Barford Abbey
  • Publication Date: October 30, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814466 / 1554814464
  • 336 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Barford Abbey

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814466 / 1554814464
  • 336 pages; 5½" x 8½"

The great-grandmother of Downton Abbey, Barford Abbey is among the first of a new genre of “abbey fictions.” Using the abbey as a site and a question mark, Susannah Minifie weaves a story of new and broken relationships, of change and fear of change, and of heredity and inheritance. Here the abbey becomes a symbol not simply tied to the gothic but a setting for social dramas that prefigures the realist novels of the nineteenth century. In two compact volumes, the novel achieves innovations in narrative manner and style. Barford Abbey may seem to offer the consolations of melodrama and the comforts of marriage, but the balance of the novel reminds us that parts of life can sometimes be left out, and that life’s losses cannot genuinely be recovered.


“Susannah Minifie Gunning’s Barford Abbey is delightful reading, both for its fast-paced epistolary immediacy and for the light it sheds on the more famous novels that it prefigures. Inaugurating what the editors call ‘abbey fiction,’ Barford affords a deeper understanding of the English novel in the transitional years between Fielding, Richardson, and Sterne, on the one hand, and Burney, Smith, and Austen, on the other. Doody and Milberger introduce us as well to a prolific but little-known woman writer with a fascinating and ultimately scandalous history, whose later novels contributed to the popular series published by the Minerva Press. The return of Barford Abbey to print in this richly annotated edition is a welcome occasion for students and scholars alike.” — Susan S. Lanser, Brandeis University

“In this excellent edition, Margaret Doody and Kurt Milberger recover an important early contribution to a tradition of literary commentary on England’s religious past. Ruined abbeys or those transformed into the houses of the wealthy appear quite frequently in poetry and novels in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries, most famously in the works of Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron. Long before these writers, however, Susannah Minifie Gunning recognized the usefulness of an abbey setting for raising complicated questions about the social, economic, and political character of English culture. With a detailed introduction and a rich collection of contextual materials, including excerpts from sixteenth-century documents, eighteenth-century historical works, and contemporary literature, this edition is an invaluable resource for students and scholars as well as anyone interested in Jane Austen’s literary forebears.” — Roger E. Moore, Vanderbilt University

Appendix A: “Writing to the Moment”: The Epistolary Style

  • 1. Daniel Defoe, From Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27) on the London Post Office
  • 2. Samuel Richardson, From Letters Written To and For Particular Friends, on the Most Important Occasions, 1741
  • 3. Samuel Richardson on “Writing to the Moment” in the “Preface” to Clarissa, 1748
  • 4. Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 152, 31 August 1751 on Epistolary Style
  • 5. Rev. John Trusler, “The PENNY-POST.” From The London Advisor and Guide, 1786

Appendix B: The Dissolution of the Abbeys

  • 1. An Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries, 1535
  • 2. William Camden, From Britannia, 1586 [Gough Edition, 1789]
  • 3. David Hume, From The History of England: Under the House of Tudor, 1759 Edition

Appendix C: The Picturesque Abbey as Ruin or Great Mansion

  • 1. George Keate, The Ruins of Netley Abbey, 1764
  • 2. William Gilpin, On Glastonbury and Ford Abbey, From Observations on the Western parts of England, 1798
  • 3. Walter Scott, From Lay of the Last Minstrel, 1805

Appendix D: Abbey Fictions

  • 1. Charlotte Smith, From Ethelinde, 1789
  • 2. Regina Maria Roche, From The Children of the Abbey, 1796
  • 3. Jane Austen, From Northanger Abbey, 1817
  • 4. George Gordon, Lord Byron, From Don Juan, 1819

Appendix E: The Reception of Barford Abbey the Writing of Susannah Minifie Gunning

  • 1. Review of Barford Abbey from The Critical Review, Vol. 24, 422-30, edited by Tobias Smollet, 1767
  • 2. Review of Minife’s Coombe Wood from The British Magazine and Review, Vol. 2, 127-128, 1783
  • 3. Excerpt of a review of Gunning’s poem Virginius and Virginia published in the Critical Review, vol. 5, 1792

Margaret Doody is John and Barbara Glynn Family Professor of Literature at the University of Notre Dame. Kurt Edward Milberger is Coordinating Editor, College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University.