You Need To Read Jane Austen's Biting Parody Of A Gothic Novel

HanWay Films

You've read Northanger Abbey, but did you know that Jane Austen wrote another parody of a gothic novel in an 1812 letter to her niece, Anna Lefroy? More than 200 years after Austen penned the letter, it's headed to Sotheby's on Tuesday, July 11, as part of a family auction expected to generate up to $208,000.

In the letter to Lefroy, Austen includes a note directed at Rachel Hunter, the author of an 1806 novel titled Lady Maclairn, the Victim of Villany [sic]. Lefoy and Austen had recently read the novel — Regency Era book club, anyone? — and the Pride & Prejudice author had some . . . thoughts on its subject matter. Like statements from the characters in her novels, Austen's words could easily be misread as admiration for Hunter's novel:

Miss Jane Austen’s tears have flowed over each sweet sketch in such a way as would do Mrs Hunter’s heart good to see; if Mrs Hunter could understand all Miss Jane Austen’s interest in the subject she would certainly have the kindness to publish at least 4 vols more about the Flint family, & especially would give many fresh particulars on that part of it which Mr, H. has hitherto handled too briefly; viz, the history of Mary Flint’s marriage with Howard.

As Lady Maclairn comprises four volumes and more than 700 pages, it seems unlikely that Austen is being genuine in her request for four additional installments. However, given that the 19th-century writer read enough gothic fiction to thoroughly satirize it in Northanger Abbey, it's also unlikely that her letter to Lefroy exhibits total disdain for Hunter's novel.

According to University of Aberdeen Professor Emerita Jan Todd, "Austen hugely enjoyed ridiculing other women writers and their improbable, sentimental and gothic plots ... and probably learned a good deal of what not to do by reading the interminable romances and effusions of contemporary authors." She's enjoying a guilty pleasure and having a laugh about it, which means Austen is a lot more relatable than you probably thought.

Jane Austen's parody of a gothic novel is expected to fetch up to $130,000 at auction on July 11.