Being a huge Jane Austen fan, it is odd that in almost three years of Books and Vines this is the first Jane Austen novel that we have taken a look at! Austen (1775 –1817) is one of the most popular and influential English novelists in the Western Canon. Her works have come to be a synonym for romantic fiction. While the world has changed dramatically since she wrote, and the behaviors and norms of women in her novels are almost foreign to modern women, her work has continued popularity and relevance, while her underlying social commentary remains powerful, often witty and biting. Her completed novels, Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), along with Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (both published posthumously in late 1817) all remain very widely read. One can only wonder what Austen could have achieved if she had not died at 41 years of age. She is buried in Winchester Cathedral. The precise disease that caused her death is not clearly known.
Though Northanger Abbey was not published until after Austen’s death, it was actually the first novel she completed; Austen having written it in 1799. It was not published when she completed it (a publisher was found, but never published it). Austen revised the novel in 1816, and changed the title from ‘Susan‘ to that which we have now. As mentioned, it was finally published soon after her death, along with Persuasion. It has never been out of print since. Northanger Abbey is arguably more comedic than other Austen novels, and quite successfully parodies Gothic fiction which had been the rage. Austen breaks new ground by having a middle class girl, somewhat plain, certainly not accomplished, be the heroine of the story (Catherine Morland). As one comes to expect from Austen, her dissection of the complexities (and often silliness) of marriage pursuits of upper class England of the time, and the romance that may or may not be part of the process, is always intriguing, often providing high comedy and satire of the mannerisms associated with such.
I am of two minds about this edition from The Limited Editions Club (LEC). On the one hand, I do find it charmingly different, especially the binding. On the other hand, without quiet being able to place my finger on it, the totality does not do much for me (including the binding!). It certainly is competently executed, but just comes across as pedestrian; maybe better stated as very standard in nature. Nothing stands out, including the whole. While I generally enjoy artist Clarke Hutton‘s work elsewhere, his work here just does not seem right to me. While the monochrome illustrations actually seem reasonably spot on from a narrative standpoint, the color illustrations just do not convey the proper mood of the story. The Monthly Letter (ML) describes the process Hutton used in creating the color illustrations as “He combines upon one surface oil paint, water color, pastel, and other substances such as candle-grease — on top of which he is still able to work in line. When completed, the whole of the surface is then carefully protected by a sheet of cellophane.” The ML goes on to state that the illustrations are ‘”eloquently evocative of the Austen era in their warmth and feeling.” Unfortunately, such evocative emotions did not get conveyed to me! None-the-less, one can usually find this in fine condition for $60-100, and at that price is still well worth getting, especially for fans of Austen and/or Hutton, and for LEC collectors.
About the Edition
- Designed by Richard Williamson Ellis
- Printed at The Garamond Press in 1971
- 12 full page paintings in full color and 22 monochrome line drawings by English painter Clarke Hutton
- Introduction by English novelist and poet Sylvia Townsend Warner
- 12 point Monotype Bell, two points of leading
- Display letters and Title in Fontanesi
- Set at the firm of Westcott & Thomson
- Soft white egg shell finish paper by Mohawk Paper Company
- Binding in an elegant satin-finish fabric, with soft-color narrow stripes woven from dyed threads; with a leather shelf back label stamped in gold with the Bell types and with a chain border
Pictures of the Edition
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