin to live in a cottage on his estate.

Like the Dashwood women, Jane Austen, her mother, and sister also experienced chronic money worry. However, through the sale of her books Jane was able to earn a much needed supplemental income. While the £140 she earned from the sales of Sense and Sensibility does not sound like much, it represents close to $9,800 in today’s U.S. sums. In fact, the proceeds from the sale of her four books netted her over 23,000 pounds or around 46,000 dollars towards the end of her life. After her brother Henry’s financial reversals, this money must have been a welcome boon indeed.

Now that you’ve gained some understanding of what these sums of money mean, please read the following statement made by Mrs. Bennet in Volume 3 of Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 17:

Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.

How much does ten thousand a year in 1810 represent?
a) £339, 600
b) $680,000
c) A princely sum
d) In relative terms, all of the above

Georgianna Darcy’s marriage portion is 30,000. How much annual income would this sum derive?

a) £3,000
b) £12,000
c) £1,200
d) £120
Sources and resources:

  • Shapard, David M., The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, Anchor Books, 2004
*References, Acknowledgements, Links, and Abbreviations, For the Male Voices Web Site
**Literary Study Tour: Jane Austen, 1998
***Ian Littlewood, Jane Austen: A Critical Assessment, p 205, 1998

Addendum:

To learn more about the ‘Cost of Living in Jane Austen’s England: Vulgar Economy’, click here . This article from the Jane Austen Centre goes into further detail about the Mrs. and Misses Dashwoods’ economic situation.

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I’ve wracked my brains trying to come up with kind things to say about this 2007 production of Mansfield Park. ‘Nice mansion.’ ‘Pretty garden.’ ‘Glad they shot this film in England.’ ‘Where can I get a red Jezebel parasol like Mary Crawford’s?’ ‘Cute pug.’ ‘Great cleavage.’

On a superficial level this is an enjoyable film, but nothing substantive happens. Every element that makes this powerful Jane Austen novel thought provoking and crackle with tension has been squeezed out of this 90-minute adaptation. The viewer is merely left with – pulp.

I watched this movie several times, hoping to get some sense of why director Iain McDonald and writer Maggie Wadey felt they needed to dumb down the plot. Mrs. Norris is now a merely irritating figure; the Bertram sisters are almost non-existent after Maria’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth; there is no return visit to Portsmouth, in fact there is no Portsmouth at all; the Crawford siblings don’t seem to live any where; and Fanny has morphed into a sweet but stubborn, though slovenly chit who likes to play badminton and ride horses with her first cousin. Oh, and she’s wildly in love with him. One wonders why the tug of war between a young heroine who stands up for her values and moral convictions against those who are in control of her life has been reduced to a few verbal skirmishes and some minor mental anguishes.

I admit this is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, though that is by a small degree. Edmund Bertram comes across as a prig; and Fanny is much too staid and timid for my tastes. She is so morally upright that I would feel quite uncomfortable in her presence and not know precisely what to say. Whereas I suspect I could have a delightful and scintillating conversation with Lizzie Bennet, my favorite Austen heroine, or Mary Crawford, who always excited my interest more than Fanny. Not that Lizzie isn’t moral, but she does seem more approachable to me.

But I digress. Billie Piper is as far from my image of Fanny as any actress could get. Looking too modern, with features that are this side of tough, Billie is woefully miscast. I understand she chose to play Fanny, and I can imagine why. Going against type must be an attractive proposition for an actress. If she pulls off such a challenge, awards are in her future. But Billie didn’t pull this role off, and aside from her sweet, insipid version of Fanny (which is so incongruent with her looks), I found her disheveled hairdo and in-your-face cleavage distracting and not at all reminiscent of a proper Regency Miss.
The other actors and actresses were fine, especially Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Haley Atwell as Mary Crawford, and they did what pitifully little they could with the material they were given.

The film’s biggest mistake was to give Mrs. Norris (Maggie O’Neil) so little airtime and to turn her into a vaguely annoying character. Mrs. Norris is verbally abusive and she plays a significant role in Fanny’s psychological development. The fact that Fanny was able to withstand the hateful words and actions of this dark and oppressive character and to stick to the moral high ground despite all the pressures placed on her is a crucial element of Fanny’s make up. Yet this subtext was almost completely swept under the rug. A knowledgeable Jane fan had to search for it in this production, and someone who has never read Mansfield Park would not even be aware of it after viewing the film.

