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Editor’s Note: History

The history of Northanger Abbey is a tortured one:  drafted, rewritten, sold, neglected, bought back, revised again, and finally published.  On 13 March 1817 Jane Austen mentioned to her niece Fanny Knight that “Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out.”  “Miss Catherine” had already spent considerable time upon the Shelve in her previous incarnation as “Susan,” residing at Crosby & Co. for thirteen years, between the sale in spring 1803 of what should have been Jane Austen’s first published novel and spring 1816, when Henry Austen got it back for her.  As Jane Austen remarks in the Advertisement to Northanger Abbey, the motives lying behind this history are mysterious:  “That any bookseller should think it worth while to purchase what he did not think it worth while to publish seems extraordinary.”  Of course, as is often the case in the gothic, the resolution of this plot depends upon money:  £10 received in 1803, demanded as ransom in 1809, and apparently paid in 1816.

Northanger Abbey, both a parody of the gothic and an example of the domestic gothic, is not coincidentally full of commercial transactions.  Before she even leaves on her trip to Bath, Catherine is provided with a book in which to write down her expenses.  Characters discuss the purchase of muslin, bonnets, books, carriages, breakfast sets, wedding clothes.  A drawer opens to reveal laundry lists and a farrier’s bill.  The novel notices the value of Rumford stoves, pineries, even Northanger Abbey itself.  And, of course, marriage is highlighted as, for many of the characters, a commercial transaction. 

JASNA’s Annual General Meeting, held in Colonial Williamsburg in October 2019, and spotlighting 200 Years of Northanger Abbey: Real, Solemn History, allowed participants to encounter the material dimensions and history of Jane Austen’s world.  Shops and artisans’ workshops, taverns and homes were opened to participants.  Amy Stallings and her team put together an exciting program of sessions on Northanger Abbey that focused on the gothic, Austen’s cultural and intellectual contexts, the material world, and Northanger Abbey’s afterlives—all designed to enliven that “‘real solemn history’” that Catherine Morland so objects to.  A selection of essays from those presentations is included here.  The Miscellany moves from quixotic fictions to video games, suggesting that Austen’s material history is still being written. 

This issue has involved the work of many:  the authors whose scholarly efforts are presented here; the members of the Editorial Board (listed at the end of the Table of Contents), who donated many hours reading and responding to submissions with great thoughtfulness and care; Marsha Huff, who read every word and caught errors and infelicities; Carol Moss, who worked with care, energy, and creativity to translate these essays to their new, online form; Iris Lutz and Adam Keuer, who solved problems.  As a result, on Jane Austen’s 244th birthday, the day of publication, the bells ring, and everyone smiles:  perfect happiness.


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