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Northanger Abbey

By Jane Austen

  • Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup: Tonya Howe

    By the author of "Pride and Prejudice,"
    "Mansfield-Park," &c.
    VOL. I.
    [end page titlepage]

    from Chapter 5

    The progress of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella was quick as its beginning had been warm, and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends or themselves. They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still [end page 60] resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the re [end page 61] viewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine–hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a [end page 62] thousand pens — there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most tho [end page 63] rough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer con [end page 64] cern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.

    [end page 65]
    John Murray is an English publisher most well known for publishing Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Darwin, among others. The link takes you to the publisher's webpage about their archives. Likely a reference to Oliver Goldsmith's 4-volume History of England (1771), which was frequently abridged, this could also simply be a reference to the kinds of copious histories that were frequent targets of abridgements. In 1791, when she was aged 15, Jane Austen herself wrote a parody of such histories, "The History of England from the Reign of Henry the 4th to the Death of Charles the 1st," which she noted was "by a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant historian." The image above, drawn from the British Library, shows the first page of Austen's manuscript "History of England." Clicking the link takes you to the British Library's accessible web version of Austen's manuscript, and the source of this annotation. John Milton (1608–1674) was most well-known as the author of Paradise Lost, a 12-book epic poem in blank verse first published in 10 books in 1667, then as 12 books in 1674. Paradise Lost took as its "more Heroic" (9.14) subject the Christian story of the fall of Adam and Eve. The image above, drawn from Citizen Milton, an online version of an exhibit mounted at Oxford University's Bodleian Library, shows the title page of the second, 12-book edition. Clicking the link takes you to general information about the author on Wikipedia, and the source of this annotation. Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was perhaps the most prominent poet of the 18th century in England, well-known for his translations of Homer, his mock-epic poem The Rape of the Lock , and the The Dunciad , a major satire of literary life during the period. This image, drawn from Wikimedia Commons, shows a c.1727 portrait of Pope by Michael Dahl. The in-text link takes you to general information about the author on Wikipedia. Matthew Prior (1644-1721) was an English poet and politician, highly regarded in the 18th century. The image above, from Wikimedia Commons, shows a 1718 portrait of the poet by Thomas Hudson. The in-text link takes you to general information about the author on Wikipedia. The Spectator was a daily periodical paper that was published by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele between 1711 and 1712. It was widely read and helped form the Enlightenment public sphere, a place of ideally free and public conversation that works to foment political change. The narrative voice of The Spectator is an abstraction, Mr. Spectator, who sees all objectively and at a remove. He claims that his main goal is to "[bring] Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-tables, and in Coffee houses" (No.10, Monday, March 12, 1711). The image above, drawn from Wikimedia Commons, shows the first page of The Spectator from 7 June 1711. For more discussion about the role of the periodical press in the eighteenth-century public sphere, see Terry Eagleton, The Function of Criticism (1984). The in-text link takes you to general information about The Spectator on Wikipedia. To search the complete journal, visit The Spectator Project . Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) was an Irish novelist most well-known for his sentimental and unconventionally-structured novels, most notably The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Due to the unconventional structure of his novels, Sterne is often appropriated by postmodernists. The image above shows two pages from the novel drawn from a 2000 online exhibit by the University of Glasgow Special Collections. The link takes you to general information about the author on Wikipedia. Cecilia; or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) is a long novel of manners written by Frances Burney, often viewed as an important precursor to and influence on Austen. Like Burney's first novel Evelina; or, The HIstory of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778), Cecilia focuses on an upper-class young woman seeking love in a highly class-conscious society; it offers an important window into 18th-century English life. The image above is a portrait of Frances Burney Edward Francisco Burney. Image from Wikimedia Commons. The link takes you to general information about the novel on Wikipedia. Camilla; or, A Picture of Youth (1796) is Frances Burney's third novel, and it is an ensemble novel about love and marriage. Camilla, like Burney's last novel, The Wanderer, contains elements of early Romanticism. The image above, from the Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas, Austin, shows the title page and subscription list for the 1796 edition of Camilla, which includes Austen's name. The link takes you to general information about the novel on Wikipedia. Belinda (1801) is a novel by Irish author Maria Edgeworth, significant for its treatment of a woman with breast cancer, its colonial context, and its depiction of interracial romance. The image above, from Wikimedia Commons, is an 1807 portrait of Edgeworth by John Downman. The link takes you to general information about the novel on Wikipedia.


  • London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street. 1818. . First edition. The accompanying page images are sourced from The University of Virginia Special Collections Library. Northanger Abbey was written in 1803 but was not published until 1818, when it appeared as the first two volumes in a 4-volume set with Persuasion.
  • Public domain electronic facsimile copy: Internet Archive. . Link .
  • More information on available editions is available through the English Short Title Catalog and Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker.

    Editorial Statements

  • This text is prepared as part of the Literature in Context project, which provides an accessible, curated, and marked-up selection of primary sources relevant to the study and the teaching of British and American literature of the 18th century. This project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and developed by faculty at The University of Virginia and Marymount University.
  • Materials have been transcribed from and checked against first editions, where possible. See the Sources section.
  • Original spelling and capitalization is retained, though the long s has been silently modernized and ligatured forms are not encoded.
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