Towards the end of the film, Edmund’s and Fanny’s fun and light proposal scene is sure to win the hearts of many viewers. (Click on video below.) I must admit the scene is cute, but I felt manipulated. I snorted with derision upon seeing Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) sitting at the breakfast table (would she have bothered to get out of bed so early?), aware enough to observe the subtle looks exchanged between Fanny and Edmund, and actively engaged as a matchmaker.

If I were to give my Regency fan rating to this adaptation of Mansfield Park, I’d give it ¼ fan. After all, the pug, who remains uncredited, was adorable and eminently worth watching. For other reviews on Mansfield Park, click on PBS’s Remotely Connected My review of Northanger Abbey sits here; and click here for my review on Persuasion.

For other (older) reviews of the movie, click on the links below:

Read my other post about Mansfield Park here: Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford’s Downfall in Edmund’s Eyes.

Also click here for a short piece on the two actors who played Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 version of Mansfield Park.

Billie Piper

Blake Ritson

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    “I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”

    “You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprised.

    “Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho. But you never read novels, I dare say?”

    “Why not?”

    “Because they are not clever enough for you–gentlemen read better books.”

    “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe`s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days–my hair standing on end the whole time.”

    This conversation between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney occurred during a walk around Beechen Cliff near Bath, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14. The ITV film adaptation is coming to PBS’s Masterpiece Classic, Sunday, January 20th, 2008 at 9 p.m. EST and 8 p.m. Central. Will Henry say these immortal words to Catherine in the film? Stay tuned and find out.

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    BBC Dorset offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the Cobb at Lyme Regis. You will need a flash player to view this moving panorama.

    After securing accommodations, and ordering a dinner at one of the inns, the next thing to be done was unquestionably to walk directly down to the sea. They were come too late in the year for any amusement or variety which Lyme, as a public place, might offer. The rooms were shut up, the lodgers almost all gone, scarcely any family but of the residents left; and, as there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger`s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. – Jane Austen, Chapter 11, Persuasion.


    Panoramic Earth Lyme Regis shows both a 360 degree panoramic view and a google sattelite earth map of the region.
    Go to Britain Express for some fabulous photos of Lyme Regis.
    See Persuasion, Sunday January 13th on PBS Masterpiece Theatre, 9 p.m. EST and 8 p.m. Central time. Click here to enter the Press Room with its descriptions of The Complete Jane Austen Series and show times. And click here for PBS’s The Complete Guide to Teaching Jane Austen, a 28-page PDF document that is sure to teach and delight the discerning Jane fan.

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    I am a Mary Crawford fan. This likable, complex woman with malleable ethics, who attracted then repelled the staid and rather wooden Edmund Bertram, is more interesting to me than Fanny Price, the novel’s heroine. Of all the scenes in Mansfield Park, I am particularly drawn to this one from Volume 3, Chapter 16. In it, Edmund Bertram is speaking to Fanny Price, relating the conversation he had with Mary Crawford, in which his eyes to her true character were opened:

    He had seen Miss Crawford. He had been invited to see her. He had received a note from Lady Stornaway to beg him to call; and regarding it as what was meant to be the last, last interview of friendship, and investing her with all the feelings of shame and wretchedness which Crawford’s sister ought to have known, he had gone to her in such a state of mind, so softened, so devoted, as made it for a few moments impossible to Fanny’s fears, that it should be the last. But as he proceeded in his story, these fears were over. She had met him, he said, with a serious—certainly a serious—even an agitated air; but before he had been able to speak one intelligible sentence, she had introduced the subject in a manner which he owned had shocked him. “‘I heard you were in town,’ said she—’I wanted to see you. Let us talk over this sad business. What can equal the folly of our two relations?’—I could not answer, but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved. Sometimes how quick to feel! With a graver look and voice she then added—’I do not mean to defend Henry at your sister’s expence.’ So she began—but how she went on, Fanny, is not fit—is hardly fit to be repeated to you. I cannot recall all her words. I would not dwell upon them if I could. Their substance was great anger at the folly of each. She reprobated her brother’s folly in being drawn on by a woman whom he had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; but still more the folly of—poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom—no harsher name than folly given!—So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it!—No reluctance, no horror, no feminine—shall I say? no modest loathings!—This is what the world does. For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had so richly endowed?—Spoilt, spoilt!—”

