Barford Abbey
  • Publication Date: November 6, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814466 / 1554814464
  • 336 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Barford Abbey

  • Publication Date: November 6, 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 both a site and a question mark, Susannah Minifie Gunning weaves a story of new and broken relationships, of change and fear of change, and of heredity and inheritance. The abbey becomes not simply a symbol tied to the gothic but also 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.

This new Broadview Edition is the only critical edition available of this important novel. Historical appendices include material on epistolary novels, abbey fictions, and the reception of Barford Abbey.


“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. Margaret Doody and Kurt Milberger introduce us 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, Doody and 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

“I thought I knew Barford Abbey (1768) until I revisited it in this scholarly yet teachable edition. I have learned much from the editors’ work, and my students will too. It deserves a place in a variety of courses on the novel. … I learned much from this new edition, and it made me want to reread the novel and share it with my students.” — April Alliston, Princeton University, in Eighteenth Century Fiction

Susannah Minifie Gunning: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

Barford Abbey: A Novel in a Series of Letters in Two Volumes

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

  • 1. From Daniel Defoe, Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1725)
  • 2. From Samuel Richardson, Letters Written To and For Particular Friends, on the Most Important Occasions (1741)
  • 3. From Samuel Richardson, “Preface” to Clarissa (1748)
  • 4. Samuel Johnson, Rambler, No. 152 (31 August 1751)
  • 5. Rev. John Trusler, “The PENNY-POST,” 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. From William Camden, Britannia (1586)
  • 3. From David Hume, The History of England: Under the House of Tudor (1759)

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,” Observations on the Western Parts of England (1798)
  • 3. From Sir Walter Scott, Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805)

Appendix D: Abbey Fictions

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

Appendix E: The Reception of Barford Abbey and Other Works by Gunning

  • 1. Review of Barford Abbey, Critical Review (1767)
  • 2. Review of Minifie’s Coombe Wood, British Magazine and Review (1783)
  • 3. From a Review of Gunning’s Poem Virginius and Virginia, Critical Review (1792)

Appendix F: Writing and Scandal: The Life of Susannah Minifie Gunning

Appendix G: James Gillray’s Caricatures of The Gunninghiad

Works Cited and Select Bibliography

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.