Ask AustenBlog: What Edition of Jane Austen's Novels Should I Buy?

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We received an e-mail from Gentle Reader Jenn, who wanted to purchase a good annotated edition of Jane Austen’s novels, perhaps with some commentary. We thought it a timely subject for Books Are Nice Week, and decided to share our own favorites and invite our readers to share theirs.

Jane Austen's Novels, Oxford Illustrated EditionThe workhorse of the library at AustenBlog World Headquarters is the Oxford Illustrated Editions of the novels. Not only are these the definitive edition for JASNA and the Jane Austen Society’s publications, they are good solid hardback editions, a great size to easily hold or tuck into a bag, and have well-edited texts as well as invaluable supplemental material such as notes, chronologies, characters lists (with their Christian names, the names of their estates, their education, their fortunes, and their family connections), explanations of period details, excerpts from works mentioned in the novels (such as “Lovers’ Vows” and Catherine Morland’s Gothic reading material), period illustrations of costumes and carriages, and other information. The six volumes of the series include the six novels (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are combined in one volume) and a volume of “Minor Works” including the unfinished pieces, Lady Susan, and the juvenilia. This set was first published in the 1930s, and we know Janeites with very early editions, carefully kept and full of years of handwritten marginalia. This set, quite plainly, is a keeper.

Jane Austen's Novels, Cambridge EditionHowever, there are more modern editions that also are excellent additions to a Janeite’s library. One of the most recent, and making a determined bid to replace the Oxford Editions in the Janeite pantheon, is the Cambridge Edition of the novels. These books are absolutely jam-packed with information and essays by the most respected Austen scholars in the world today. They are, however, really, really spendy. ($999 for the nine-volume set.) You can pick up individual volumes more cheaply on the used market, but we suspect CUP is not really shooting for the rank-and-file Janeite’s library but for the university library market.

Jane Austen's Novels, Oxford World's ClassicsFortunately, there is a solution for the Janeite who just wants a good, reasonably priced set of the novels or who prefers paperback editions. Oxford World’s Classics has just released refreshed versions of their series, which features scholarly introductions and editing. The series includes a refreshed edition of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, and Northanger Abbey includes Lady Susan and the two unfinished works. Cub Reporter Heather L. has reviewed the series for AustenBlog.

Jane Austen's Novels, Penguin Classics EditionAnother very popular set of the novels is published by Penguin Classics. They are trade-paperback-size and contain scholarly introductions and notes. We received a recent, inadvertent review of these books from the Editrix’s sister, who is new to Jane Austen. She purchased this edition of Persuasion and raved about how the notes and additions increased her understanding and appreciation of the novel (which she raved about as well!). We immediately purchased P&P and S&S in the same editions for her. 😉

Any of these editions would be an excellent addition to a Janeite’s library. We know there are lots of others; do please share your favorites in comments!