    After a little reflection, he went on with a sort of desperate calmness—”I will tell you every thing, and then have done for ever. She saw it only as folly, and that folly stamped only by exposure. The want of common discretion, of caution— his going down to Richmond for the whole time of her being at Twickenham—her putting herself in the power of a servant;—it was the detection in short—Oh! Fanny, it was the detection, not the offence which she reprobated. It was the imprudence which had brought things to extremity, and obliged her brother to give up every dearer plan, in order to fly with her.”

    He stopt.—”And what,” said Fanny, (believing herself required to speak), “what could you say?”

    “Nothing, nothing to be understood. I was like a man stunned. She went on, began to talk of you;—yes, then she began to talk of you, regretting, as well she might, the loss of such a——. There she spoke very rationally. But she has always done justice to you. ‘He has thrown away,’ said she, ‘such a woman as he will never see again. She would have fixed him, she would have made him happy for ever.’—My dearest Fanny, I am giving you I hope more pleasure than pain by this retrospect of what might have been—but what never can be now. You do not wish me to be silent?—if you do, give me but a look, a word, and I have done.”

    No look or word was given.

    “Thank God!” said he. “We were all disposed to wonder—but it seems to have been the merciful appointment of Providence that the heart which knew no guile should not suffer. She spoke of you with high praise and warm affection; yet, even here, there was alloy, a dash of evil—for in the midst of it she could exclaim ‘Why, would not she have him? It is all her fault. Simple girl!—I shall never forgive her. Had she accepted him as she ought, they might now have been on the point of marriage, and Henry would have been too happy and too busy to want any other object. He would have taken no pains to be on terms with Mrs. Rushworth again. It would have all ended in a regular standing flirtation, in yearly meetings at Sotherton and Everingham.’ Could you have believed it possible?—But the charm is broken. My eyes are opened.”

    “Cruel!” said Fanny—”quite cruel. At such a moment to give way to gaiety, to speak with lightness, and to you!—Absolute cruelty.”

    “Cruelty, do you call it?—We differ there. No, her’s is not a cruel nature. I do not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings. The evil lies yet deeper; in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did. She was speaking only, as she had been used to hear others speak, as she imagined every body else would speak. Her’s are not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would—Her’s are faults of principle, Fanny, of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps it is best for me—since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do. I told her so.”

    “Did you?”

    “Yes, when I left her I told her so.”

    “How long were you together?”

    “Five and twenty minutes. Well, she went on to say, that what remained now to be done, was to bring about a marriage between them. She spoke of it, Fanny, with a steadier voice than I can.” He was obliged to pause more than once as he continued. “‘We must persuade Henry to marry her,’ said she, ‘and what with honour, and the certainty of having shut himself out for ever from Fanny, I do not despair of it. Fanny he must give up. I do not think that even he could now hope to succeed with one of her stamp, and therefore I hope we may find no insuperable difficulty. My influence, which is not small, shall all go that way; and, when once married, and properly supported by her own family, people of respectability as they are, she may recover her footing in society to a certain degree. In some circles, we know, she would never be admitted, but with good dinners, and large parties, there will always be those who will be glad of her acquaintance; and there is, undoubtedly, more liberality and candour on those points than formerly. What I advise is, that your father be quiet. Do not let him injure his own cause by interference. Persuade him to let things take their course. If by any officious exertions of his, she is induced to leave Henry’s protection, there will be much less chance of his marrying her, than if she remain with him. I know how he is likely to be influenced. Let Sir Thomas trust to his honour and compassion, and it may all end well; but if he get his daughter away, it will be destroying the chief hold.'”

