Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945

Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945

By Katie Halsey

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

‘Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945’ is a study of the history of reading Jane Austen’s novels, focused on the responses of ordinary readers.

Hardback, 298 Pages


April 2012

£70.00, $115.00

  • About This Book
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About This Book

‘Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786–1945’ is a study of readers’ interactions with the works of one of England’s most enduringly popular novelists. Employing an innovative approach made possible by new research in the field of the history of reading, the volume discusses Austen’s own ideas about books and readers, the uses she makes of her reading, and the relationship of her style to her readers’ responses. It considers the role of editions and criticism in directing readers’ responses, and presents and analyses a variety of source material related to readers who read Austen’s works between 1786 and 1945.

Previous studies of Austen’s influence on her readers and literary successors have either presupposed a hypothetical reader, or focused on the texts of the critical tradition, ignoring the views, reactions and thoughts of the common reader. This volume discusses the responses of ordinary readers to Austen’s novels, responses that offer insights into both Jane Austen’s particular appeal, and the nature of the act of reading itself.


‘[A] richly informative study […] While Halsey clearly distinguishes her aims from those of scholars concerned with Austen’s receptions in such modern-day forms as film adaptations or fan fiction, this study is likely to prove highly instructive to specialists in these areas, given the thoroughness with which Halsey surveys historic, imaginative appropriations of Austen’s narratives and characters within private and public spheres alike.’ —Jenny McAuley, ‘BARS Bulletin and Review’

‘[Katie Halsey] presents an excellent, useful book about ways to define the “reading” and “readers” of Jane Austen [and] makes Austen novels part of the last two hundred years of material culture, a fascinating project. Summing Up: Highly recommended.’ —R. Shapiro, City University of New York, ‘Choice’

‘The cult of Jane Austen has a long history: Halsey shows how wonderfully variable its membership has been.’ —Susan Allen Ford, ‘JASNA News’ (Jane Austen Society of North America)

‘Using a battery of methods too rarely combined, Halsey ably examines some major ideas to produce a successful and stimulating example of the benefits of a holistic, “book-historical” approach to an author, her texts, and her readers.’ —Andrew Hobbs, ‘Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History’

‘This is a sophisticated exploration of the relationships between Jane Austen’s texts and their readers from 1786 (when the first responses to her writing are recorded) to 1945 (when new media start to replace print culture). This volume is part of the current interest in Austen’s reception initiated in the 1990s by Claudia L. Johnson and developed more recently by Rachel Brownstein, among others. What Halsey adds to the discussion is an original analysis of the complex experience of reading Austen: from the material side of reading (including analyses of different editions, book costs and illustrations) to little-known responses to Austen’s fiction by celebrated and ordinary readers (found in diaries, journals and private correspondence)… An important contribution to Austen and readership studies.’ —‘Forum of Modern Languages’ 48, no. 4 (October 2012)

‘[A] welcome addition, bringing the vocabulary and methods of the history of the book and the history of reading to bear on Austen studies in outstanding, illuminating detail.’ —Devoney Looser, ‘SHARP News’

‘Yoking together close reading with considerable methodological exactitude, ‘Jane Austen and her Readers’ presents the history of a complex series of negotiations and re-negotiations that have shaped readers’ engagements with Austen’s novels, as well as the reception of those works. In acknowledging and privileging the diversity of readers’ responses, Halsey builds up a nuanced picture of Austen’s own embedded narrative strategies, as well as those of her readers.’ —Dr Shafquat Towheed, The Open University

‘Beautifully written and drawing on a wealth of new manuscript and print resources, Katie Halsey places Austen’s nuanced comedy at the heart of fierce disputes about the art of the novel and the moral life of the reader in the period 1786–1945. This study is an elegant, authoritative and compelling account of Austen’s role in the history of the book.’ —Dr Jane Stabler, University of St Andrews

Author Information

Katie Halsey is a lecturer in eighteenth-century literature at the University of Stirling, Scotland.


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; PART ONE; Introduction; 1. Jane Austen’s Reading in Context; 2. Jane Austen’s Negotiations with Reading; 3. Jane Austen’s Games of Ingenuity; PART TWO; Introduction; 4. Austen’s Readers: Contexts I; 5. Austen’s Readers: Contexts II; 6. Austen’s Readers I: Affection and Appropriation; 7. Austen’s Readers II: Opposition and Resistance; 8. Austen’s Readers III: Friendship and Criticism; 9. Austen’s Readers IV: Sociability and Devotion; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index


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