Jane Austen first tried her hand at burlesques of the popular novels of the day, and Northanger Abbey is inspired by such works as Anne Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. Austen read and enjoyed writers like Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Mrs. Radcliffe, Defoe, Fielding, Sterne, Richardson, "dear Dr. Johnson," and the essayists (Addison and Steele, et al. ). Poets she read included Cowper and Crabbe, a particular favorite. The remarkable thing about this list is who is not on it‹namely the Romantic poets. As in the religious and political areas, we again see her refusing to respond to her contemporaries. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron were the literary lions of the day, but we find nothing in her works of the Romantic hero or the Romantic quest. Do you then classify her as an eighteenth-century novelist?
How then do we account for her enormous influence — Macaulay and Trollope ranking her characterization by dialogue with Shakespeare's!? (And how, on the other hand, can a modern critic say, rather bizarrely, that "the truth of the matter is that she arrived on the story-telling scene without ancestors and left it without progeny" despite her obvious influence upon Brontë's Jane Eyre, Gaskell's North and South, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh ) A hint may come from Sir Walter Scott's remark in his 1826 diary that "the big Bow-Wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary common-place things and characters interesting from the truth of description and sentiment, is denied to me."
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000; last modified 17 August 2008