    After repeating this, Edmund was so much affected, that Fanny, watching him with silent, but most tender concern, was almost sorry that the subject had been entered on at all. It was long before he could speak again. At last, “Now, Fanny,” said he, “I shall soon have done. I have told you the substance of all that she said. As soon as I could speak, I replied that I had not supposed it possible, coming in such a state of mind into that house, as I had done, that any thing could occur to make me suffer more, but that she had been inflicting deeper wounds in almost every sentence. That, though I had, in the course of our acquaintance, been often sensible of some difference in our opinions, on points too, of some moment, it had not entered my imagination to conceive the difference could be such as she had now proved it. That the manner in which she treated the dreadful crime committed by her brother and my sister—(with whom lay the greater seduction I pretended not to say)—but the manner in which she spoke of the crime itself, giving it every reproach but the right, considering its ill consequences only as they were to be braved or overborne by a defiance of decency and impudence in wrong; and, last of all, and above all, recommending to us a compliance, a compromise, an acquiescence in the continuance of the sin, on the chance of a marriage which, thinking as I now thought of her brother, should rather be prevented than sought—all this together most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my own imagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell on for many months past. That, perhaps, it was best for me; I had less to regret in sacrificing a friendship—feelings—hopes which must, at any rate, have been torn from me now. And yet, that I must and would confess, that, could I have restored her to what she had appeared to me before, I would infinitely prefer any increase of the pain of parting, for the sake of carrying with me the right of tenderness and esteem. This is what I said—the purport of it—but, as you may imagine, not spoken so collectedly or methodically as I have repeated it to you. She was astonished, exceedingly astonished—more than astonished. I saw her change countenance. She turned extremely red. I imagined I saw a mixture of many feelings—a great, though short struggle—half a wish of yielding to truths, half a sense of shame—but habit, habit carried it. She would have laughed if she could. It was a sort of laugh, as she answered, ‘A pretty good lecture upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At this rate, you will soon reform every body at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.’ She tried to speak carelessly; but she was not so careless as she wanted to appear. I only said in reply, that from my heart I wished her well, and earnestly hoped that she might soon learn to think more justly, and not owe the most valuable knowledge we could any of us acquire—the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty, to the lessons of affliction—and immediately left the room. I had gone a few steps, Fanny, when I heard the door open behind me. ‘Mr. Bertram,’ said she. I looked back. ‘Mr. Bertram,’ said she, with a smile—but it was a smile ill-suited to the conversation that had passed, a saucy playful smile, seeming to invite, in order to subdue me; at least, it appeared so to me. I resisted; it was the impulse of the moment to resist, and still walked on. I have since—sometimes—for a moment—regretted that I did not go back; but I know I was right, and such has been the end of our acquaintance! And what an acquaintance has it been! How have I been deceived! Equally in brother and sister deceived! I thank you for your patience, Fanny. This has been the greatest relief, and now we will have done.”

    • Fanny’s Excellence, by Carolyn Duncan, and the JASNA 2006 Essay Winner, discusses this scene and its meaning in quite some detail.
    • In this passage, “God made the country, man made the town’ or the ‘Active’ Rich Lady and Her Harp,” Ellen Moody discusses Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram in terms of city values (Mary) versus country values (Edmund.)

    In Free Will to Pervert Goodness, Edea A. Baldwin writes that all is not lost for Mary, and that Jane Austen leaves the door open a crack for her future happiness.

    Mary wants to do good, but her actions are often twisted into evil. In trying to help her brother win the heart of Fanny Price, Mary tricks Fanny into accepting a necklace that Henry bought, telling her that it was a gift from herself. Really believing that she did the right thing, she later tells Fanny, “I was delighted to act on his proposal, for both your sakes.” Fanny, however, cries, “Oh! Miss Crawford, that was not fair . . . had I had an idea of it, nothing should have induced me to accept the necklace.”[36] In spite of Mary’s past and her twisted attempts to do the right thing, Austen never lets the reader forget that Mary’s unhappy end comes as a result of her own choices. There is no hint of determinism or fate. Mary provides a bit of sad foreshadowing during a card game when she exclaims, “There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me . . . If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.”[37]

    Mary Crawford walks away from Mansfield Park as a tragic character, but Austen’s final words about Mary keep the door open for future happiness. Readers who sympathize with her may well hope that she will eventually choose goodness over the bitter cynicism that corrupts her judgment: Mary . . . was long in finding . . . any one who could satisfy the better taste she had acquired at Mansfield, whose character and manners could authorise a hope of the domestic happiness she had there learnt to estimate.

