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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The date of last revision of Northanger Abbey

In Janeites, Linda Thomas quoted Janine Barchas as follows regarding to the date of FINAL composition of Northanger Abbey:

"The history of Northanger Abbey's composition is fairly uncontroversial. Cassandra records in her memorandums of 1817 that ‘North-hanger Abby was written about the years 98 & 99’ and Deirdre Le Faye refines this period to, tentatively, August 1798 to June 1799. These dates roughly coincide with Austen's recorded visits to Bath in 1797 and, again in 1799 (other short visits may, some suggest, have occurred as early as 1794, or even 1790).The Austen family had some relatives in Bath and eventually moved there as part of Mr Austen's retirement in 1801, taking up residence at No. 4 Sydney Place. This is where, scholars agree, Jane Austen probably put the finishing touches to her manuscript—which was initially called Susan."

I responded as follows:

Linda, you would have no reason to know this unless you've researched this question of the dating of NA, but I have researched it, and, as I will illustrate below, it is amazing to me that Barchas, for all her adventurous, creative, thorough, and brilliant digging up of historical connections of NA to Ralph Allen and Farley Hungerford, then turns around and drops the ball on this issue of NA's composition date. Why, I wonder, did she fail to do some digging, so as to avoid reciting the incorrect and long-obsolete conventional wisdom about the final composition of Northanger Abbey, allegedly in 1801 (even the most conservative scholars acknowledge it cannot be earlier than 1801 because Edgeworth's Belinda, which is specifically mentioned in NA, was not published till 1801!).

I say this because two years ago, I found a long, thorough and brilliant article, written twenty years ago and then largely ignored by all Austen scholars who've written on this topic since then, which argues very persuasively for 1816 as the final revision date for NA:

"Free Indirect Speech and Jane Austen's 1816 Revision of Northanger Abbey" by Narelle Shaw in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 30, No. 4, Nineteenth Century. (Autumn, 1990), pp. 591-601.

To illustrate that Shaw was not exactly an outlier in Austen scholarship, she recites the following scholarly history in her article:

"...two salutary facts can be deduced: that JA was actively writing NA in 1798-99 and that in 1803, 1809, and 1816, the unpublished novel was subjected to renewed attention and unspecified revisions. It is the extent to which the text was amended at the separate dates noted that has engaged critical opinion. Marvin Mudrick and A. Walton Litz allow circumscribed revision no later than 1803, QD Leavis and Darrell Mansell extrapolate 1809 as the likely date, while Mary Lascelles, Yasmine Gooneratne, and BC Southam recognize the possibility of substantial alterations in 1816."

That list is a veritable All-Star team of Austen scholarship going back seventy years!!! And on top of all that, Shaw's additional arguments for 1816 as the year, based on stylistic analysis, are very congruent with my own independent findings about the shadow story of Northanger Abbey, as I will describe in my book.

And in addition to all that, I spoke at the AGM about the unmistakable and VERY important allusions to Godwin's 1809 "radical" novel Caleb Williams which I have discovered in Northanger Abbey, which go to the heart of the ANTI-parody in Northanger Abbey, because the heart of the Godwin allusion is in Henry Tilney's "we live in a Christian country" rant.

PLUS, we already know that 1809 was a watershed year for JA's life and career in so many ways, including specifically revisiting her older writings, as illustrated by the following comments in "Making Austen Mad: Benjamin Crosby and the Non-Publication of Susan' by A.A. Mandal:

"In a very meaningful way, the year 1809, beginning with the letter to Crosby, does in fact mark an ├ęclaircissement in Austen's literary career. Around this time, she also returned to her Juvenilia, topically changing a reference in ‘Catharine, or the Bower’....to Hannah More's recent Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808), as well as mentioning Regency fashion (c. 1811 onwards). Similarly, one of the letters in ‘Evelyn’, the short piece that precedes ‘Catharine’ in Volume the Third, was also given a date of ‘Aug 19th 1809’, and is the only letter nominating a year. This supports 1809 (possibly even the month of August) as the time when Jane Austen began re-examining her Juvenilia....."

So it's incredible how the old hyper-conservative scholarly canards about JA's writing seem to persist in the face of easily available refutation! I have found the same sort of thing in dozens of areas of my research. It's a good thing I have a healthy skepticism about such things, or I'd have been discouraged long ago from pursuing all the implications of my discoveries.

Cheers, ARNIE

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