“‘I am no novel reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.’ — Such is the common cant — ‘And what are you reading, Miss—?’ “Oh! it is only a novel!’ replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.–‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda;’ or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.”
Jane as narrator commenting on the value of her profession; the books she refers to are by Fanny Burney (Cecilia and Camilla) and Maria Edgeworth (Belinda)
Northanger Abbey, chapter 5
I have read Burney’s Evelina–a wonderful Christmas gift from my roommate last year–and loved it. If you are done with the Austen canon and looking for further reading, I highly recommend Burney. Another related book on my to-be-read list is Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, which Jane spoofs here in NA.
One Response to The greatest powers of the mind
I’m a big Fanny Burney fan. Evelina is my favorite, but The Wanderer is also very interesting and has the best declaration of love at the end that I’ve ever read. I’ve also read Belinda and Udolpho, and they’ve all helped me enjoy Northanger Abbey even more (lesser novel my foot!). They all have in common a beautiful heroine, upright and blameless in the face of obstacles and false accusations, who ultimately triumphs in the end and earns the love of her hero. Udolpho is especially emotional and dramatic – a little too much so for my taste. Jane Austen does a brilliant job spoofing it in Northanger Abbey. Catherine’s experiences mirror Emily’s in Udolpho, but Catherine’s moderate good looks and happy disposition contrast with Emily’s ethereal beauty and over-the-top emotional reactions to everything she sees or experiences. But Udoplpho is definitely worth reading. Like Catherine, I couldn’t wait to find out what was behind the veil!