    Learn More About Mansfield Park in these links:

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    Northanger Abbey traveled a long and torturous journey to publication. According to her sister, Cassandra, Jane Austen wrote the book in “about ‘98 and ‘99” when she was still in her twenties. After Jane completed First Impressions, her early version of Pride and Prejudice, her father attempted to get the book published. He met with no success. Jane’s hopes of becoming a successful author were raised expectantly when her brother Henry sold Susan to a respected publishing house. Claire Tomalin writes in Jane Austen: A Life (p182):

    She copied out and revised Northanger Abbey (still called Susan). Henry offered to take over from Mr. Austen as her agent, and deputed one of his business partners; a lawyer named William Seymour, to offer the manuscript to Richard Crosby, a London Publisher. This was at the start of 1803. Crosby paid 10 [pounds] for the manuscript, promising early publication. He then advertised the book in a brochure called Flowers of Literature as being “in the press”; but after this nothing more happened.

    The book’s not being published was a curious development, for Crosby and Co. was the fourth most prolific publisher of novels during the 1800s in London. The income of ten pounds could not be dismissed as a paltry amount, for the sale represented half of Jane’s allowance of 20 pounds per year. The novel continued to languish on Mr. Crosby’s shelves for six years, however, before a frustrated Jane decided to take matters into her own hands. In 1809 she wrote the publisher under the assumed name of Mrs. Ashton Dennis:

    Why had the book never been published, she asked, since “early publication was stipulated for at the time of sale”. If the publishers had lost their copy, she would undertake to provide another one. Should they not answer her letter, she would feel free to attempt publication elsewhere. It was a firm letter, and got a firm answer. Richard Crosby wrote by return to say that they had indeed bought Susan outright for ten pounds cash, “but there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it”. He went on to threaten proceedings if she published elsewhere, and offer her the manuscript back for the ten pounds it had fetched. – Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge, p 112. (To read the letters, go to Northanger Abbey: Behind the Scenes, Jane Austen Centre)

    Of course, Jane did not have the money to repurchase the novel, and it remained unpublished for another seven years. In 1816, under Jane’s instructions, her brother Henry bought back the book for ten pounds. He “then had the pleasure of telling the dilatory publisher that the book he had neglected was by the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility” (Aiken Hodge, 174-175). During this frustrating time, another novel named Susan was published. As Jane revised her book for the third time, she changed the heroine’s name to Catherine Moreland. She then wrote a short advertisement to prepare the book for publication and to explain why certain parts of the book had been rendered obsolete by the passage of time:

    ADVERTISEMENT BY THE AUTHORESS, TO NORTHANGER ABBEYTHIS 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. That any bookseller should think it worthwhile to purchase what he did not think it worthwhile to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than, as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes.

    Then, inexplicably, Jane herself delayed publication, writing to her niece Fanny in March, 1817: “Miss Catherine is put upon the shelves for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out.” Sadly, Jane never saw this novel or Persuasion in print. Henry, her favorite brother, arranged to have the novel he renamed Northanger Abbey published posthumously along with Persuasion in late December, 1817. In his foreword he wrote:

    The following pages are the production of a pen which has already contributed in no small degree to the entertainment of the public. And when the public, which has not been insensible to the merits of “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Emma,” shall be informed that the hand which guided that pen is now mouldering in the grave, perhaps a brief account of Jane Austen will be read with a kindlier sentiment than simple curiosity. Short and easy will be the task of the mere biographer. A life of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event. To those who lament their irreparable loss, it is consolatory to think that, as she never deserved disapprobation, so, in the circle of her family and friends, she never met reproof; that her wishes were not only reasonable, but gratified; and that to the little disappointments incidental to human life was never added, even for amoment, an abatement of goodwill from any who knew her.

    Click here to read the rest of Henry’s touching foreword and on the links below to learn more about this fascinating tale.

    • Find an interesting book review by Joan Aiken on Claire Tomalin’s and David Nokes’ biographies of Jane Austen, in which she puts forth her own conjecture on why it took Jane so long to publish her three early novels, and about the 10 year drought in her literary output.
    • Fronticepiece of the book: Wikipedia
    • C.E. Brock Illustration from Molland’s
    • Jane Austen, The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye,
    • Only A Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc, NY, 1972, SBN 698-10425-0
    • Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, Albert A. Knopf, NY, 1998, ISBN 0-679-44628-1

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    Click here to enter the PBS site and see a preview of the shows coming in 2008.

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