Just a quick post to say that I picked up Jane Austen in Context yesterday and am enjoying it very much. It’s a collection of essays by various critics, edited by Janet Todd; the essays fall into three categories, “Life and Works,” “Critical Fortunes,” and “Historical and Cultural Contexts.” I didn’t want to put it down to go to sleep last night; it felt like reading a novel, I was so into it. I am so very fond of Jane Austen, which you know if you’ve been reading me much, but I don’t know and haven’t read a whole lot about her life, and while I do know a bit about her “context,” I’m excited to learn more.
What I learned last night is that Austen most likely revised several of her works over a long period of time; Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility were written in different versions early on and revised much later for publication, and during one period of her life, between 1811 and her death, she was often working on several novels at once. I knew about “First Impressions,” the early version of Pride and Prejudice, but I hadn’t pictured Austen laboring over her manuscripts for quite so long, or working on multiple ones at the same time. This doesn’t fit with the picture I had of her producing one elegant novel after another in a more orderly fashion.
I also learned that “Northanger Abbey” isn’t necessarily the title she would have chosen for that novel, had she lived to see it published, and she may not have chosen to call her last novel “Persuasion” either. She called what became Northanger Abbey first “Susan” and then “Catherine,” and Persuasion had the working title “The Elliots.” Can you imagine those novels with different names?