Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is my fourth year spending my Christmas break reading an annotated edition of a Jane Austen novel, and as always, it is a wonderful, rewarding, and fulfilling experience! I’ve been alternating between the annotated editions by Harvard University Press and the annotated series by David Shapard. This year it was Mr. Shapard’s turn!
With all my reviews of annotated editions, my rating and comments reflect the annotations and observations made by the editors and not Jane Austen’s magnificent and beloved masterpieces. However, if you are interested, I did post a review of Northanger Abbey some years ago!)
Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading David Shapard’s annotations:
- More About Jane Austen’s Bath: The focus on Bath entertainments, geography, and habits is strong in this annotated edition. Many of the annotations clarify and explain things modern-day readers would not understand or know about unless they visited Bath during the Regency period. And there are four detailed maps in the back of Bath and England to help readers understand the various landmarks and destinations discussed throughout the novel and how close or far they actually are to each other. Destinations such as: Blaise Castle, Devies, Milsom Street are marked on various maps for easy reference. I especially enjoyed learning about the schedule for nightly entertainments and how venues cooperated with each other to spread out the entertainments evenly throughout the week (i.e. The Upper Rooms had dances on Monday and Thursday evenings, and The Lower Rooms had dances on Tuesday and Friday evenings.)
- Allusions to Gothic Novels and Sentimental Heroines are Plentiful: It is evident to any first-time reader that Jane Austen pokes a lot of fun at Gothic novels and sentimental heroines with her sarcastic comments in the narration and her fanciful heroine. But since I have not read any Gothic novels or works by Ann Radcliffe myself, a lot of Jane Austen’s other nods and parallels went over my head. It appears Mr. Shapard did some extensive research and reading of all the Gothic novels mentioned in this story. Many of his annotations illustrated when Jane Austen borrowed a plot device, shadowed an element, or paralleled a character’s actions or situation from one of the well-known Gothic novels of her day. It was interesting to see how this story is so much more of a satirical parody than I previously thought. And it is also a credit to Jane Austen that her parody doesn’t feel overly farcical, outrageous, or contrived.
- New Suppositions and Critical Thinking: I love when editors make their own inferences and conjectures. In his notes I liked how Mr. Shapard pointed out the possibility of John Thorpe having his own independent wealth (maybe an inheritance from an uncle or something), since he could afford horses and a gig when his sisters had no dowry. In addition, I love how Mr. Shapard objectively brings up some flaws with Jane Austen’s novels (I know it is shocking to think there are any flaws!) While he compliments Jane Austen on always being meticulously accurate with distances, time tables, and calendars, he does call in to question the implausibility of General Tilney’s gullible behavior in regards to believing John Thorpe and Jane Austen’s “awkward” and “inartistic” resolution. Yes, it is a wonder that General Tilney never picks up on the fact that Catherine doesn’t act like a wealthy heiress and question his source. And I agree, Eleanor’s love interest totally came out of left field. 😉
And here is one conclusion I came to on my own during this reread of Northanger Abbey:
- James Morland Deserves His Own Story: Why hasn’t someone made a sequel with James Morland as the romantic hero yet? I think it would be perfect! A jilted man, who has foresworn love and women and determinedly tries to not repeat his foolish mistakes of the past… c’mon, I think that has potential, don’t you?
I love reading any annotated edition of Jane Austen’s works, but I am definitely forming a special affinity for this annotated series by David Shapard. I appreciate his thorough and extensive research, the inclusion of helpful maps, images, and timelines, and most importantly, how his edifying comments bring clarification, awareness, and comprehension to the many readers and admirers of Jane Austen’s works.
My Reviews of Annotated Editions
Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks
The Annotated Persuasion by David Shapard
Emma: An Annotated Edition by Bharat Tandon