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Jane Austen letter parodying Gothic novels to sell at Sotheby’s

A letter written by Jane Austen in which she makes fun of clichéd Gothic romance novels will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s this week.
The rare correspondence, which provides a sharply witty insight into Austen’s views on fiction, will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s in London on July 11 with an estimate of £80,000 – £100,000 ($103,000 – $128,000).

The letter was sent by Austen to her favorite niece Anna Lefroy, and parodies a book they had both read together, ‘Lady Maclairn, the Victim of Villainy’ by Rachel Hunter.

Although she critiques the novel for featuring a continually weeping heroine, an over-complicated plot and overwrought, repetitious prose, it’s also clear that Austen and her niece enjoyed it as a guilty pleasure – like the 19th century version of a trashy television soap opera.

The letter, dated 29-30 October 1812, also offers a parallel view of Austen’s first book, Northanger Abbey, which was written in 1803 but remained unpublished until after her death in 1817.

The comic tale featured a heroine whose ordinary life exists in sharp contrast to the Gothic novels she is obsessed with.

Although Austen clearly realized the clichés and conventions of the genre all too well, it’s clear that almost a decade later she was still reading the books for entertainment.

The letter is one of three written by Austen to Anna Lefroy, first daughter of her eldest brother James, all of which were known to scholars but are appearing on the open market for the very first time.

"These letters have never been offered for sale before," said Dr Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s Specialist in Books and Manuscripts.

"To have any Jane Austen letters on the open market is a very special thing, and it’s a real pleasure and privilege to handle them. They give a strong sense of what it would have been like to be Jane Austen’s friend, of the types of conversations she had with those closest to her.

"The vast majority of her surviving letters talk about her day-to-day life, so to have a letter like we do here, that talks specifically about writing and shows her engaging with the popular literature of the day, is hugely significant."

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