Terry Castle's new introduction reveals the development of Jane Austen's art from the early compositions, "Lady Susan" and "The Watsons", through the mock Gothic "Northanger Abbey", to the incompleted "Sanditon".
Northanger Abbey is the earliest of Jane Austen's great comedies of female enlightenment and combines literary burlesque - making fun of the excesses of the Gothic novel - with larger moral, philosophical, and social issues: the folly of letting literature get in the way of life, the inexcusability of not thinking for oneself, and the painful difficulties (especially for women) involved in growing up. Lady Susan and The Watsons are early compositions that reflect many of the qualities of Northanger Abbey. The first is an epistolary novel centring on the intrigues of the villainous Lady Susan; the second is an unfinished example of Jane Austen's most characteristic form - a story where the heroine is outstanding for her sense and goodness, virtues notably lacking in the other characters, who are here part of an altogether bleaker vision. Sanditon, too, is tragically incomplete, and it signals the achievement of a new depth and breadth of comic insight on the part of its author.
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