London: John Murray, 1818. First Edition. Boards. 4 vols. 1st edition. Her 5th and 6th novels, together as originally issued. Publisher’s boards and labels, uncut, neatly rebacked preserving the original spines and printed paper labels, which retain their original price stubs (24s). Some foxing to the preliminary pages and blank margins, else fine, and complete, a copy with all of its decisive elements, the ad leaf in volume I (consistently missing), the 2 terminal blanks in volume IV (usually missing), and all 4 genuine half–titles (often missing). And while authentic half–titles are the indispensable preservation feature for each of Austen’s 1st editions, this copy has all the additional essentials as well, and other sets don’t. Near fine. Item #314
1st editions that have been trimmed and rebound are half our price (or should be), those in modern bindings, or those that are incomplete (what’s out there for sale) should be even cheaper, but the mother of imbeciles is always pregnant (often with twins), so there’s a permanent crowd to buy lame (and therefore overpriced) copies of great books, because the sliest, most sinister, and last mastered, nemesis of book collecting success, is identifying the right book (title), and then buying (being sold) the wrong copy of it, a road to ruin that’s a gradual, lulling, downhill slope, comfortable and soft underfoot, pacifying and undemanding, without sudden turnings, obstacles, signposts, checkpoints, or milestones (Book Code). “Sometimes you think you’re crazy, but you know you’re only mad, Sometimes you’re better off not knowing, how much you’ve been had...” –Traveling Wilburys, The Devil’s Been Busy Northanger Abbey is gentle art, suffused with, a perversity of fate that’s dryer than Lawrence of Arabia. It’s essentially social criticism, sharp parody and a comedy of manners, rotated by Austen’s chic into a straight–faced rip of gothic novels. She started it in 1799 then poked it and buffed it until 1803, turning to the Western novel’s literary origins by drawing on Cervantes’ plotline (the dangers of believing life is the same as fiction), but substituting the impact of gothic novels on her heroine Catherine Morland, for the impact of chivalrous novels on Don Quixote. For 15 years she was unable to find a publisher, so in 1817, at the height of her powers, and after having learned that genius is about the infinite capacity for taking pains, she reworked it with all the retrospective vision she now enjoyed in the serenity of her intrepid, post–distracted absence of agitation. She gave it everything she had, but died 5 months before the book was posthumously published. The text is preceded by a Biographical Notice, with a revelation of the author’s name (her previous novels were all anonymous), and though there were practical business reasons for her secrecy (widespread anti–female bias), she also knew well that obscurity and efficiency were preferable to fame, with its inescapable accessory of bluff. Northanger Abbey’s themes were as diverse as they were pointed, including, the contrived densities and monotony of society (especially as it applies to matchmaking), the conflict between marriage for love and marriage for property, the maturation of the young (youth is stranger than fiction) into skeptical adulthood with its corresponding loss of imagination, innocence and faith, the obsession of living life as if one was a character in a novel filled with illusory dangers and intrigues, and in the end, growing up to finally discredit the products of one’s fantasies, and accept that things are not what they appear to be at first.